Mark Penna Departs Texas to Give a Helping Hand in God’s Vineyard

Mark Penna (from; see link below)

Mark Penna Departs Texas to Give a Helping Hand in God’s Vineyard

Mark Penna, a long Texas viticulturalist and winemaker passed this week after a bout with brain cancer.

As reported by Addie Broyles on, Mark Penna, a Driftwood winemaker who died Wednesday after a three-year bout with brain cancer, knew more about making wine than just about anyone in the state, but you wouldn’t know it. She reported:

“He wasn’t busy telling you how much he knew, he was quietly showing you,” said Duchman Family Winery winemaker Dave Reilly, who had apprenticed under Penna since 2006 and took over when Penna became ill in 2008. Penna’s brother, Stan, said he used to lead canoeing and kayaking trips all over the country before he started settling into the wine business, and that it was Mark who did the genealogy work to discover that their family had been in Texas for eight generations. All along, he knew he wanted to get into the grape growing business, but the unpredictable weather and hardships of farming frustrated him. He felt like you had more control when making wine.”

I had the pleasure and honor to say that I knew Mark, having met him at several conferences held by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA). I recall the first time we met, his easy going, soft-voiced and friendly manner, made me feel like I had known him for years, if not decades. His manner was professional, but what I remember most was his mountain-man beard that gave way to the soft gaze of his eyes. He was the only person that I recall in over 30 years of professional life that gave me a business card with his elementary school photo on it.

I last saw, talked and tasted with Mark at a Texas wine quality boot camp in Denison, Texas in the summer of 2010. The growing signs of his affliction were noticeable, but he made an effort to overcome them and to maintain is most precious traits….making people feel comfortable in this presence and help people make the best wine they could.  As he addressed the class, I was impressed with his command of winemaking, particularly his experiences making wine on the far side of the wine frontier, Texas, that he related at  a slower than normal pace, but still with passion and precision.

After hearing of Mark’s passing, long time Texas viticultural consultant, Charles McKinney, posted his thoughts about Mark on the Texas_Winegrowers List on Yahoo Groups, and said:

“Our industry has not only lost a great person and a great colleague, we have lost a valuable resource in the knowledge he had about growing grapes and making wine in Texas.  If I remember correctly Mark started out more as a viticulturist and later became a winemaker.  He understood that we have to grow good grapes if we are going to make good wine.  He understood the difficulties in growing grapes in Texas.  He grew in his knowledge over the years and was able to share it with many of us and make each of us a little better at what we did or do.  For that I am very grateful.”

I know that I can speak for everyone I know that is involved in the Texas wine industry when I say, we are all grateful for having known Mark and are thankful for the time he had to spend here and for his contributions that will help establish Texas as a premium wine producing state. May he now give a helping hand in God’s vineyard and with making his wine.

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.


  1. Thank you so much for writing this – Mark – my sweetheart always – was such a lovely man. He was admired by many for his generosity with his knowledge and will be so missed for his genuine kindness.
    Pam Spooner (Mrs. Mark Penna)

    • Kindness, Mark was so kind. My best memory of him was walking up on him unexpectedly in the vineyard at Cross Plains. He was carefully pulling HUNDREDS of grass burrs from the feet of a dog he had found in town. No kindness was to small for Mark.

      Bobby Cox, friend

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