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People: Vintner likes to be airbornePeople: Vintner likes to be airborne

From the Airbus A320 to her own vineyard

We stop at Wood Family Vineyards in the heart of Livermore, California, and are greeted by Rhonda Wood, who proudly thrusts her AOPA membership card forward.
Pilot Briefing June

“I’ve been a member for over 30 years,” she says. “Would you like to try some wine?” Wood stopped flying professionally after September 11, 2001, but she still pops over to Livermore Municipal Airport (LVK) regularly to get into the air. “It’s a beautiful day so I’m going flying,” she tells me in correspondence later. She loves the J–3 Cub. “I love propping it in the morning, jumping in, and flying over the hills with the doors open and the pure joy of cruising with a stick in my hand.”

Wood has been interested in aviation since winning a paper airplane contest in the sixth grade. At age 15 she told her father she wanted to learn to fly. He introduced her to a friend and client who flew for TWA. Her father, a CPA, got Wood her first flight in his client’s Super Decathlon. “We did rolls and loops and I absolutely fell in love,” she says.

She graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, and began her professional career—flight instruction to corporate flying to airline pilot. Along the way were many adventures: flying air freight in Chicago in a Beech 18, single pilot at night, no autopilot. The Californian “lacked experience flying in icing conditions and lacked the experience taking what the freight dogs said to me with a grain of salt….” She flew the Airbus A320 for USAir. “I didn’t think I’d like the airplane; so many computers. But I loved flying it and getting to know the systems and having the side stick control.”

She married Michael Wood in 1988 and the couple settled back home in California. On downtime and during pregnancy leave (two sons) she first started making beer and then wine. She took winemaking classes at the University of California, Davis and the couple eventually purchased an 18-acre Merlot vineyard and home site in Livermore in 1996. When USAir offered leave for pilots after the terrorist attacks of September 11, she left the airline. The winery had been bonded September 1, 2001.

Wood Family Vineyards bottles 15 different wines from chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon. They have a tasting room and event venue in downtown Livermore. AOPA hosts its second fly-in of the year at Livermore Municipal Airport on June 21 and 22. Stop in and share flying stories with Rhonda.


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Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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