I fell in love with wine when I fell in love with Sonja, my wife of more than ten years now. We got married on February the 16th, 2013, and less than a month later I was to move to London, England–without her–for a Fulbright. On a budget but not wanting to deprive ourselves of a honeymoon, we boarded a flight to San Francisco the morning after we were married and spent several nights in wine country, touring Napa and Sonoma. It was there that I first became familiar with fine wine, and it was there that I realized for the first time that those who make wine are the most extraordinary of artists. From that point on, my fascination with wine and my involvement in the industry–primarily as a writer–began to grow. It has never stopped.
As an English teacher, Mark was delighted and amazed when the owner of a wine magazine first contacted him and offered to pay him to write about wine. Getting paid to write, he had been assured in college, was unlikely. Mark’s first full-length publication about wine, The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries: How the Judgment of Paris Put California Wine on the Map, is essentially a history of the Napa Valley and an exploration of how a wine tasting in 1976 changed the world forever. Below is some additional information about Mark’s involvement in the wine industry, through writing as well as other endeavors.LEARN MORE
One of Mark’s greatest passions is serving others, and he has found that his involvement in the wine industry often affords him unique opportunities to do so. In 2018, Mark joined the board of the vinNEBRASKA Foundation, and in 2020 he became the president of the board. Since its founding in 1989, the vinNEBRASKA Foundation has raised more than $7 million for Nebraska charities, including Stephen Center, Omaha Public Schools Foundation, Partnership 4 Kids, the Ronald McDonald House, and many more. In 2021, the foundation began offering a full-ride scholarship in culinary arts to Metropolitan Community College, and in 2023, in partnership with the Omaha Restaurant Foundation, began offering scholarship to aspiring wine professionals.
In addition to vinNEBRASKA, Mark has worked with numerous other charities to help raise money, including OPSF, Completely KIDS, Teammates, the Rose Theater, and more. If you are seeking a donation from Mark’s cellar, or would like advice about wine-related philanthropy, please fill out the contact form.
Gudgel Ranch Wines
It seemed silly to Mark not to utilize his contacts in wine to realize the dream of making his own, and Gudgel Ranch wines were a huge success, selling out almost immediatly. The downside of the endeavor, Mark soon realized, is that for just a moment wine started to feel like work. Gudgel Ranch is currently in a holding pattern while Mark explores his options. Please sign up for updates if you are interested in the future of Gudgel Ranch wines.
Bar 25 Reserve
Bar 25 is the Gudgel family brand, the brand associated with the Gudgel Ranch. The inaugural vintage of Bar 25 Reserve was a blend of 95% Cab Sauv sourced from Spring Mountain in Napa, and 5% Petit Verdot from Stag’s Leap. The wine was made my Mark’s friend, Tom Meadowcroft, and features a photograph taken by family friend Pat Wendt at the Gudgel Ranch.
Field Club Series
In partnership with Field Club of Omaha, the country club where Mark occasionally golfs poorly and takes his children to the pool, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon Blanc were released under the Gudgel Ranch label. The wines were made by Tom Meadowcroft. The labels feature a stylized image of Field Club and are served as the house wine in the club’s restaurant.
Already in love with the Napa Valley, Mark has taken a special interest in one of the small valley’s most historic AVA’s, Oakville. This is the land of To Kalon, of Robert Mondavi and Opus One. This is where Nils Venge made the first 100 point wine in America, at Groth, and where such legendary wineries as Paradigm, Screaming Eagle, and Harlan are located. Some of Mark’s favorites–Tamber Bey, Oakville Ranch, Kelleher, Hoopes, Ghost Block, and many others find themselves in this special place. Oakville is the land of giants, and Mark is beyond excited to be partnered with the Oakville Winegrowers to help them document their historic presence in the Napa Valley.LEARN MORE
Napa Valley Guide
Early in 2022, Mark read every guidebook he could find to the Napa Valley, and he found that they all had one thing in common: they were bad. Really bad. Some were too short. Some were wildly eccentric. Many were inaccurate. Some were laser-focused on one aspect of the valley and overlooked the complexities and nuance that make Napa amazing. So, Mark decided to write a guide, a good guide, a complete guide, to the Napa Valley.
Mark proposed the project to a large international publisher of guidebooks who offered him a contract. It was the worst contract he’d ever seen (and that’s saying something). So Mark decided to self-publish the guide. His goal is to gather data in 2023, and release it in 2024. The guide will include itineraries, histories, and features. It will also contain every winery, restaurant, lodging, and activity Mark can find.
If you own a winery in the Napa Valley, please fill out this brief survey.WINERY SURVEY
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If you own or provide lodging in the Napa Valley, please fill out this brief survey.LODGING SURVEY
If you own a business, guide service, etc. in the Napa Valley, please fill out this brief surveyBUSINESS SURVEY
Judgment of Paris
Mark’s expertise on the pivotol event of 1976 that put the Napa Valley on the map and opened the doors of the international wine trade to the producers of the world has made him a sought-after speaker. Mark regularly gives talks, does book signings, and leads blind wine tastings all centered around this historic event. Please fill out the contact form if you would like to have Mark speak about the Judgment of Paris.LEARN MORE
One of Bella Spurrier’s seven original photographs of the Judgment of Paris
Grgic Vina winery in Croatia
Mark’s current research has him working in Sarajevo, studying the Siege of Sarajevo. While in the area, Mark takes breaks to appreciate Balkan wines–those wines from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Herzegovina, and others. Mark has found that the wines of this region are exceedingly diverse, remarkably affordable, and, most importantly, of excellent quality. Mark is casually making a study of Balkan wines, and would love to talk your ear off about them anytime you like.LEARN MORE
Edible Marin & Wine Country
Mark is proud to be a regular contributor to Edible Marin & Wine Country, where his work focuses on climate change, fire, small producers, and more. Find all of Mark’s previous articles for Edible Marin & Wine Country at the link below.
Napa Valley Life Magazine
Mark is a regular contributor to Napa Valley Life Magazine, where his work focuses on the wine industry and he takes pride in supporting boutique producers. Please reach out to the publication if you are interested in having Mark write about your wines or winery for Napa Valley Life.LEARN MORE
Currently, Mark is engaged in conducting interviews and meeting people in the wine industry whose stories he feels can help answer important questions, stories he feels strongly need to be told. Presently, gradually, Mark is gathering information for future publications which will focus on the events that brought about important systemic changes in the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, the role of African Americans in transforming the wine industry, and the crucial role of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the wine industry. Mark believes wholeheartedly that these stories, and the people to whom they belong, are of the utmost importance, and he is eager to tell them.LEARN MORE