Hospitality, Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, Windsor, CA
Passion can be an overworked adjective in the wine industry, but not so much when describing Mark Elcombe of Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. Mark, a San Diego native, is no stranger to the wine country; having arrived in 1985.It’s an oft-told tale: living in Wine Country means that inevitably the wines siren call draws you near. In 2007 he decided the best way to live the wine country dream was to get involved with wineries and wine in a way that would help him not only understand wine from grape to glass, but with that knowledge, contribute to a winery no matter the challenge. And so he set out on a personal wine journey. Taking advantage of the viticulture offerings at Santa Rosa Junior College, one of the region’s premiere wine training grounds, he absorbed all he could about wine grape growing and winemaking and tasting. For the Wilson Winery in Dry Creek, he worked events and learned the ins and out of basic hospitality. He worked as a harvest intern and so-called cellar rat at St. Francis Winery. As a volunteer for the largest wine competition in the United States, he watched and learned as judges evaluated more than 5,000 wines submitted to the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, gaining experience in the “back room” where wines are prepared and evaluated before the judges actually do their work. Using his networking skills, he turned every school and winery connection into another opportunity to dig deeper and learn more, never losing the passion that brought him, ultimately to Sonoma-Cutrer. Those who know Mark say he has developed the knowledge and ability to evaluate and present wine in a manner that is usually reserved for those in the wine industry for decades. In 2011 Mark earned his Certification in wine evaluation from the wine studies program at Santa Rosa Junior College and returns to the San Francisco Chronicle as a Judge in 2012.