Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ripe Life Wines: A Woman with A Grape Idea #Wine

The Road to A Ripe Life

Ripe Life Wines:
Clambake Chardonnay
While some of us have good ideas, others have great ideas.  Mary McAuley is one such person who not only had a "grape" idea, but a great idea.  As she was accustomed to eating coastal cuisine in the Northeast, she decided to launch her own line of wines, Ripe Life Wines, as an accompaniment.  As a fellow Northeasterner who lives on an island with an abundance of fresh fish and seafood, I can certainly appreciate a good wine to accompany my oysters, clams, and other fruits of the sea.  This was one of the things that caught my attention about Mary's line of wines.  However, the main thing that piqued my interest was that Mary is young and female.  According to the Wall Street Journal, women only make up 10% of the vintners in California, which is where 90% of wine is produced in the U.S. Nevertheless, things are changing, and Mary McAuley is someone you should know about.    

Ripe Life Wines:
Limited Edition Rose
Mary McAuley is the Founder and CEO, of Ripe Life Wines, which launched its first wine, Clambake Chardonnay, in July 2013.  Mary's inspiration grew when she was given the responsibility of selecting the wine for a clambake she threw with her friends back in 2011.  However, Mary's love for the grape had already been cultivated and developed, as she is a seasoned sommelier and culinary school graduate from The Institute of Culinary Education and The French Culinary Institute.  Mary knows well that good food and wine go together, and she took charge to ensure it.

We wanted to know more.  We had a few questions for Mary about her thoughts and ideas about the process for anyone involved in the wine industry:   
TWH: When and how did you develop a passion for food and wine?

MM: I’ve always had a passion for hospitality and entertaining, as food and libations naturally go hand in hand. I would say it was in college when I first started fantasizing about having my own restaurant and finally started to pursue this dream a few years after graduation by attending culinary school. It was there that I discovered a zeal for food and wine pairings, and how a wine can really make your food sing a bit louder.

TWH:  That's for sure!  There is nothing like a delicious wine to accentuate delicious food.  I know that coastal cuisine was influential, but what else really guided your decision to launch Clambake Wines?

MM: The impetus to pull the trigger came when I realized that my vision for the Clambake Chardonnay, in a lot of ways, was an unprecedented concept and would be most successful if we capitalized on being “the first” in these ways.  Namely, I saw an opportunity to be the first wine label focusing on cuisine first and crafting the wine accordingly.  I also saw the opportunity to become one of the first premium wines (prestigious growers, first-press juice, single-vineyard-designated, etc.) being bottled under a “cute and beach-y” lifestyle label—usually the wine under those kinds of labels are bulk blends and poorly made in the sake of margins.  They call them “Frankenwines” out here (in Napa). Anyway, realizing the uncontested market-space for my concept, I knew we could dominate if we acted fast. I went ahead and launched rather quickly knowing the risk of being hasty could be worth the reward of being “first to the market” if it worked out. I knew if I didn’t, I would see something very similar on the shelf in a few years time and I would kick myself for sitting on the idea too long.

TWH:  I appreciate the 'guts' and drive involved...and your background as a sommelier and culinary education is the perfect fit for your model and your vision.  Wines that focus on cuisine is definitely innovative, as it is usually the other way around.  Innovation is the key, and it is certainly paying off for you. I am very excited for you! Now, crafting your own brand of wine sounds both fascinating and daunting, and like anything worthwhile, I'm sure that it involves lots of time, patience and energy. What would you tell anyone interested in crafting their own brand of wine?

MM: Stay true to the concept. I feel like when people try and capture the biggest audience possible (aka they’re completely sales focused) their concepts start to become weak as to not alienate any possibility of a sale.  These brands don’t have strong messages and get lost on many--completely backfiring. You have to stay to true to the concept; people become emphatic about strong messages and a committed following to your brand is most important for repeat buyers and brand champions.

TWH: Good, solid advice.  What would you say is the main highlight of your journey so far?

MM:  My main highlight is the travel. I am equal parts wine lover and beach lover.  My company takes me from wine regions all over for operations and product research, and then coastal beach towns for sales and market research. When the stress adds up I think about how much I love the places I get to work and the stress is worth it.

TWH:  I totally understand that!  I love to travel, so I can see how that is a highlight.  Lastly Mary, what advice would you extend to anyone wanting to embark on a venture in the wine industry?

MM: My advice would be to work in a wine region first.  It doesn’t matter in what capacity (tasting room manager, server, wine making assistance, wine equipment sales, etc) but if you spend time in a wine region such as Napa or Sonoma you will make contacts and have people to ask questions to who are in-the-know. You will learn so much from just being on the ground of where the whole industry begins--next to the grapes.

TWH:  More good advice.  We appreciate being able to learn more about you and the road to Ripe Life Wines.  We also appreciate your helpful pointers. Thank you!

Along with winemaker, David Sundberg, Ripe Life Wines' team strives for balance in everything, not just winemaking. "We believe you should strive for balance in everyday life as well--one of work and play, and one of give and take."

I am looking forward to hearing a lot more about Ripe Life Wines...and tasting them!   


The Wining Hour’s Tasting: Ripe Life Wines
We were excited to taste two wines: Clambake Chardonnay and Clambake Limited Edition Rosé both from the 2012 vintage.

Clambake Chardonnay was a tasty surprise.  Chardonnay is not my usual go-to for white wines, so I was eager to taste this one.  It was pale yellow in color.  It smelled of citrus lemon and grapefruit. Clambake Chardonnay was crisp and tasted of green apple and peach, with a light minerality. Nevertheless, it was medium-bodied, bright and acidic, with firm tannins and a lasting finish.  Clambake Chardonnay was barreled in stainless steel, unlike many other oak barrel Chardonnays.  Ripe Life says that "this isn't your big boy Chardonnay."  Instead, this one was lighter and very appropriate for the cuisine for which it was created.

We paired Clambake Chardonnay with...clams, of course. We had baked clams stuffed with chopped clams, shrimp, mushrooms, garlic, butter and breadcrumbs.  Yum.  I want more as I type.  It was a delightful pairing and truly an example of how a wine should compliment food.

Our chardonnay is picked in its youth to produce a lighter and crisper expression of California chardonnay than you may be used to, and its stainless steal fermentation gives it a clean finish that will make your clambake food sing a little louder (and cut through that dunk of butter, too).

Clambake Limited Edition Rosé was next.  De-lic-ious. Need I say more?  No, but I will. Ripe Life says that this particular wine makes for "the perfect pairing for your entire seafood feast." They were not kidding.  Clambake Limited Edition Rosé is just that-a limited edition, and one that I can't wait to get my hands on for the upcoming warmer months.

This rosé had a warm, pink-peach hue.  On the nose was a floral bouquet and scents of fresh apricot, strawberry and melon, which were immediately inviting.  To the palate, this wine was clean and crisp, tasting of summer fruits like peaches, nectarines and strawberries.  I liked that it wasn't too sweet or tannic, but well-balanced.  Although it was perfectly capable of being sipped alone, we paired Clambake Limited Edition Rosé with an organic spring salad and homemade lump crabcakes. For the record, this pair needs to be on Match.com, but we'll just spread the word this way for now!

Clearly, Mary McAuley had a grape idea that has ripened into something great-Ripe Life Wines. The company plans to expand their collection to other lines in the near future and I can't wait.

Have you tasted Clambake Chardonnay? If you are looking for a wine to accompany your seafood, check out Ripe Life Wines.

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