Friday, May 1, 2015

A Moniker By Any Other Name: Mark Beaman, Winemaker

Does the name Mark Beaman ring a bell? When I was approached about joining the winemaker bearing that moniker for dinner, I thought there was something familiar about the name. It took a little digging - just a little - to find out why.

The publicist insisted that “you may not know winemaker Mark Beaman, but you likely know his wines,” and that turned out to be the case. Beaman is assistant winemaker for Parducci Wine Cellars, but that was not the memory nerve that was struck. Fifty Shades of Gray Wine wasn’t it either. Ah, Wines That Rock! That’s it! The wines that serve as a liquid tribute band for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Woodstock - Mark Beaman is the winemaker who rocked those Mendocino County grapes into the bottle.

The wines Beaman was at dinner to pour - and pour - were those bearing the Moniker label. These wines - sourced exclusively from Mendocino County - pay tribute to the three generations of the Thornhill family, Beaman’s employers. Beaman liked the Thornhills so much, he married one of them. “I had the job first,” he is quick to point out, “then I met my wonderful wife.”

Beaman was raised in a farming family in Washington state and kept the dirt under his fingernails with a stint as a soil conservation expert in the Peace Corps. Oddly, it was during that time in East Africa that Beaman became interested in winemaking. He saw the fermentation process there as the locals made mead, honey wine. He got his feet purple at Washington’s Columbia Crest winery before moving to Mendocino.

Beaman loves making Moniker wines in Mendocino County. “It was my desire to work for a small family winery, and I like that the Thornhills are very progressive in their farming practices and committed to crafting the highest-quality wines possible.” He particularly likes the varietal choice that is possible due to Mendocino’s microclimates and - of course - the soil types.

Beaman opened his dinner comments at the bar, noting that in Chardonnay, oak is like a painting frame. "If you notice it, it is too gaudy. It should serve as a framework. It should accent, not dominate."

He points out that Mendocino Wine Company - the parent company of Moniker Wines - is the oldest winery in Mendocino County, founded in 1932. He feels that Mendocino County's problem has been marketing, not growing or winemaking.

He is doing what he can to get the word out about what a great wine growing region is found in the county. How did he end up there, instead of at a more established winery? He wanted the opportunity "to experiment and be part of something being built in the present day." Beaman also was attracted by the"incredible diversity of grapes grown in Mendocino County."

His Moniker Chardonnay shows great fruit and bright acidity, which he attributes to the diurnal shift - the differential of warm and cool temperatures achieved in the county during the growing season. Notes of Asian pear and spice are joined by a great touch of oak. The fruit is gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. This Chardonnay is elegant, not oaky or steely. A 4% hit of Viognier adds floral aromas as it warms. Beaman says the presence of the Viognier gives a "second life to the wine."

"I'm not about the winemaker tricks and what I can do," he says. "I'm about the growers and capturing what they do and bottling it."

For red wines, Moniker employs redwood tanks - huge ones. The redwood tanks are over 100 years old and Beaman says the redwood "does not impart flavor to the wine, even when new. It does smooth the tannins quite a bit, though."

The Moniker Pinot Noir has a lovely, graceful, raspberry nose with gentle notes of tea and coffee. The palate is very rich, with red berry, cherry and black tea. Very gentle tannins make for a smooth sipping experience.

According to Beaman, the wine gives a "nod to Burgundy, but it's definitely a California Pinot because it has to through a lot of yoga poses before it's just right. It needs aeration to get it past its assertive phase."

Of the Moniker Cabernet Sauvignon, Beaman says it's a "cerebral, fireside wine," although it is great with food, too. Notes of gunpowder and mint are immediately obvious, while the "olive tapenade will come out," he says. Beaman says he really likes that he didn't mention blackberry or currant in the flavor profile. He is obviously proud to present a Cabernet that elbows its way past the usual descriptors and delivers something a little deeper.

The Moniker Wines are something on which Beaman can be very proud to place his own moniker.

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