Mark Lyon, Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Winemaker
Mark Lyon’s career in winemaking spans over 30 years of distinction and achievement. Mark graduated with a B.S. in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis in 1978 and was hired by Sebastiani Vineyards one year later. In 1985, he was put in charge of harvest at the winery and was instrumental in making the inaugural vintage of Sebastiani’s famed Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon. He has since focused exclusively on producing the best quality wines sourced throughout Sonoma County.
In 1980, Mark and his father bought a 122 acre vineyard in Alexander Valley. His hands-on management of the vineyard has allowed him to develop a tremendous knowledge of winegrowing, particularly in Bordeaux varietals. In 2005, Mark was awarded the “Distinguished Alumni Award” by U.C. Davis for his community service and his development of joint research projects with the University. A biannual recognition, the award has been given to such prominent industry leaders as Robert Mondavi and Justin Meyers. Mark has also been named “Winemaker of the Year” by Restaurant Wine Magazine and was included in “Winemakers to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Although he is perhaps best known for the highly sought after Cherryblock, Mark believes his best successes have been with wines that blend different vineyard sites within a broader appellation. The inaugural release of the 1999 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was the first Sebastiani Vineyards wine to be on the cover of Wine Spectator and to make the publication’s “Top 100 Wines Of The Year.” Additionally the 2001 Sonoma County Chardonnay and 2002 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon -- both selling for less than $15.00 -- were named “Top 100 Wines of the Year” by the Wine Spectator Magazine. These achievements, unique in the history of Sebastiani Vineyards, occurred after the winery had divested itself of nearly 8 million cases of bulk wine production in 2001 in order to focus solely on small-production wines sourced from the appellations of Sonoma County.
“By decreasing our production, we’re doing very concrete things to produce better wines, world-class wines. We’re getting the best clone and rootstock matches for the soils and climates. We’re working only with growers who farm for quality, in the sub-appellations of Sonoma County best-suited for each grape variety. In the cellar, we’re handling a huge number of small lots, something we couldn’t do before. We are now able to experiment with techniques such as employing a more natural approach to Chardonnay by fermenting with indigenous yeasts found on the grape skins versus inoculating with commercial yeast strains. As a result, we’re making more concentrated, complex wines across all tiers – from the Sonoma County Selection to the Proprietor’s Selection. It’s exciting to be at Sebastiani these days.”
Mark lives just a block away from the winery and enjoys the simplicity of both working and living in Sonoma. He directs his own vineyard and especially loves to preserve his low yielding, “Old Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc blocks. He is actively involved in the community and enjoys cooking, drinking fine wines with friends, cultivating his organic vegetable garden and travelling the world when his schedule permits.
The purchase of Sebastiani Vineyards in 2008 by William Foley has been particularly exciting for Mark, promising even greater resources and opportunities as winemaker. Says Mark: “Foley Family Wines is dynamic and innovative, having the passion, personnel and resources to become a new leader in the wine industry.”