Sonoma County region
A value-driven, critically acclaimed portfolio of small production wines
Teira Winery is a smallish, family-owned entity that is well respected for producing high quality wines at more than reasonable prices. It was started just after the turn of the century (2001-2002) in the Dry Creek Valley area of Sonoma County by the husband and wife team of Dan Donahoe and Alexis Woods. Each of the principals brought dissimilar yet exceptional skills into the business, a most exceptional happening in today’s California wine world.
First, take the exceptional name for the winery. Teira is a combination of the couple’s daughter’s first names, (Thea and Keira) that just happened to possess that certain ring that seems particularly wine oriented. It will be misspelled many times in the future, but will never be forgotten. Teira’s first appearance came in 2002, a whopping 300 cases of Zinfandel from the famous Dogtown Vineyard that Turley Vineyards would later make famous. The wine was graciously received by the wine drinking public and the fledgling winery was on its way. This year’s production will probably peak at about 6,000 cases, still a bit short of the mark that owner Dan Donahoe has set for the winery to achieve.
“Our business plan calls for us to top off at just around 10,000 cases,” he confided in a recent interview. “We want to keep everything under our personal control and we think 10,000 is a good place to stop. We still have no employees except ourselves, and that’s the way we want it. To get any larger would require additional staff and that means all the associated problems. We want to get as big as we can without becoming a corporate entity, if you know what I mean.” Donahoe’s wife, Alexis Woods, is the daughter of Frank Woods; founder of Sonoma’s famed Clos du Bois Winery, one of the bell weather properties that helped establish Sonoma County as a top wine producing area. When Woods sold Clos du Bois to Canadian beverage giant Hiram Walker in 1989, all the property was included except for a 120-acre parcel in Dry Creek Valley.
“These vineyards became the basis for most of our Teira wines,” added Donahoe. “The only problem was that most of them were under long term contract with other wineries and those wineries weren’t interested in parting with any of the fruit. As some of the contracts ended, we have managed to utilize the fruit for Teira wines, a fact that has given us great consistency in our wines. We believe in the old adage that ‘a great wine begins in the vineyard’ so we have had to supplement our grapes with a percentage from Russian River Valley.” Wine consistency has also wrought numerous awards and excellent press for Teira Winery. Additional exposure will be assured by the recent opening of a tasting facility located at 420 Hudson Street in Healdsburg.
“The opportunity arose for us to join a number of other small wineries in opening a co-op tasting facility that was just a half-mile from the square in Healdsburg. The place is fabulous and has fifty-foot ceilings that make wine tasting something really special. It is also a place for wedding receptions and business outings so the exposure should be really good for all of us. And since there are five other wineries, any visitors should really get their money’s worth and taste a large number of wines.” While Dan travels extensively throughout the 25 states that currently carry Teira wines, Alexis confined herself to working within the vineyards and marketing the State of California.
“As a landscape architect, my wife is constantly improving the quality of all of our vineyards,” Donahoe continued. “It’s amazing what she sees and how she is able to make our vines perform better. Since they are all world-class vines, improving them is no easy matter.”
The combination of Dan Donahoe and Alexis Woods seems ideal for a small winery that has already established itself as a highly creditable producer. It is also good that Teira intends to remain small, something that should be copied by other wineries.
Map of the area
All the grapes that go into making Teira Wines are grown in the two major sub districts of Sonoma Valley, namely Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley. These sites are the premier growing areas of Sonoma, consistently on par with the better growing areas of nearby Napa Valley.
Teira owns a marvelous 20-acre parcel in Dry Creek that gives it its fabulous Sauvignon Blanc as well as a portion of the fruit for its Zinfandel. The remainder of the Zin comes from terraced vineyards along the Russian River that have consistently produced extremely high quality fruit for many decades.
William "Bill” Knuttel - Winemaker
Wine industry insiders consider William "Bill” Knuttel a winemaker's winemaker. Knuttel began his career with legendary Saintsbury Vineyard after he gained his masters in enology from UC Davis. He also headed the winemaking chores at Chalk Hill Estate and Vineyard before becoming winemaker at Dry Creek Vineyards in January of 2003. Knitter’s reputation among his peers is unrivalled in the Dry Creek area, if not the entirety of Sonoma County.
Dan Donahoe - Owner
When Teira Winery owner Dan Donahoe tells you he owes his grandmother a great deal, he’s not kidding one bit. In fact, Donahoe admits he owes practically everything to his beloved grandmother who passed away five years ago. It seems Dan was a freshman at Boston University in 1988, when his grandmother first affected his life. He was parking cars at a top French restaurant, L’Espalier on Boston’s famed Boylston Street, when his grandmother suggested Dan call her closest childhood friend. If he enjoyed the call, he could perhaps take her friend to dinner.
The childhood friend turned out to be Julia Child and when the pair showed up for the dinner, the event turned into a royal celebration.
‘The chef knew Julia quite well. She was, at that time, incredibly popular, and our meal went to an off-menu safari, complete with indescribable wines and all the extra trimmings. It was certainly the meal of my lifetime and it caused a light to go off in my head. I never took wine or food for granted again, no matter the setting or circumstance.” Child also signed a cookbook for him and Dan and his friends at BU attempted many of the dishes contained within the pages. ‘My life totally changed even if I didn’t realize it right away.”
Julia Child also played a part in getting Dan a job as a cellar rat with Cakebread Cellars in 1992, during the annual harvest. Although admitting to having been bitten by the wine bug, Dan Donahoe returned to the business world where he worked for a number of corporate entities including the New York Stock Exchange and several Wall Street friendly firms. He also managed a part time job with San Francisco icon John Walker & Co, purveyor of fine wines. Once again, that old wine bug was breaking the surface. At one point, he made the permanent commitment to John Walker & Co and ultimately reached manager and buyer status for the company. By the way, sometime in 1992, his grandmother suggested he get in touch with Alexis Woods whom he had known slightly in his youth. Dan took his grandmother’s advice and the rest in history. The couple’s mutual interest in wine eventually led them to found Teira Wines, as an outlet for their mutual fascination.
‘I had always wanted to be a part of the wine producing business,” Donahoe admitted. ‘Alexis just made it more perfect. Our girls love to walk in the vineyards with their mother and are always drawing labels for wines that say Teira. It’s a joy to behold.” Donahoe also admits to loving the interaction with people that the winery affords. He cites his experience with John Walker & Co as a pivotal point in his evolution to winery owner.
‘I loved turning people on to wines,” he stated.” The merchant side was real fun and a wonderful experience for me. Now I have the chance to show people my own wines and explain how they came to be. When I was at John Walker, I was sick of high priced wines that seldom performed up to their reputation. I knew it was possible to make wines that were really good, yet outperformed their price levels. That’s what we try to accomplish at Teira.” He also credits his vineyard manger, Duff Bevill, with getting the most out of their vineyards. Bevill’s vineyard management company’s approach to vineyards and caretaking is considered among the most modern and productive in Northern California, if not the entire world.
‘Alexis is tickled to work the vineyards with Duff, they are really good friends and both willing to try new things. Being a landscape architect, Alexis always wants to try new ideas on our vines.”
It all seems like something mixed together in heaven, or more probably, in Julia Child’s fabled kitchen.