If you know the Woodinville wine scene, then you probably know the name Mark Ryan Winery.
The winery was started in 1999 with the goal of making the best wines in Washington state. The winery settled in the Woodinville area in 2003 and largely due to Mark’s personality (and great wines), made a quick impact on Woodinville Wine Country.
Mark quickly linked up with five other high-quality wineries (Baer, Darby, Gorman, Guardian and Sparkman) and dubbed themselves the “Grape Killers.”
Speaking of funny names, most of Mark’s wine names originate from Pearl Jam songs. Welcome to the whacky world of Mark Ryan.
Mark Ryan’s tasting room is located in the north outbuildings of the Hollywood Schoolhouse in the Tourist District. It is a funky space, with concrete floors, walls of wine and outside seating for those sunny days. To bring the outside in, the front wall is mostly garage doors which can be opened on nice days to make one big wine tasting space. One of his trademarks is that he usually keeps some type of vintage motorcycle in the tasting room. In short, it’s all Mark in character.
We were greeted by Nate Test who poured us five wines.
The first was the 2011 Voignier, which has grapes sourced from Red Willow, one of the very first vineyards in Washington state. We then moved on to Wild Eyed which is 100% Syrah which was spicy with hints of mocha and vanilla. We decided it was “a delicious party in your glass.”
The last three wines were all blends, namely The Dissident, Long Haul and Dead Horse. All were outstanding and received nines and tens on our own personal palette (this doesn’t happen very often with The Winers).
There is a reason that Mark was named the 2011 winemaker of the year and that Paul Gregutt of The Wine Enthusiast named Mark Ryan Winery one of the new “Cult Wineries” of Washington state.
So who is this Mark Ryan character? Actually, his name is Mark McNeilly, but he thought using his middle name for the winery sounded better. We asked Nate for his favorite story and he chuckled that Mark was well known for being a transient winemaker when he arrived in Woodinville, meaning that the first vintages of Long Haul and Dead Horse were produced, crushed and pressed in garages of friends and family. When he ran out of garages, he was finally forced to rent a warehouse so that he could actually live with the wine.
We also have a Mark story which we directly experienced ourselves when our good friend Lance Baer tragically passed away five years ago at age 39. It was Mark McNeilly who was one of the first to volunteer his time to look after the Baer Winery vintage that Lance had aging in barrels. That is who this Mark McNeilly character really is. He combines great wine with an overdose of personality and passion, and the industry is better off for it.
If you would like to get to know Mark better, stop by his tasting room, which is open from noon-5 p.m. seven days a week. The address is 14810 NE 145th Street Building A-1 in Woodinville. Tastings are $10 and his wines are priced from $28 to $52. Don’t get out of there without meeting Mark — as you too will be better off for it.