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Profilin’: Mary McAuley of The Ripe Life Wines

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetReal talk about blogging: it’s difficult to come up with original AND compelling content on a weekly basis. I’m not a list person, at least online. As I work on this site more, and as I am inspired by some ace Web producers out there (no mere bloggers, these), I realize how much I want to shake up “blogging” as much as I want to shake up my routine. 

In that spirit, I’ve decided I will be pursuing more profile-style posts with fascinating people doing cool shit out there, here in Internet-land and beyond. I’m tired of sitting around, watching passionate people go unnoticed for their work. I’m curious and ripe with questions, but I have the luxury and luck to know So. Many. Cool. People. Let’s try to get them on here, mkay? 

Now that that’s out of the way… 

I first met Mary McAuley a few months ago at Ed’s Lobster in SoHo. There was, natch, lobster and clams and tators, but more importantly, there were bottles of Mary’s wine. Ya see, Mary is a wine-trepreneur: Back in 2013, the Jersey native, former NYC somm/culinary student and all-around badass started her own company, Ripe Life Wines, and released her first vintage of Clambake Chardonnay.

I know what you’re thinking: ABC (“I drink anything but Chardonnay”). But hear me out!

Mary’s first release, sourced from Cali’s Santa Lucia Highlands, was a wallop of a sip. Fresh, minerally, hearty squeezes of lemon: her juice is not that ’90s stereotype of oaky, popcorn-buttery Chard. It is finessed, with tons of fresh acidity that makes it dangerously easy to guzzle. Her 2013 release is from Mendocino and is just as fresh, if a little fuller.

I’ve hung out with Mary a few times now, and lemme tell you, girl knows her way around wine and food. In fact, the Clambake label is a nod to her East Coast roots: It’s meant to pair well with all iterations of clambakes up and down the eastern seaboard.

clambake, lobster

Growing up on the up on the Jersey Shore, clambaking was a big part of Mary’s upbringing. As the youths say, “totes jeals.” Really, what’s better than a big pot of clams, lobsters, corn, potatoes, all of it either in one giant pot or poured out over a large outdoor table?

“I’m the go-to wine person among family and friends,” says Mary. “It was only natural to make a wine perfectly paired with this messy, hands-on meal.”

As stated, Mary graduated culinary school and found herself working at La Vara and Maialino in New York. “I learned at both that you can have incredibly simple dishes or, for that matter, wine, that just bring pleasure. I wanted to apply that thinking to Clambake,” says Mary.

She’s since applied this philosophy to her single vineyard bottles, which she thinks of as “batches” rather than vintages. “I don’t ever want to produce something that’s necessarily ‘consistent,'” says Mary. “I want my wines to be consistently good, yes, but I want each year to speak to the vineyards and the grapes they come from. It’s like buying mass-produced art prints of a famous work versus having a different artist reinterpret that same work, and each time produce something new.” To that end, she seeks out grapes picked slightly early, with no oak or malolactic fermentation, two processes that give Chardonnay its characteristic big, buttery notes.

It’s this view of her wines that has people clamoring. Priced at $15 to $16 a bottle, Clambake hits that sweet spot of quality and value. If you’re looking, it’s now available in seven states and counting: Massachusetts, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, D.C., Maryland and as of Sept. 1, New Jersey.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetMary is also diving into the rosé trend (“Even my guy friends are drinking the stuff!”) with a Clambake rosé made from Syrah. “It’s so great that people are into rosé now, it’s not just for summer,” says Mary. “It’s like wearing white after Labor Day. You can still do it and still look great… Rosé is awesome any time of year!”

The momentum is on Mary’s side—she’s grown the brand from some 400 cases of Chardonnay in 2012 to an expected 6000 cases for the 2014 batch. “I just want to make wine that when people find it, they stick to it because they love it.” 

Stay tuned for Mary’s top tips for hosting your own clambake, just in time for Labor Day fêtes!

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