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Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

Winemaker Mark Herold is a scientist, having earned a Ph.D. in ecology with an emphasis in nutritional biochemistry.

His very nature is to approach winemaking analytically, with a touch of artistry in the mix.

“No matter what bottle of wine is produced; it is an accumulation of more than 20,000 decisions. It only takes one wrong decision to screw it up,” he said.

One of the steps includes constantly checking the vineyards.

“I drive to Lodi twice a week to spend 15 minutes at each of three vineyards. It’s a long, boring drive, but it’s necessary.”

But Herold is hardly a dry, boring lab tech.

When he laughs, which he does often, it’s a huge laugh that envelopes his whole body and fills the room. His personality is as complex and satisfying as the wines he blends.

While pursuing his doctoral work, Herold took graduate level classes in enology. A professor encouraged him to make a barrel of wine, and Herold was hooked.

Soon after earning his degree, he went to work for Joseph Phelps as research enologist, and loved it.

“It became my wine school.”

In 1998, Herold started making his own Cabernet—Merus—in his garage, producing 175 cases, which he released in 2001.

He persuaded Robert Parker, a nationally known wine critic, to try it.

Parker liked it. A lot.

The day after Parker’s review was released, Herold got 1,000 orders for his wine. Merus was very well received, and Herold became a cult legend winemaker almost overnight.

Ten years later, Herold sold Merus reluctantly, signing a non-compete agreement that barred him from making Cabernet for two years.

That arrangement actually allowed Herold to go places with winemaking that he might not have otherwise explored. He began producing Spanish and Rhone-styled wines.

“There’s other flavors than Cabernet, guys, and they’re affordable.”

He describes his Acha Red, 100 percent Tempranillo, as being “rich and complex.”

He says his Collide is a powerful, exotic blend, “where the chocolate meets the peanut butter.”

These wines and, Flux, a Grenache based Rhone-style blend are available at Wines by Mark Herold on 710 First St., adjacent the Oxbow. 707-256-3111.

The non-compete has lapsed, and Herold is again producing amazing Cabernets. Enjoy those, as well as a variety of small lot, appellation specific wines, at the recently opened Mark Herold Reserve Room at 926 Franklin St., tucked away in the alley behind Anette’s Chocolates next to Cadet.

While the tasting room on First Street offers a traditional tasting setting, the Reserve Room offers a chance to sit, relax and linger.

As Herold puts it, “More like an education over the kitchen table.” Both rooms are open daily. 707-227-1284.

Herold is focused on his mission.

“We strive to make the best wines in Napa,” he said.

“Try cross vintages and prove it for yourself. We love to hear visitors say, ‘These are the best crafted wines I’ve tasted all day. Next time I’m in Napa, I’m coming back here.’”

See you downtown!

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Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association. Reach him at 257-0322 or