Marbue Marke - Winemaker, Oceano Wines

A Sip Wines "Winelight"

Hi, my name is Julia, and I’m addicted to the thesis statement.

Yep, that basic principle of writing that we all learned in some early grade, likely the cause of much agony and angst. A thesis statement is a hard thing, after all; a good one represents a thoughtful and succinct distillation of an overarching theme, expressed in a relatable and enticing way. Also, it means that you need a coherent and cohesive theme to begin with. So why do I love the thesis statement so much?

The simple explanation is that I’m a big nerd. The more complex answer is that I firmly believe that the thesis statement transcends middle school English class essays; rather, it’s an incredibly important life concept, and uncovering your own thesis statement can be a revealing and valuable exercise. When I was a career coach, I used the thesis concept to help people prepare for job interviews; in my role as the Sip Wines blogger, I like to use it to frame my conversations with our winery friends. More often than not, I’m met with confusion—but not in this week’s Winelight featuring Marbue Marke, winemaker at Sip Wines partner Oceano Wines and overall wine genius. Instead, Marbue kind of blew my mind.

“I’m chasing the perfect bottle of wine.” – Marbue Marke

Man standing in front of many wines bottles for tasting
Marbue Marke

That’s Marbue’s thesis statement, and he didn’t even need time to think before he gave it to me. I can think of two explanations for how quickly Marbue produced this thesis. The first is that I have a kindred spirit in this world who similarly pursues identity exploration through an English writing construct—and while this is tempting to believe, it seems far less likely than the second possibility, which is that Marbue is so thoroughly in touch with his identity and goals that he could answer without hesitation. I’m guessing the latter.

It turns out, that actually wasn’t Marbue’s entire thesis statement, which is fine because I certainly didn’t give him a word limit. But while it came across initially like he was elaborating on that short, bold statement, upon reflection I think the follow up represented the complete thought, so I’ll give it to you in as close to his words as I can interpret from my notes:

“In my mind, I don’t believe [the perfect bottle of wine] is one bottle. For every moment there’s a bottle, and every site has its own perfect bottle… it’s not a specific bottle that’s perfect, it’s based on a particular moment.”

For every moment, there’s a bottle.  I told him that he should put that on a t-shirt, bumper sticker, whatever, because that’s both deep and pithy. To which he responded, well, his thesis statement actually did evolve very much from his own philosophy. And that, right there, is my takeaway from my conversation with Marbue. Wine isn’t his interest, or his job, or even his passion… it’s his ethos.

Ethos: a Greek word meaning “character,” more fully defined in its current usage as the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.

If I may briefly digress, I feel this is an appropriate moment to bring your attention back to Sip Wines and our overall mission and purpose. Multifaceted it may be, but at our core, we want you to SEE these small, independent wineries for what they are: so much more than producers of wine. They are people, families, cultures, livelihoods, beliefs, traditions… and while not all of them would necessarily articulate their relationships with wine as profoundly as Marbue, I certainly don’t believe he’s alone in experiencing this relationship as more than just a job, in pursuit of an end product. For most of them, wine permeates their lives.

Interestingly, for someone so devoted to a philosophical understanding and pursuit of wine, Marbue didn’t start out his career that way. Born and raised in Sierra Leone, Marbue initially came to the US to pursue a career in medicine before shifting his focus to enology (the study of wine). After working in several different contexts in the industry, he now focuses primarily on consulting (i.e. helping others who want to get started in the wine industry learn the business) as well as winemaking.

So what does the pursuit of the perfect bottle of wine look like? Marbue was very clear on this point: perfection is in the eye of the wine. Meaning, each wine’s version of perfection will look different, determined by a variety of factors including geography, climate, year, etc. Not only that, each wine also has its own uniquely perfect moment—back to what I think his personal slogan should be, that every moment has a bottle.

Pouring bottle of white wine into a glass
Marbue Marke is the Winemaker for Oceano Wines

Listening to Marbue speak about wine, it’s clear that he is an artist in his own way. I said as much to him, and he agreed, to a point. Unlike forms of art such as painting, which takes a fixed form as its finished product, wine continues to evolve beyond its initial creation; it is alive, in a sense, and it needs to be understood as such if it is to achieve its potential. The key to achieving a perfect wine, according to Marbue, is to let the wine dictate its own creation and evolution, rather than trying to impose external expectations and standards. Wines fall short when their makers are pursuing goals apart from the wine itself, be they economical, philosophical, or really anything other than allowing a wine to become the truest expression of itself.

I could have listened to Marbue talk all day, both because of the sheer depth of his knowledge as well as the enthusiasm and passion behind his words. I’m honestly shocked that I managed to remember my initial list of questions with enough time to pose one, but I’m so glad I did. The way Marbue talks about wine is so different from the stereotypical idea of the wine world: stuffy, elitist, traditional, etc. I said as much to him, which prompted one of the fastest and most interesting history lessons of my life to date. I’m going to attempt to recreate it, because it gave me a much better understanding of the US wine world.

Basically, until the 1980s or so, the wine world was dominated by Bordeaux, which was the epitome of “elite” wine. Lest you blame the French entirely for this, I learned that much of the wine from the Bordeaux region was actually cultivated for and enjoyed by the British royalty and elites. I consider myself somewhat of an Anglophile (I recorded both recent royal weddings and watched all, like, four hours of each of them), but that definitely goes a long way towards explaining the “stuffy” image--no one accuses the British monarchy of being trendy. (As recently as 15 years ago, in fact, the United Kingdom was the #1 wine market in the WORLD based on total expenditure.) Bordeaux was the gold standard of wine, and the experts, perhaps most famously Robert Parker (in the US), were educated in that vein. It’s really only been in the last three decades or so that wine in the US has come into its own, and by that I mean not just in terms of production scale, but also in its identity. American wine has taken on a life of its own, leading to dramatically increased competition as well as diversity of both varietals and production methods.

Not only do I still find this history lesson fascinating, but it’s also incredibly important for understanding how Marbue fits into the wine world. He himself acknowledged that he doesn’t exactly fit the “traditional” wine profile--”look at me, I don’t exactly look like someone making wine for the British elite.” Fortunately, American wine has come far enough that Marbue has been able to achieve enormous success, albeit not without challenges that he acknowledges without dwelling overly much.  In fact, I would argue (and I’m certain I’m not alone in believing this) that Marbue is in many ways the “poster child” for the wine of today, and even more so the wine of the future: an embodiment of different countries, cultures, trainings, experiences, and ideas that blend together to create a new and inspiring vision of what wine can be.

Step aside, Bob. There's some new wine on the block... and you can find a lot of it at Sip Wines, where we're dedicated to elevating small, independent winemakers and wine leaders with vision, determination, and a deep love of wine. We believe this is the future of wine, and the future tastes pretty good so far.

Also, I really hope Marbue puts his slogan on a t-shirt. I would totally wear it.

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