Frank Wood and Son, Rutherford
Photograph: Richards Lyon
Except for serving abroad in World War II, Laurie Wood spent all his life in Napa Valley, yet he was a true progressive, bringing all sorts of innovations to local farming while involved in his family’s vineyard management company. Frost protection, irrigation, aerial sulphuring, and mapping were all new approaches Laurie shared with the valley. He thought it was his mapmaking and helicoptering that had instilled a broad view of things.
Besides managing what came to be 29 different ranches, Laurie managed his own Wood Ranch. In the early 1960’s, his friend Bob Mondavi recommended he plant Sauvignon Blanc, which Laurie did, selling the fruit to Robert Mondavi Winery. Wood Ranch has also provided grapes for many other wineries including Beaulieu, Caymus, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. In 1965, along with Chuck Carpy, Laurie became one of eight investors in the reorganization of Freemark Abbey Winery. He took charge of its vineyard management and contributed fruit from his Wood Ranch. For the Paris Tasting of 1976, Freemark Abbey was the only winery Stephen Spurrier invited to submit both red and white wines. The winery was sold to Kendall Jackson in 2006.
Several independent vineyard managers in the valley got their start with Laurie, and the winemaker for Shafer, Elias Fernandez, grew up on Wood Ranch. In addition to farming, Laurie also dowsed for water and contributed all his dowsing fees to his alma mater, St. Helena High School. In 2003, Napa County Farm Bureau honored Laurie as its Agriculturalist of the Year.
Jane Skeels has anchored an office for both Frank Wood & Sons and Napa Valley Wine Library at the Wood Ranch for many years. While Dick was president of NVWLA, he combined visits to Wood Ranch on Library business with opportunities to photograph Laurie at work in the vineyards.