The Summer Romance of Ripe Life Wines: When Terroir and Merroir Meet
Contributing Writer & Interviewer
Founder at www.kimwrites.com
When Terroir and Merroir Meet
I like to learn something new every day. On the day I spoke with Mary McAuley, founder of Ripe Life Wines, I learned about merroir.
I’d certainly heard the term terroir before.
The environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma. – Dictionary.com
So when one is drinking a wine made from the grapes of a single vineyard (as opposed to a blend of grapes from different environments), the terroir of that growing region may be highly distinguishable (“Wow, you can really taste the terroir of the Russian River Valley in this pinot noir”).
Unlike yours truly, McAuley is hip enough to know that, “Oysters and clams are just so trendy right now. People are really paying attention to the nuances, different regions for oysters.” With a nod to the Latin root mer meaning “sea”, culinary enthusiasts are calling these subtle sensory distinctions of place merroir.
McAuley is something of a sea creature herself, having grown up on the Jersey Shore, swimming, surfing, and competitively sailing. She says of her relationship with the ocean, “I love the sea. As soon as I get close to it, my nose can smell it. It just has an effect on my brain – a good one.”
As both a Jersey girl and a culinary school graduate, McAuley also taught me that a “seafood boil” is an umbrella term covering clam bakes, lobster bakes, shrimp boils and crab feasts. It was the bounty of the sea that inspired her to create Ripe Life Wines and craft its Clambake Chardonnay and Clambake Rose.
To McAuley, there’s a synergy between seafood and grapes
With careful attention, both can be respectfully urged in a direction that highlights their inherent deliciousness.
“I wanted to make the perfect wine to pair with (a clambake),” says McAuley, and admits, “It was just going to be a little moonshine project, for personal usage.” But the more she considered the idea, the more she began to recognize a void in the marketplace.
After going to culinary school, McAuley worked in the restaurant business and found herself gravitating more and more towards wine. She became “obsessed with food and wine pairing” and eventually became a sommelier. “One thing you have to learn about sommeliers is they’re in a position for buying,” says McAuley. “So when you’re in a position for buying, you have to really know why something costs more than something else. Even though you’re not a producer as a sommelier, you learn a lot about production.”
Not only did she begin to understand how quality wines are produced, but she learned to be “a detective when reading (a) label”. Says McAuley, “I saw a lot of these labels on the market that are really cute and they sell really well. (But I would) pick them up, read them, and I can’t tell you where this wine is coming from at all. I can’t tell you anything about it, other than the varietal. It might not even be 100% of that varietal…it only has to be 75% or 85%. The rest could be some bulk wine from the different, cheaper varietal.”
“I saw that this market was flooded with mass-produced wine and I said, why is that the case? When in Europe, you can get affordable wine, and it’s ‘boutique’ and it’s ‘craft’.”
“Clearly, something’s wrong here. The market’s not demanding good wine. It’s just demanding O.K. wine or bad wine, because people just buy based on the label.” It led McAuley to ask, “Why don’t we make a beautiful craft wine at this ($20) price point?”
We make beautiful, small batch, single-vineyard wines
McAuley insists on the price point, despite having been chastised by some for not being “greedy enough.” “Living in Napa, a lot of people when they hear what I’m doing – making this craft wine and doing the best production technique – and when they see the label, they say…’You could do this for so much cheaper…you could make so much more money cutting corners…you can make more money by not donating so much wine to charity events.” But, McAuley says, “I absolutely refuse to do that because that’s not what I’m passionate about, that’s not what we’re about…(and) it’s just not who I am.”
In speaking of Ripe Life’s Clambake Chardonnay and Clambake Rose, McAuley says, “I wanted something much greater than just the perfect wine to pair with a clambake. We make beautiful, small batch, single-vineyard wines.”
The Ripe Life Wines website (www.RipeLifeWines.com) describes the Clambake Chardonnay as, “(not) your typical big-boy chardonnay…picked in its youth to produce a lighter and crisper expression of California chardonnay than you may be used to, and its stainless steel fermentation gives it a clean finish that will make your clambake food sing a little louder (and cut through that dunk of butter, too).
But lest we forget, chardonnay is still king so there’s enough richness and body to stand up to those impeccable potatoes and meaty lobsters staring ‘atcha. I guess you could say chardonnay traded in his crown for flip-flops this evening.”
The Clambake Rose is a limited edition and currently sold out.
A red for that perfect tailgate (party)
Anticipating an autumn release, McAuley looks forward to introducing her Tailgate Red. She describes it as a blend, but “single vineyard, and it’s going to be a light, juicy, beautiful, delicate red often perfect for the type of food you have at the tailgate (party), like unpretentious meat, whether it’s sausage or barbecue or a burger.”
But she adds that the Tailgate Red will be “a little higher in acid, which is better for food…In general, we like to keep our wines a little more restrained and crowd-pleasing and not so big, not so overdone.”
Balancing wine and life
It would seem McAuley is striving for balance in her wines, just as she is in life. In fact, she shared that balance is the inspiration for the name Ripe Life Wines. “In the wine-making world, when they talk about something being ripe, it really means it’s balanced between acid and sugar. So for me, a ripe life is one of balance – that’s work and play, give and take.”
McAuley admits that balance can be difficult to achieve when she’s working. She spends half of her year traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard for Ripe Life Wines. “It’s very, very difficult to take care of yourself when you’re constantly traveling,” she confesses. “But luckily, my sales season is half a year. Then the other half a year is the production side” which she spends in California. “That’s when…I’m no longer behind the wheel of a car, day in and day out. I can very much take better care of myself. I have a place, I’m sleeping in the same bed night after night. I’m stable. I’m steady.” I find myself wondering if McAuley can see that in the bigger picture, her divided lifestyle and her two halves of the year are creating a sort of balance in themselves.
On living a ripe life, McAuley has this advice to offer: “When you see that opportunity to relax or enjoy it sometimes, put that phone down and just go do it. Then return to your work and work really, really hard. Take care of yourself. Relax. Drink wine. Get a little drunk.”
But just a little. Remember, it’s all about balance.
On the Ripe Life Wines website (www.ripelifewines.com) you’ll find a page of stores and restaurants up and down the East Coast that carry the Ripe Life brand, from the terroir of Martha’s Vineyard to the merroir of Maryland. You’ll also find links to websites where it can be purchased, including www.bottleshop.com.
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