A Panamanian winemaker in Napa Valley
Mark Herold is the California born, Panama-raised scion of the Herold family, known for their beautiful El Valle hotel retreat, Crater Valley. Mark has made a name for himself as a “cult winemaker” who has brought several successful brands of wine to market. Just how did a Panamanian guy with a PhD in fish biology become a fixture in the Napa Valley wine scene?
“Growing up in Panama I liked to fish,” Mark explains. “Fishing was my passion, but I always had an interest in wine.” It was at the University of California, Davis, where Mark learned to raise fish. While studying aquaculture, he began to build his wine collection. It was a biochemistry professor with his own winery who instilled the idea that Mark should give winemaking a try. His first barrel, a Zinfandel, he made while still at school.
“When I finished my degree, I could not find a job in my area of emphasis but there was this one job in a winery,” Mark said. He was contracted as a research oenologist and two years later, started Merus, his first brand of wine, in his garage turning out a modest eight barrels with his wife and business partner. The wine turned out to be quite successful, and the project that was started “just for friends” evolved into a business he would eventually sell.
For his new company, Herold Wines, he started with new styles such as Flux, a Grenache-based vintage that retails about $30 a bottle. Acha, a Tempranillo, and Collide, a signature blend of varietals not normally found together, also retail in that range. The Herold brand of Cabernets starts at $60 a bottle. These popular vintages are quite coveted by collectors and the limited batch productions often sell out.
“Panama is getting a lot more wine-oriented,” Mark explains. “The taste for quality is getting more refined.”
In addition to making his own wines, Mark works as a consultant for six wineries, all in the high-end spectrum with bottles that retail over $100. “What makes wine great is the quality of the grapes,” he says. “It’s all about the pursuit of the best grapes.”