What does a New Jersey Clambake have to do with wines made with Mendocino grapes? In comes Mary McAuley, owner of Ripe Life Wines, a sommelier and culinary school graduate who wanted to pair the perfect wine for her friends at a clambake. Mary decided after struggling to find the ideal wine, and with her background and knowledge, she was the best person to create wines for a Clambake in her hometown of Mantoloking, New Jersey. That was 2011, and by 2013 Mary’s Clambake Wines were on the shelve and moving into restaurants. The journey took her to Mendocino, where the grapes are purchased for both her wines, the unoaked Chardonnay and the Rosé.
The name Ripe Life Wine refers to the point when the grape is ripe and ready to pick. It represents the beginning of the harvest. For Mary, it signifies the process she utilizes to create her wines that are ripe with life. In the eyes of the creator, it tells the story of artisan, food-friendly small-batch wines handcrafted and picked from a single vineyard. In Mary’s words, “The brand embodies the balance struck by achieving peak ripeness – between sweetness and acidity, work and play, give and take.”
Today winemaker, Jason Driscoll, is at the helm. It was sort of destiny that Jason and Mary come together. They both are natives of New Jersey, and both studied culinary arts, and now he is making his name in the Napa and Sonoma Valley.
Wines that Give Back
Since most of Ripe Life Wines’ business came from restaurant purchases of the wine when COVID-19 came knocking and stay-at-home orders were issued, Mary’s sales dried up. Quickly Mary had to reinvent the wheel and, like many wineries, had to concentrate on direct sales and develop an online store. She created the online store easily, but she needed to do something different to make her stand out. Her winery always donated a percentage to charities over the years, but that was not enough.
Mary graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in hospital administration before becoming a sommelier and culinary school graduate. She was very familiar with the people on the frontlines of saving people, many of those first responders. As the pandemic grew, Mary saw that many found ways to give to healthcare workers, so why not donate wine to those fighting to save people’s lives. So besides offering free shipping on a case of wine, she will donate two bottles of wine to a healthcare professional of the purchaser’s choice with the purchase of twelve bottles of wine. The response has been phenomenal, with positive feedback from the recipients of these wonderful gifts.
Mary says, “Healthcare heroes have often taken the time to get in touch with me on social media or email to let me know how grateful they are; mostly commonly, I hear things like “I was really, truly touched” or “you have no idea how much I needed this on my day off,” but the one thing that stuck with me was one doctor telling me that when businesses do things like this we are reminded that people out there are thinking about us and won’t push for leadership to do things that put us at risk and the gesture goes a lot further than we realize.”
Some people were so grateful, they in turn, purchased a case of wine to donate to another healthcare professional as Mary points out, “I have a handful of doctors and nurses who received bottles and then bought cases to send bottles to their colleagues; obviously the medical and health professionals have a ton of friends in that line of business, and they really know who is the most hands-on from their social networks, so I know that when the doctors and nurses are buying cases after getting two free bottles, they are really sending their free bottles to people VERY much on the front line.”
The Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay
The Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay is befitting to its name because I see the wine paired with clams. The Mendocino grapes come from Paulin Red Post Ranch in Potter Valley Mendocino, a Certified Sustainable dry-farmed vineyard. The Chardonnay’s bright, clean, and lively demeanor with the perfect amount of acidity and minerality compliments a clambake or other seafood dishes. On the nose, find tropical aromas along with apples. On the palate, I found a little effervesce and flavors of pineapple, green apple, citrus, and especially lemon. Think Chablis meets Chardonnay. This unoaked Chardonnay is my kind of wine.
The Clambake Limited Edition Rosé.
The Clambake Rosé is a little different because it uses old-vine Carignan from Zaina – Sargentini Family Vineyard, another Certified sustainable dry-farmed vineyard. Carignan is not typically used for Rosé, especially Mendocino grapes from the older vines. Created in the designated style of Rosé, which means grapes grown specifically for use in Rosé. I found another lively wine with flavors of strawberry, cherry, and citrus. Again the wine is balanced between acidity and minerality. The wine reminds me a bit of Sangria, only far better. Although Mary made this wine to go with claw meat, steamers, and corn, this Rosé is dynamite with Smoked ribs.
Both Clambake wines make a perfect summer fare, so why not pay tribute to our courageous healthcare professionals and first responders by purchasing a case of wine, either the Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay or the Rosé, to enjoy during this season of stay-at-home. Welcome summer in with the perfect Al Fresco accompaniment.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.