Winemakers

Our winemakers get around. They’re friends with growers all over California and find us the best available fruit for our wine. Our obsession with quality allows us to blend stylish wines that are consistent, refined, enjoyable and approachable – just like us! We want to show you great wine can be top-knotch without a hefty price tag.

Mark Rasmussen

Mark Rasmussen is our head honcho, overseeing the Harken program while serving as SVP of Winemaking for our parent winery, O’Neill Vintners & Distillers. He’s been making wine at some of California’s leading wineries for almost 40 years and definitely knows a thing or two (or everything) about winemaking.

The Life-Changing Burger Joint
“The place was Berkeley. The year was 1973. It was my senior year at UC Berkeley and I was part of a rag tag yet debonair group known then and today as H.R Fools, aka Hog Riding Fools, or just Fools for short. One Foolian winter evening we were having dinner at a unique burger joint called Fat Albert’s on Grove Street. I don’t recall them serving much more than burgers but they were really good and too expensive to have often. You could actually order one ‘rare’ or whatever and that was really unheard of at the time. The owner was a wine lover and in 1973 that pretty much meant French wine. He did a typically Berkeley thing and sold bottles for $1 more than he paid for them. I think it was his way to try and get folks to discover and try wine. Well, fellow Fool, Dennis, was a Madera-grown kid whose father enjoyed wine and by osmosis Dennis knew of this mysterious beverage from France. It was at Fat Albert’s for an occasional burger dinner with a Bordeaux that would cost us 6 or 7 dollars that I first truly drank real wine. I was 21 years old. I couldn’t believe how good it was. I know nothing of what we ordered, can’t remember any names or anything other than it was Bordeaux.″

“It was at that funky restaurant in Bezerkeley that I got the bug. I was in the wine business for good by 1977.”

Kryss Speegle 

Kryss Speegle is our accomplished Director of Winemaking. She’s been around the world, working with wineries throughout California, as well as Germany and New Zealand. Active in the wine world, she’s judged wine competitions and taught wine courses at California colleges. Currently studying for the prestigious Masters of Wine credential, she also conducted sensory research for Dr. Ann Noble, creator of the Wine Aroma Wheel.

The Life-Changing “Help Wanted” Sign
“The place was Virginia. The year was 1996. I was a recent college graduate with a miserable job and vague plans to sit the Foreign service officer exam. Being dimly aware of wine, I decided I wanted to attend the annual Virginia Wine Festival. My boyfriend at the time was a tremendous cheapskate and didn’t want to spring $20 for tickets so instead we went to the (free) tasting room at a local winery. Mostly French hybrids and not one of them tasted good to me but on the way out I saw a posting on the wall for part-time tasting room help and thought it sounded like fun. I worked there a few weekends, then bought a book – “The Joy of Home Wine Making” – and started messing around making undrinkable wine from blackberries, peaches, and the like. I did an Internet search (1990s = 9600 bpm modem, no graphics) and found out that you could get a Master’s degree in Enology from UC Davis. I spent 2-½ years taking prerequisite courses, from Calculus to Biochem. It didn’t even occur to me that there were other jobs in the wine industry besides winemaker and that I was choosing the path of greatest resistance given my History degree. When I saw a letter my mom was writing to my aunt, speculating on how soon my “winemaking phase” would end, there was no turning back. My dad on the other hand was already clearing space in the basement for a wine cellar. I had no idea how hard it was to get into the Davis program and blithely applied in 1999 and packed up my car. The boyfriend stayed behind. At that point the benchmark wines in my life were a Freemark Abbey Cabernet and a run-of-the-mill Vaqueyras, both captivating for their savory appeal but barely casting a shadow of the magical wines I would be privileged to taste and handle in the future.”

“My life began when I moved to California.”