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Gold Medal Wine Club
5330 Debbie Road, Suite 200
Santa Barbara, California 93111
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WaterMark Winery - Napa Valley - Howell Mountain

94 Points plus a Gold Medal - Beverage Tasting Institute

If experience has anything to do with it, Napa Valley’s smallish WaterMark Winery should continue its outstanding run of successes. Owned by personable Phil Steinschriber, the operation was begun early this century. Its first release of around 350 cases occurred in 2003 and was met with instant success and high plaudits by the wine industry’s top periodicals. When you hear the rest of the story, it is easy to understand just why this phenomena occurred, and, why so quickly.

Phil Steinschriber, now an incredibly youthful 60, was born on a chicken farm in New Jersey but moved with his parents to Los Angeles when he was just nine. As most good southern Californians, his family enjoyed wine and so did Phil. He entered UCLA and received a degree in Psychology. A few years later, he took the rather unusual step of attending Cal State Fresno, and there received a master’s degree in Agriculture/Chemistry. By the time this was completed, Phil was already aware that his future career lay within the borders of the California wine industry.

He entered the wine business in 1983 and worked for the esteemed Yarden Winery in Israel for a period and other small wineries back in the United States. In 1991, his career turned toward the heavens when he landed the prestigious winemaker’s position at heralded Diamond Creek Winery in Napa Valley.

“This was a wonderful chance for me, since Diamond Creek was many people’s idea of the near perfect winery,” he recalled. “Its owner, Al Brounstein, was one of the iconic figures in the modern Napa Valley hierarchy. It was a real pleasure to get to know him and work with him.” The arrangement must have been made in heaven because Steinschriber remains today as Diamond Creek’s winemaker and general manager. Steinschriber admitted that he started WaterMark as a vehicle to do something on his own.

“Most of my wines have always gotten between a 90 and 95,” he explained. “I knew I could make some really fine wines. I just wanted to do it under my own label.” This year, WaterMark will produce around 600-700 cases, a relatively slow growth rate from the winery’s inception. His plan, set for the next three or four years, is to eventually expand his operation to around 1,000 to 1,200 cases. That is the level many winery owners set for actually controlling the future of their wineries. Any larger and the cost of operation becomes somewhat prohibitive.

Steinschriber is also a ‘garagista’ or person who lovingly refers to his garage as part of his winery. “I only have room for around eight barrels in my garage, so I have a contract with Von Strasser Winery to allow me to make my wines at their facility,” he detailed. The fruit he uses for WaterMark is also a key ingredient in the winery’s success. He buys grapes from vineyards on Howell Mountain, Atlas Peak and Mt. Veeder, three of Napa Valley’s most decorated appellations. His Napa Valley selections originated from valley fruit that he selects and varies according to what is available.

“I actually prefer contracts for my fruit. That way you know exactly what you are getting each year. The only things that change are the factors that actually affect the harvest for that year, i.e., rain, heat, and the likes.

“The name WaterMark originated from my attempt to personalize the winery with a unique name. The idea of a watermark on paper signifies its quality and the water line in creeks and lakes point out the highest point water has reached,” he continued. He is helped by his wife Diane who assists in marketing WaterMark’s wine portfolio. She has also been known to schlep a number of cases for her husband whenever the need arises.

WaterMark’s style is ripe, dark and fully concentrated. Steinschriber utilizes smooth tannins and wood fermentation whenever the occasion warrants their application. Like most other emerging wineries, the now fading recession took its toll on his expansion plans. This was taken in stride by Steinschriber who admitted that he didn’t start WaterMark with the idea of getting rich.

“If I can be comfortable and make some truly great wines,” Steinschriber finalized. “That would be okay with me. I’m not sure that anyone could ask for anything more.” Once you taste one of Water Mark’s remarkable wines, you will realize that he has already achieved part of that goal.

  1. Watermark
    2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
    Blue Hall Vineyard
    Napa Valley


    94 - Beverage Testing Insti
    id: 1040