Meet a Winemaker – Mark Ferguson of Mission Bell Winery
A trip to a winery as a young man changed the career trajectory for Mark Ferguson, he traded in his law office life to eventually become a winemaker. And boy are we glad he did! Meet Mark, senior winemaker for Mission Bell Winery.
CA Grown: What are you doing today?
Mark: Lots! I’m putting the finishing touches on our harvest. Our last fermentation for the year, here at Mission Bell, is complete and now it is a matter of stabilizing, filtering and blending. Plus, as the Senior Winemaker overseeing Black Box Wines, I am coordinating the logistics to move around 200,000 gallons for the first 2017 Pinot Grigio blend of the new vintage. These wines are coming from all over California and need to be in place and ready for packaging. I also am keeping track of all the other blends that are in process and/or packaging and shipping. And at this busy time, there are receiving and production meetings galore.
CA Grown: What is your favorite part of winemaking?
Mark: I love the people. I know that sounds cliché, but it is so true. I am very blessed to be able to work with highly competent people that I regard as friends. I love what I do, and who I do it with. I also love the fact that at the end of the day, we make a tangible product that people enjoy. Wine is drank at the best of times and the worst of times, and all the times in between. The Constellation motto is to “elevate life with every glass raised.” I try to take that to heart. I have a lot of fun each and everyday. Of course, there are always challenges but I always try to look on the bright side of life and find the “funny” in the situation.
CA Grown: How do you give back to the community?
Mark: I think primarily by spreading love and kindness each day, and with each interaction. I sound like a hippie (or maybe Huey Lewis), but I believe in the power of love. We have an annual fundraiser here at the winery called “Night at the North Pole”. We create a winter wonderland for the employees, and the purpose (besides taking a selfie with Santa) is to raise funds, gifts, and toiletries for Madera’s Rescue Mission. We have been putting on this event for the past eight years, and it grows each year. Last year we were able to supply the shelter with 564 toys to be handed out to local children in need, 1 year’s supply of toiletries, 1 year’s supply of toilet paper, 1 year’s supply of laundry soap, and 68 blankets. It is a great event that brings the winery team together to celebrate, while also making a positive impact in the community. I admit that I cry like a baby every year at the end of the night when we load up this huge moving truck with toys, food, etc. The ladies from the shelter are there thanking us, and seeing the gratitude and love in their eyes is very rewarding. It is an awesome and overwhelming moment that I look forward to. I wouldn’t miss that moment for anything.
CA Grown: What drew you into winemaking?
Mark: As a young man I was working at a law firm in Sacramento. One weekend a couple of the secretaries invited me to tag along with them on a wine tasting trip to Sonoma. I remember climbing out of the car and looking around Chateau St. Jean and thinking, “This is an option in life?” That was the initial spark. From there I started researching what it would take to become a winemaker, and it was everything that I loved: agriculture, science, art. So I started pursuing the prerequisite classes for the U.C. Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology in earnest. Eventually, I decided that I had better get some on the job experience in order to decipher if this was something I was truly meant to do, or just something I thought sounded cool to tell women.
I was able to land a job at Woodbridge Winery in Lodi as the Assistant to the Research Winemaker. I can vividly recall one morning out in a vineyard, east of Lodi, collecting sugar samples. There was no one but me and the birds and the grapes, watching the sunrise and thinking “yeah…this is what I want to do.”
CA Grown: What are your hobbies or past times when you are not making wine?
Mark: My wife and I have a 9 year old daughter and a 4 year old son, so there isn’t a whole lot of time left for hobbies. Mostly I just love being around my family and enjoying the simple pleasures of everyday life. I also love to play golf. I’m not very good, but I can hold my own on just about any course.
CA Grown: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into wine making?
Mark: I would give them the same advice that Robert Mondavi gave to me in 1999, during my first harvest at Woodbridge. He looked me square in the eye and said with his warbly voice, “You have to have passion…without passion you will never succeed.” I took those words to heart and live them out every day. And, if I may, I would add onto that by saying, “Enjoy life.” We only go around once in this crazy world, so love with all of your heart, laugh as much as possible, explore everything, and most importantly, be kind. It sounds simple enough, but that outlook on life will take you a long, long way.