As with most things here at Caldwell, our winemaking is a little different than most. First off, everything we make (other than our Smuggler Pinot Noir) is crafted from fruit grown in our own vineyard – they’re true estate wines. Every one, white and red alike, is fermented and aged in 100% French oak barrels. And if we’re not mistaken, we’re the first winery in the U.S. with our own in-house barrel cooperage and full-time Master Cooper (one of only 30 in the entire world).
Because the old adage “great wine is made in the vineyard” really is true, we have our own full-time vineyard crew – which means we can control every step of what happens in the vineyard, from pruning to picking, exactly when and how we want. We always do a pre-dawn harvest and bring the fruit straight into the cave for processing. We hand sort everything to remove any imperfect berries and MOG (material other than grapes) and put the whole berries straight into oak barrels for fermentation. We add dry ice on top of the grapes to create a CO₂ barrier to prevent oxidation. We whole-cluster barrel ferment for an average of 30 days. Finally we press the wine, and place the juice back in barrel for oak aging until we blend and bottle it. We have an on-site lab for doing analysis during every step of the process, and we’ve got our own bottling line, too.
Marbue Marke, Winemaker. Artist. Individualist.
In a world of lock- step wines, Marbue goes his own way. Originally from Sierra Leone, his name alone heralds something unique and out of the ordinary. Both he and his wines are just that.
Deep inside our 22,000 square foot cave, surrounded by the earth in which the grapes are grown, Marbue makes thoughtful and artistic interpretations of this vineyard into wine. “I know what I want and what I’m looking for in any given wine,” Marbue says. “I’m not chasing a trend or a number. The grape has a voice, and it’s my job to hear what it’ s saying and to amplify that for everyone to enjoy.”
The Truth and The Time Capsule
“There’s nothing that replaces the truth, despite whatever pain the truth may cause. And personally, I’m most alive when I’m authentic,” Marbue says. That attitude spills into his winemaking as he seeks to capture the authenticity of the grapes in the bottle, rather than seeking to impose a “house style” on them.
“For me, winemaking is a personal journey. The vintages are time capsules of memories. And the perfect bottle of wine? I don’t make it. It shows up. Then it’s my job to interpret it and bottle it for everyone else to enjoy.”
The Long and Winding Road to Caldwell
Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in western Africa, Marbue was raised with one career in mind: medicine. With several members of his family in the medical profession, it seemed reasonable that Marbue would follow their example. His mother and his favorite uncle are both doctors and are both a big influence on Marbue. But perhaps the most influential person for Marbue was his grandfather. Marbue distinctly remembers sitting on his grandpa’s porch as a young boy of five, sipping fine French wine.
At age 15, Marbue was the first of his family to leave Africa. He was accepted to UC Davis in the Pre-Med department in 1995. During his internship at UC Davis Medical Center, Marbue had a revelation: “Blood and selfishness weren’t going to work for me.” A professor suggested that Marbue look into another science. He started an internship in the winemaking department and was hooked. He graduated with a degree in enology from Davis and later went on to receive an M.B.A. from Sonoma State University.
After graduating, Marbue started at J winery in Sonoma, where he learned that instinct alone doesn’t get it done. Next he took a position at Cosentino Winery in Napa Valley, which at the time was making some of the most expensive wine in Northern California. From there he moved on to work for R.H. Phillips Winery as a Barrel Enologist. For two years, Marbue was in charge of experimenting with different cooperages – an invaluable experience that few other winemakers get. In 2001, Marbue landed a job working as an associate winemaker at Benzinger Winery. There, he got a good look at the commitment, passion, and detailed attention it takes to deliver an organic or biodynamic wine at a super-premium level.
After Benzinger, Marbue needed a change. He wanted to be challenged and to revisit his fundamentals. This led him to work for the almighty Gallo. “Gallo had the resources that nobody else had,” he explains. “They challenged me with things I had never seen, and they pushed me.” After a challenging two years dedicated to delicate white varietals, Marbue was ready to apply what he’d learned on a smaller, more intimate scale. He decided it was time to create his own project at a custom crush facility – which, of course, ended up being Caldwell. He worked with Philippe Melka and then, as Philippe moved on with other projects, Marbue took on the winemaking for all of Caldwell’s wines.