Georgetown grad Mary McAuley is riding a wave of success with her clambake-friendly wines.
Mary McAuley’s quest for the perfect wine to pair with shellfish has spawned a flourishing business.
When Mary McAuley arrived in DC in 2002 to study healthcare policy and management at Georgetown University, she didn’t like wine. But a few years later, a glass of one of the top Cabernets from Napa Valley changed everything: She went to culinary school, became a sommelier, and launched Clambake Chardonnay and Ripe Life Wines, inspired by her family’s tradition of clambakes on the beach. Last fall, McAuley debuted a limitededition rosé—a 100 percent single-vineyard Syrah—and she’s currently dreaming up a Tailgate Red. We caught up with the California-based winemaker to talk about varietals, seafood, and how her time in DC infuenced her taste.
As a New Jersey native, you spent summers on the shore. I grew up on the beach. My family and friends are big clambakers, so coastal cuisine is really close to my heart. In 2011, I threw a clambake for a friend’s birthday; I was in charge of picking out the wine. Afterwards I said, “For next year’s clambake, I’m going to try to make the wine.” I knew the perfect wine would be unoaked Chardonnay. So I sketched the label, and I got the numbers together to determine what it would take… and to see if there was a market for a fun, beachy, good wine. We did 400 cases to start, and it sold incredibly well.
You went from 400 cases in that initial July 2013 batch to 6,000 cases on preorder this year. And with a new DC wholesaler, true craft holdings, now ripe life wines are available all around the DMV. What’s the best way to enjoy them? My wine is really at its best with shellfsh and a little butter. The Clambake Chardonnay is high in acid, so it really cuts through that fat. There’s a lot of minerality, which you fnd in shellfsh, and then there are lemony components that bring out the best in the seafood.
Any tips for pairing? Think about body and favor. For body, you have the structure of a wine—acid, weight, sugar. And favor—lemons versus peaches versus herbs, and in red wines, leather, tobacco. Pair light with light and heavy with heavy. So if you’re having simple grilled white fsh with salt and pepper, go light like Sauvignon Blanc. Moving heavier, a fish with cream sauce, do an oak Chardonnay.
Now that you’re in California, what do you miss most about DC’s food scene? I miss all of the northern African infuences and Middle Eastern infuences. DC is the frst time I ever had a lot of kebab. For seafood, I always strong-armed my parents to go to Kinkead’s when they came into town. The tomato soup at Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown is the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, and when I’m in town I always call [to see if] they have it.
Ripe Life wines donates 5 percent of its wines to local charity events. We donate a lot of our wine. Usually the charities we’re looking for are somehow associated with maritime life—the Harbor Charter School in New York, Hudson River Community Sailing. Another charity I really like is the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Instead of writing a check, I can give wine, and then people can try it. It’s not a one-way street; I get a lot in return from making those donations.