This winery is the comeback of one of the most revered winemakers in all of Napa. Strong from his remarkable success with Merus, a wine that gained cult status in California, and received highest praise by Robert Parker, Mark now produces wines that hold his name, and metaphorically represent him on the label. His “spirit animal”, the elephant, is beautifully portrayed by the artist and friend Micheal McDermott. All his Cabs have a distinctive personality and character, that flows out the bottle and captures the senses while swirling the glass, for a metaphysical pleasure that only true exceptional wines can provide. Mark’s experience and expertise comes with deep relationships with selected grape growers: trust and long term friendship is the bond that lies behind the grapes.
That’s how he’s able to create voluptuous and unforgettable Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the grapes he is using to craft his marvels come from organic farms, all certified as Napa Green Vineyard, a certification that includes an holistic approach to organic winemaking, allowing the growers to greatly reduce the impact of their work on the environment.
How do you normally enjoy drinking wine?
I grew up in a large family in Panama, always in the kitchen with my mother as she prepared meals and in the cellar as she picked out the nightly wine for the dinner table. I learned from a young age that wine is best enjoyed with great company, whether that’s good friends, family or business colleagues. My wife and I both enjoy cooking and entertaining, so a majority of my wine drinking takes place in the kitchen while we cook or around my dining room table.
How does local history and culture influence your lifestyle and winemaking?
I feel very fortunate that the Napa Valley has embraced my winemaking style from the early days in my career, starting with the creation of Merus in my home garage. As such, it has allowed me to fully expand on my style and create Cabernets from all over the Valley, which I showcase not only in my own label but also those I consult for. Having the trust and support of grape growers and vintners throughout the Valley has enabled me to create Cabernets from many different microclimates and soil compositions, which has been very enriching and has given a lot of depth to my portfolio.
What is your best memory of winemaking, so far?
My best memory of winemaking was seeing winemaking with brand new eyes – similar to children seeing things for the first time. While I was in graduate school at UC Davis, I had a professor who owned a vineyard in the Sierra foothills who invited me to come work on his property in the summers. At the time, I was getting my PhD in Ecology emphasizing the nutritional biochemistry of aquaculture, so needless to say I came to the wine industry with a very unique approach to viticulture and winemaking. My studies up until that point allowed me to appreciate the winemaking landscape through the eyes of a biologist and chemist, and I was hooked!
Can you tell us about the first wine you ever made?
The first wine I ever made was a Bordelaise blend in 1992 using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Napa Valley.
Tell us what wine represents for you?
For me, wine represents a yearly snapshot of place (terroir) and varietal, while pursuing balance and elegance. I always say that 20,000 decisions go into a bottle of wine, and for me, those decisions start in the vineyard and end on the bottling line. Depending on the weather patterns during each vintage, I can be harvesting as early as late September and as late as Thanksgiving.
What do you think about the future of sustainable winemaking?
I think that all agricultural products should embrace sustainability so that we can experience amazing products in the future. All of the vineyards I source from practice organic farming, with Oakville Ranch actually practicing both organic and biodynamic farming. In addition, each property has the Napa Green Vineyard Certification, which focuses specifically on climate action, regenerative farming and social equity. I have very longstanding relationships (20+ years) with the growers I purchase fruit from, and I selected each of them based on the integrity of their farming methods and respect for the environment.