One of the many charms of Mark Beaman is that I got a winemaker profile during harvest. One would think that it’s pretty hard to do right now. Certainly I did. So I used a different technique than the meet n’greet interview process. I sent questions to him, and told him there was no rush.
“Here are my winemaker questions to you. Take your time, because I know how busy you are. If you only answer one or two at a time, that’s fine.”
I expected this to take a month. It took a day.
“Here you are Jo. Warm one today in the vineyards. Its nice to sit down and tap out a message in a cool lab.”
What I didn’t know is that not only is Mark an impassioned winemaker, but I had a writer on my hands, with plenty of good humor. I really like this guy, long before we’ll be doing the tête–à–tête thing.
Because I’ve been connected to the wine business for so long, I have an almost unlimited number of doors that open for me. Between my first eight years of working for Belvedere, Barefoot Cellars, Robert Mondavi, and Ironstone, this set the stage for launching Diaz Communications. My last 14 years of being a private contractor, starting two marketing groups (the most successful being PS I Love You for Petite Sirah), and having a plethora of clients along the way… my reputation is now pretty set for my being a hard worker; ergo, the door easily opens with most people, when I need or want them.
And so it did with Mark Beaman. It began with my getting to know the next generation of the Mendocino Wine Company’s Chase Thornhill. I worked with his dad Tim Thornhill years ago in Orlando, during a National Pork Board event. I’ve also been on the road a lot (during the Blue Tooth Tour), with their head winemaker Bob Swain. I have lots of fond memories with both of these gentlemen… And now I was just introduced to the newest addition to the family line up… Chase. Chase is the senior brand manager for the Mendocino Wine Co. I love seeing next generations becoming involved in family businesses, having hired my own children for tasks that fit their personalities best. For Chase, he’s gone into marketing, and we’ll review him later, with a new brand he’s launching called “Moniker Wine Estates.”
For now, here’s the winemaker who’s heading up this project. It’s Mark Beaman, the associate winemaker for Mendocino Wine Co., most specifically.
Mark Beaman ~ Winemaker Profile
- What is your background
- Was it related to wine? My parents were forensic scientists in the Seattle Crime lab in the 70’s and we moved out of the city to south-eastern Washington when my sister and I came along. So I grew up on my family’s ranch where we farmed alfalfa hay, wheat, asparagus, turnips and raised cattle for sale. We lived off of efforts on the ranch and my backyard was several hundred acres of river and riparian area which I explored thoroughly. My background did not have to do with wine directly, but my agricultural upbringing gave me a work ethic I still put to use.
- When did you first realize that you wanted to become a winemaker?
- In the late 90’s I was living in Tanzania, East Africa as a soil conservation volunteer for the Peace Corps. When my family took a trip to visit me, a party was thrown to welcome them. Since my family spoke no Swahili and my village friends spoke no English it was predictably awkward, until my friend Lucas declared he was sharing his special brew of asali (honey wine). After a few drinks everyone was having a blast and it felt like a party. I always thought that it must feel wonderful to see how something you made can be enjoyed in front of you like that. After my Peace Corps service I returned to Washington and I found the wine industry had grown enormously and it clicked that I should find a way in. It all made sense as I wanted to be in a profession that utilized my agricultural roots, my love of science and involved creating a product to be consumed with joy and attention.
- How did you get into the wine business?
- I responded to an ad that Columbia Crest Winery had put in the local paper. They were looking for people to assist with basic lab analysis at the crusher. I got a haircut, put on a tie and sweated my way through an interview. I somehow got the job and worked my way into the lab for that harvest of 2000. I slept at the winery some nights because it was a 110 mile round trip. Doug Gore (the head winemaker) even caught me fishing in the tourist pond one night when I was trying to catch an easy dinner. I think the winery appreciated my tenacity and they sent me to work for the company in California before I moved on to join MWC.
- Did (do) you have a mentor? Yes.
