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Unbeknown to him at the time, Marbue Marke’s path to becoming winemaker at Oceano Wines commenced upon learning that he was accepted into the University of California-Davis with an eye toward medical school after college. That he chose to leave the West African country of Sierra Leone to pursue this profession is no surprise given that several family members, including his mother, are doctors. That he began his studies as a 15-year-old child at a junior college in California in order to take several prerequisite courses so that he could then become one of the youngest attendees in the school’s long history might be considered one. Those who know Marke, however, would say it simply speaks to his intelligence and drive.
After starting the program, it dawned on him that medicine was not his true calling. Perhaps being at the same university that also happens to house the most prestigious wine program in the United States – and among the most renowned in the world – made him recall with great fondness his first exposure to wine at the knee of his paternal grandfather, who was born and raised in neighboring Guinea. That “schooling” began when he was five, naturally with French wine given that country’s colonial past.
Marke earned his enology degree from Davis and, subsequently, added to his academic resume with an MBA from Sonoma State University. His practical experience began at J Winery in Sonoma, followed by a series of moves, each adding another piece to the puzzle that is winemaking. At Cosentino Winery, he learned about the rarefied world of high-end Napa wines. He was then a barrel enologist at R.H. Philips. For two years, Marke was charged with cooperage studies, an offshoot field that many winemakers are not experienced in. During a stint at Benziger, he was immersed in that family’s heightened concern for soil and winemaking purity.
From there, Marke made a seemingly counterintuitive jump to Gallo. He reasoned that it’s always a good idea to revisit the basics of one’s craft, and given Gallo’s depth and breadth of resources, it was the perfect place for him to hone all of the skills associated with the production process.
But perhaps the most pivotal move he made, at least in terms of his future connection to Oceano, was his decision to sign on as John Caldwell’s winemaker. That Marke began working with one of the Napa Valley’s true legends turned out to be prophetic for Rachel Martin. She met Marke by way of her very own connection to Caldwell. She sourced the plant material for Boxwood Estate Winery’s first vineyard block from him. Marke has since taken over as the Director of Winegrowing at Italics Winegrowers in Coombsville, one of Napa Valley’s cooler climes and another serendipitous similarity with Spanish Springs Vineyard.
So, when it became time to bring a winemaker into the Oceano project, how could it have been anyone but Marke?
A unique combination of education and experience brought Rachel Martin to launch Oceano Wines with husband and co-proprietor, Kurt Deutsch in 2016. A Virginia native, Martin was present at the inception of what is now considered one of that state’s premier wine producers, Boxwood Estate Winery, in 2005. As Executive Vice President of Winery Operations, Martin’s job was to oversee all facets of production, sales and marketing of Boxwood’s award-winning whites, rosés and Bordeaux-style red blends.
After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston/Tufts University), Martin decided to make her love of wine a full-time vocation. She parlayed a degree in Viticulture and Enology from Napa Valley College into a spot in the prestigious Sensory Evaluation program at the University of Bordeaux School of Enology. And from there, Martin ushered in the very first wines at Boxwood, located in Middleburg, a bucolic area previously better known for horses than vines.
Appreciating the distinctiveness of Middleburg’s terroir, Martin spearheaded the move toward securing a coveted American Viticultural Area designation from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal agency charged with evaluating the merits of all such applications. The petition she authored on behalf of the region was approved in 2012, making Middleburg Virginia the state’s seventh AVA.
Martin’s forward thinking led directly to Middleburg having its own wine identity separate from the more generic Virginia designation, making her well suited to again start from scratch with Oceano Wines. None other than the esteemed author Jancis Robinson noted Martin’s marketing savvy in her book “American Wine.”
Martin is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International New York and Washington, D.C chapters and was the first woman to be inducted into the District of Columbia chapter of the International Wine & Food Society.
It should come as no great surprise that one of Kurt Deutsch’s many personal relationships made the idea of starting Oceano Wines with co-proprietor, Rachel Martin possible. After all, Deutsch, a St. Louisan by birth, carved out a career largely because of his ability to meet and befriend people.
A stage and screen actor – both big and small screens – for more than 15 years, Deutsch cultivated relationships across the full spectrum of his aspect of the entertainment industry. After spending so much time with performers, stars and lesser-knowns, production and management people, Deutsch had his “ah-ha” moment sometime around 2000.
That is when he launched Sh-K-Boom Records (an imprint called Ghostlight Records was added in 2004) with an eye toward broadening the traditional – and limited – audience for Original Broadway Cast Recordings and Broadway performers. The goal was to create a United Nations for the musical theatre world. Instead of the formulaic way these recordings had been made for decades, Deutsch injected a large dose of originality and dynamism to the process, from production through the marketing phase, energizing both the artists and their fans.
The result: A library of more than 200 solo and Original Cast Records; four Grammy Awards, including The Band's Visit, The Book of Mormon, In the Heights, and Beautiful; numerous other nominations; and the release of solo albums by Broadway luminaries such as Patti LuPone, Kelli O’Hara and Sutton Foster. Deutsch also produced the acclaimed movie musical “The Last Five Years” starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
And just as Deutsch’s entertainment relationships shaped his evolution from performer to producer, his family relationships helped him evolve from wine consumer to wine producer. Henry Warshaw, a longtime friend and neighbor of Deutsch’s father, Gene, owns the vineyard that is the sole source of fruit for Oceano’s chardonnay and pinot noir. The subsequent introduction of Warshaw to Rachel Martin eventually culminated in the release of the first wine in July of 2017.
Perhaps no human being knows more about the vineyards of San Luis Obispo County than George Donati, which makes sense given that he is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in farming there. As the general manager of Pacific Vineyard Company, he is responsible for managing Spanish Springs Vineyard, making him an indispensable part of the Oceano Wines team.
Donati’s company has been managing and developing vineyards throughout the Central Coast – with a concentration in San Luis Obispo County – since 1973, meaning, essentially, that he has been walking the vineyards since the first vines were put in – and long before the movie “Sideways” brought the surrounding area to the attention of millions of wine drinkers. The company works with well-known wineries, such as Baileyana, as well as boutique producers, like Oceano, taking care of all aspects of the grape-growing process, or as in Oceano’s case, working closely with the winemaker and proprietors, managing the vineyard to their specifications.
Currently, the company manages some 1,800 acres of vineyards, nearly 1,400 of which carry the coveted SIP certification. Producing fruit that is Sustainable In Practice is particularly important for Donati given his family’s long history in the area. And his expertise isn’t confined to commercially important grapes, such as chardonnay and pinot noir. Spanish Springs itself is the source of eight different varieties, including albarino, barbera and viognier. All told, Pacific Wine Company grows 18 different varieties.
That range of experience in this cool-climate region is an invaluable tool for co-proprietors/vintners Rachel Martin and Kurt Deutsch, and winemaker Marbue Marke, enabling them to transform great fruit into great wine.