Marbue Marke: A Winemaker Coming Into His Own

Marbue Marke is at the top of his game. He is a classically trained winemaker with degrees from the best schools in California on the subject. He has worked for years as a winemaker and team builder at some of California’s most innovative wineries and his passion for his craft has never been stronger.

Background of a Wine Master

Marke was born in the West African country of Sierra Leone, not exactly in the middle of wine country. Like young people in many parts of the world, he was exposed to the pleasure of wine and beer as part of his family culture.

But even with his early love of wine, he did not set out to the United States to study viticulture and enology.  Marke chose medicine at UC Davis but noted that he had a change of heart during an internship where he had to remove staples from a patient. “The wound had become infected and I didn’t react well to the blood and all. I knew then medicine was not for me.” Close to graduating, he decided to pursue something he loved and changed his path to viticulture and enology. There he studied sensory science under Anne C. Noble, famed inventor of the Wine Aroma Wheel that is used throughout the world. His work in the wine industry began in the late 1990s with J Vineyards in Sonoma County.

Stops in his early career include Jordan Sparkling Wine, Cosentino Winery, R. H. Phillips and Benziger Family Winery. While at Benziger, he returned to school earning an MBA at Sonoma State University and then moved to the famed Gallo Family Vineyard before landing at Caldwell Vineyard — certainly an impressive collection of names. His skills were not just in winemaking but more importantly, says Marke, in teambuilding. “It’s like a sport, everyone has their part. These winemakers say they have ‘complete control.’ It’s not true. There’s someone in the vineyard, someone in the barrel room. It’s about a team.”

Making Marke Wines

Marke puts his heart and soul into his work and wants his wines to fully represent him. He says, “I’m a perfectionist. In sports, I gave 100 percent on the field. It’s the same with my wine. I have to give 100 every day.” Adding quite seriously, “Nobody will outwork me.” His work ethic is what has earned him such respect in California’s wine industry and there is certainly no compromising that when it comes to his own wine label.

Marke Wines are the truest expression of his signature winemaking style. When asked what that is, his response is immediate, “Aromatics. Really big aromatics — and a lot of balance. My wines are always very clean with bright noses, very fresh.” Given his sensitivity to bitterness, one might expect some sweet offerings, but not so. His wines are always very dry, true expressions of the fruit. “Sweetness hides imperfections,” and Marke wants people to taste the flavors honestly. It is a brave approach to winemaking that requires expert skill.

The Art

Marke Wines may be made from traditional French varietals, but they contain the spirit of Sierra Leone with unique proprietary names in the country’s Krio language and beautiful labels inspired by Sierra Leonean fabric. Kusheh, the crisp, classic, 100 pinot noir rosé, means to give “encouraging acknowledgment.” Gladi means “celebration,” and the dry riesling is perfect for social occasions. Liba is “courage” and perhaps a very appropriate name for Marke’s pure take on pinot noir. This is a red fruit pinot noir without the “jamminess” that mars so many fruity wines. Finally, there is Shok, (available to his wine club members only, which means “surprise.”  Shok will change with each vintage. Currently, it is a Caldwell Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, homage to the winery where he built his wine team and is producing his wine. Next year’s is already in the barrel (a Sonoma Coast pinot noir).

Currently, the wines are available primarily through the wine club.  Marke is keeping production small so that he can control quality and really have a personal connection with the people who buy the wine.  “My goal with the wine club is to make only enough wine to satisfy the viability of the brand. The vitality and vibrancy of the brand are more important than growth. I want people who are passionate about the brand.”

For more information about Marbue Marke and his wines, visit www.markewines.com.

To read the entire interview with Marbe Marke and the list of perfect pairings with Marke Wines, be sure to get a copy of our Fall 2014 print issue.

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Dr. Greg Shaw is an assistant professor with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento, and the co-author of a book chapter, Tourism in A Bottle: The California Winescape.