- What has he or she done to make your life more enjoyable? Lucas taught me to be thankful for the simple pleasure of seeing others enjoy the fruits of your labors. Bob Swain, who is head winemaker here at MWC is the old school do it all winemaker who maintains a tight ship, a strong work ethic and high level of integrity. He makes my life more enjoyable because he is still making all the hard decisions!
- Do you enjoy the spotlight (i.e., travel, panels, judging, etc.), or do you prefer the lab?
- I like them both. I enjoy going out on the road and speaking to distributors and wine buyers or sharing stories that make our products special. I relish any chance to interact and learn as there is so much to take in. On the other side the lab is great because the people that work here are friends and family. The focus here is on getting the job done professionally, accurately and timely but it is also a place to share some laughs. We do make wine after all.
- What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy?
- When I am walking the vineyards taking maturity samples I sometimes take a moment and think to myself “I get paid to do this?”. We have some beautiful scenery to walk through out here and its part of the job. I also work alongside my extended family here at the winery. So many members of the Muniz family have been part of this facility that is you put all their time together there would be well over 200 years of history. This family is some of the most generous and hard working folks you will ever meet. It makes it easier to wake up early and start another day of harvest when this is who you get to work with. I love these guys.
- How has your job changed since you’ve started?
- Progressions…I started a brix tester at the grape trucks on frigid mornings in Washington then moved on to a glorified dishwasher in the lab. Then my work shifted to more of the lab analysis with vineyard testing in and around harvest. Eventually I worked my way into working on blending trials with the different tools we have at our disposal. Now I work on some of my own blends and alongside with Bob on others, work out the days schedule, but still get to do some analysis and walk the vineyards. There are some things I’ll just never give up.
- What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?
- At an event in New York I was pouring at I had a chance to walk around and taste these unusual and expensive Biodynamic wines from around the world. I heard of many of the wineries, but none were as controversial as Christophe Barons wines of Cayuse. I went to his table and he was gracious to pour through his lineup. All which were simply mind-blowing. But the 2006 Armada Syrah was the funkiest, wildest and most bad-ass thing I had ever come across in the wine world.
- Do you have a favorite variety?
- Yes. Pinot Noir, but Syrah is a close second for some of the same reasons
- If so, what is it about that variety that takes your breath away?
- Pinot Noir, when done right, has an ability to maintain both elegance and wildness that is true to its varietal character. Wines that are just cherry or berry can get boring. Pinot Noir can conjure flavors that are within the realm of nature that reflect a sense of place so transparently. I do not like wines that are confusing to the variety or soda pop style manufactured. I prefer personality to perfection and Pinot Noir speaks to me best.
- What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?
- Not so much an innovation, but a reinvestment in native fermentation. I think with certain vineyard blocks over time there can be discernible consistency of savory components that mark the wine when a natural fermentation has been allowed to start. The alcohol intolerant native yeast species certainly do not finish the fermentation but they do leave their unique profile on the wine that emerges. We have embraced more native ferments lately.
- What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
- Fresh caught abalone and Moniker Chardonnay. It’s locavore heaven.
- What are your interests outside of the wine business?
- Surfing is a huge love of mine. I see it as the purest form of interaction with Mothers Natures whims. Surfing gives a workout physically and emotionally, but always leaves me feeling like a kid again. We are lucky to be close to coastline that offers up some stellar swell without huge crowds.
- Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?
- Guys like Charlie Barra and Paul Draper who got into wines and wine growing, found their style and have stuck with over all these years of trends, fashions and technological advancements in winemaking and agricultural inputs. It says something of the people who have stuck to their guns and remained successful and respected.
- What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?
- I was going to say my two sons, but you did specify “career”. The Moniker Wines are a huge achievement for me as they are the first luxury brand that I got to call the shots on. Bob was kind enough to give me carte blanche on selecting my blenders and I enjoy the challenge the bar the brand has set for me to reach.
- For what would you like to be remembered?
- In the wine world I would like to be remembered for making wines that made people recognize the abundance of character that Mendocino County’s vineyards are capable of.