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by Fred McMillin
for December 10, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

The Men of Markham

 

Markham Man No. 1

It was clear that Jean Laurent was no ordinary young man. Born in Bordeaux in 1837, only fifteen years later he was panning for gold in California! Another 15 years and he was the best-known French vintner in the Napa Valley. In 1876 he hired some fellow Frenchmen and personally directed the building of a two-story, stone winery. One hundred feet long and sixty feet wide, it could store the equivalent of 90,000 cases. Jean Laurent's legacy? Noted wine historian William Heintz: "This stone structure is now the Markham winery, and is as sound as when it was built over a century ago."


Markham Man No. 2

The Stone Winery

The Stone Winery.

It was clear that Bruce Markham was no ordinary young man. After four years as a gunnery officer in the Korean War, Bruce made a fortune in outdoor advertising. Exactly 100 years after Jean built his winery, Bruce was building a marvelous collection of Napa vineyards totalling 200 acres. He planned to sell all the grapes, but after two years decided to convert some of them into wine. So he bought an old stone winery, but you already knew about that.


Markham Man No. 3

It was clear that Bryan Del Bondio was no ordinary young man. A viticulture grad of U.C.-Davis, Bryan was appointed Markham general manager at age twenty two (in 1977). Five years later critic Roy Andries De Groot was impressed, writing, "Markham is so well organized that one has the feeling it will expand rather quickly from the current 20,000-case capacity.
Top wine: the intense, smooth 100% Merlot."

Roy Andries was right. Today the production of the Merlot alone has risen to 60,000 cases a year, the total production has risen to over 130,000 cases, and Bryan Del Bondio has risen to the presidency of Markham.


What Wine To Try?

As to today's Markham wines, if you like red, you must try Markham Merlot. It's always been a winner. Author Anthony Dias Blue gave both the 1980 and 1981 three stars, "rich, fruity, velvety." These were vintages that impressed De Groot (above). The Wine Spectator has rated many subsequent vintages 90 or higher. White wine? The Sauvignon Blanc has scored well, but the Chardonnay is dazzling... "Ripe, smooth, creamy with a sense of elegance." (James Laube) For availability, contact the Paterno firm, Lake Bluff, Ill., (847) 604-8900, FAX (847) 604-5829.


Postscript

I told you Bruce Markham was no ordinary man. In 1978 the winery held its first crush. Exactly ten years later (1988) he sold Markham for EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS!

Credits:
Research by Diane Bulzomi
Note—For more, see WineDay Annex, "Markham's Grand Slam.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin

 

Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

 

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