Mark O’Neill’s Message in a bottle….of wine

 I don’t know if people become more philosophical with wine or if philosophy leads people to wine, but either way, wine and philosophy are inseparable in Mark O’Neill’s world.

Philosophy comes from Greek and means love of knowledge, and Mark loves finding out about wine, and has dedicated a lifetime to it; and to golf.

Born in Belfast, he left for London when he was 18, like so many Irish emigrants.

His family had a history of running bars back home and both his grandfather and father imported fruit from faraway places such as Valencia, and so it became normal for Mark’s family to spend their holidays here, mixing business with pleasure.

In London he worked in top hotels such as the Dorchester and the Hilton, as a waiter and occasional sommelier, and while there met a representative from a Valencian food company that distributed to British supermarket chains.


He was then contracted by the Ehrmanns Group, which would lead to 30 years of experience, lots of travelling and eventual specialisation in the Spanish and Latin American markets, where his knowledge, and love of good food and wine would increase by leaps and bounds. He also acquired the prestigious WSET Diploma in Wine Studies, adding a formal qualification to the knowledge acquired from experience.

But it wasn’t all working; whenever he saved up some money he would be off travelling, and especially in Spain, following in the footsteps of Hemingway, whose prose may have planted the seeds for his eventual move to Spain, and especially Valencia, Hemingway’s preferred city.

By 2002 he was ready to start up his own business, doing what he knew best, matching the product to the customer.

It started off as just a suggestion to friends who shared his interests, that they should broaden their horizons winewise, and try some foreign wines.

As soon as someone told him that he would never persuade Valencians to abandon their native wines, fireworks exploded and a sign illuminated the sky: “Challenge accepted!”

To begin with he offered a case of 12 bottles from various countries selected by himself, based upon his travels, experience, knowledge, and love of the product, but after a while he began to make the offer more flexible, taking on customer preferences, customising each batch, until finally he went full circle, offering Valencian and other national wine combinations.

His project is called TheWinePlace, and although everything is done on-line, he also organises regulars gatherings for gourmet nights and tastings, where participants can taste, or cook, or combine, or all those things together.

Part of the project is linguistic; helping executives to talk about wine and food; essential vocabulary for sealing a deal in a restaurant, where the best business is done.

He emphasises that you don’t need to become an expert, but you do need a basic knowledge to hold up your end of a conversation. The worst possible thing is to feel intimidated.

Mark is lucky in that he loves what he sells, and points out that even if you’re only going to have one glass a week (a somewhat fanatical point of view in my opinion) make sure it’s a good one.

So, from his warehouse in Chirivella, he now handles some 1,000 cases a year, while continuing with his other business, which involves preparing wines in Spain for export to countries such as the UK,

This involves him in a total process; finding out what the customer wants, identifying the right Spanish vineyard, including Valencian ones like Torre Oria, participating in all phases of the wine making, (he doesn’t mind getting his feet wet; or even purple) and organising the shipping of the final product.

So much travelling and so many contacts inevitably led to the media taking an interest in his knowledge, and so since 2016 he has been writing a weekly wine column for the Spanish national daily newspaper El Mundo.

Some of his articles are quite philosophical too, such as one about wine makers in countries at war, such as Lebanon or Syria, pointing out that grape growers and wine makers the world over face the same problems and share the same experiences.

You can also find out about Mark and his activities here: –

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