Q & A with Kelly Woods
If you had asked 7th grade Kelly Woods what she was going to be when she grew up, it would have been a resounding “attend UC Davis to become a veterinarian”.
Kelly’s deep love of animals did lead her into work at vet clinics in high school, but a foreshadowing of the degree’s high cost steered her to another science major at UC Davis. On a whim, she pivoted into Viticulture and Enology, stumbling into her calling. Unbeknownst to Kelly, her many weekend family picnics at wineries in her hometown of Santa Maria and a life changing trip to Spain imprinted a deep fascination with wine.
Over the years, Kelly honed her winemaking at the finest of Napa Valley such as Seavey Vineyards and Sequoia Grove, and most notably at Burgess Cellars. Under Kelly’s tenure from 2012-2020, she shepherded their transition from heavier-handed rustic Cabernets into a beautifully finessed collection of 90+ point, award-winning wines from Howell Mountain estate fruit. Specializing in elegant, refined, terroir-driven winemaking, Kelly was an integral part of the winery’s resurgence into the luxury Cab category, raising their scores by 10 points in short order.
Now working for another powerhouse in Cabernet, Atelier Melka, we caught up with Kelly at Brasswood in St. Helena where she manages winemaking for nearly a dozen clients across multiple facilities in the valley. We talked all-things wine and what drives her passion for it.
Q: How do you define your winemaking style?
A: In a nutshell: low intervention and minimalistic. I study each vineyard intimately, observing and understanding its terrain and topography to find the ultimate expression of the site–its unique footprint and varietal characteristics. Simply allowing the vineyard to reveal its essence then skillfully capturing that magic in a bottle is what I strive for.
Q: What’s your most memorable harvest(s)?
A: I’d have to say the 2013 vintage because it was my first official harvest as head winemaker. Prior to that year, I had only overseen certain stages of the winemaking process or finished off a vintage from a former colleague, but never soloed from start to finish. I will say Harvest 2022 is proving to be a stellar year for whites in terms of flavor development, ripeness, a consistent growing season…it was a beautiful vintage all-round.
Q: What do the next five years hold for you professionally?
A: Although I’ve been making wine for over ten years, I feel like my journey has only just begun. I see myself consulting for more clients, with some as my own personal projects outside the Atelier Melka stable. On a personal quest, Saki has always intrigued me, so I’d love to explore the science and artistry of that. Perhaps travel to Japan to understand the process and styles firsthand.
Q: When the winemaking hat comes off, where will we find you and what’s in your glass?
A: I love live music, of all genres, so you’ll find me at BottleRock Napa (already bought my tickets for this coming year!), Blue Note, the Uptown…wherever there is great live music. During the pandemic the pace slowed enough so I took the opportunity and learned to ride a Harley. I’ve always wanted to learn to ride a motorbike and figured this time was as good as any! Getting back into leisure travel is a priority after the long hiatus…Croatia and Hawaii are tops on my list. In my glass: I love interesting and aromatic whites, and of course, Champagne!
To learn more about Kelly Woods and her wine consulting, visit kellywoodswine.com.