Mark Ryan McNeilly is a Washington wine star who started making wine in 1999. While Mark is now a seasoned wine industry veteran with more than two decade of winemaking success and tons of critical praise, he has always been remarkably modest about his winemaking.
In 2009, Mike Macmorran moved from assistant to full-on winemaker. The collaboration between them has produced the best Mark Ryan wines to date.
Time spent by Mark in restaurants waiting tables and bartending led to a sales job for a Seattle wine distributor.
"When I was in sales I was able to taste dozens of wines per week in an analytical situation, where everyone was talking about their perceptions and trying to understand the wine. That really helped my palate."
That, in turn, led to a two year stint as national sales manager for Matthews Cellars in Woodinville.
"Working at Matthews gave me a whole new skill set in selling wine and dealing with distributors," he says. "It also got me into the cellar where I was working more hands on with wine."
Those jobs, along with work at Steele Winery in Lake County, California where he worked in the lab, the vineyard and on the crush pad, provided the practical education which culminated in the launching of his own label in 1999.
Anyone starting a new venture can use a little encouragement, and winemakers are no different. On the craft side, Mark McNeilly credits Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard with being one of his early (and most patient) influences.
"I'd have him on the phone at all hours of the night and I'd be freaking out. Every conversation I had with him I'd start out by saying, I think I screwed it up again!"
Another early confidence building moment came at a dinner with famed Italian winemaker Domenico Clerico. "He actually loved my 2001 Dead Horse," remembers McNeilly. "I kept trying to hide my wine bottles behind his because I didn't want him to find them. He finally found them and he loved them!"
Mark is one of the Pacific Northwest wine industry's relentless, creative thinkers—and doers. Mark is always brainstorming new opportunities, from wine labels and sub-labels to tasting rooms all over Washington.