Mark Ray, Winemaker
As the co-founder and winemaker for Perception Wines, Mark Ray combines a lifetime of exposure to wine, with more than a decade of hands-on experience working alongside some of California's most renowned winemakers. In the winery, Mark practices an artisan approach, taking personal responsibility for every detail in the winemaking process, as he works to craft Perception's small portfolio of exceptional Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel.
Mark was born and raised in the agricultural community of Hartsville, South Carolina. The son of restauranteurs, Mark grew up working in the family's restaurants, where he picked up his parents' passion for the charm and diversity of wine. While earning a degree in political science from Furman University, Mark began training his palate and augmenting his knowledge of wine, by religiously attending tastings at Northampton Wines in Greenville. As a result, Mark was soon designing fine dining wine lists and beverage programs for his family's restaurant.
After completing his undergraduate education, Mark studied law at the University of South Carolina, but soon found the practice of law much less interesting and enjoyable than the world of fine wine and great food. Returning to the hospitality industry, Mark established a reputation as one of South Carolina's top sommeliers, and was soon in demand to design wine programs for many of the state's finest restaurants and hotels. Throughout this period, Mark continued his education, earning both his certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and studying chemistry at the College of Charleston.
In 2000, Mark decided to pursue his growing desire to become a winemaker, giving up a lucrative salary as the sommelier in charge of a $12.3 million beverage program for the Charleston Place Hotel to take a $14-an-hour job as a lab technician for Robert Mondavi in the Napa Valley. Mark found Mondavi to be an amazing learning environment. Regularly interacting with Tim Mondavi and winemaker Steve "Buzz" Leveque, Mark immersed himself in the technical and production side of winemaking - an area of expertise he augmented studying at UC Davis. At the same time, Mark sought out a more handcrafted expression of winemaking, by moonlighting at Turley Wine Cellars, where he worked alongside noted winemaker Ehren Jordan. Working with Ehren at Turley, and later as Ehren's assistant winemaker at Neyers Vineyards, Mark embraced a more intimate and instinctual approach to winemaking, focusing on extremely small lots, minimal handling, and other techniques designed to accentuate the natural character and complexity of the grapes.
In 2004, with a strong recommendation from Ehren, Mark joined Williams Selyem as Bob Cabral's assistant winemaker. "Williams Selyem was my dream job," says Mark. "Pinot Noir has always been my first love, and Bob is one of the true masters of the varietal. I watched the care and love he showed the grapes, how delicately he handled it - his amazing attention to the smallest details and complete reverence for winemaking. For me, being at Williams Selyem, was the ultimate apprenticeship in Pinot."
In 2007, Mark left Williams Selyem to pursue his dream of founding Perception Wines, wher his applies his passion, experience and expertise to craft a small portfolio of limited-production wines. Recognized for their character, complexity and elegance, these wines are sought after by connoisseurs and proudly sold at discerning restaurants and fine retail shops.