And on the fourth day, we ate a lot of crab.
Rich Hutchinson at Amphora Winery ordered 70 pounds for our group. The crabs were alive yesterday morning. We ate them hours later.
And they were amazing.
We sat at round tables, all wearing crab bibs, picking meat from the bodies and legs. There was good bread, salad and clam chowder too, but the crab was the star.
Rick’s pinot noir went well with the sweet meat. But mostly, the crab was just amazing.
I’ve often said the one thing someone can’t do to food is make it fresher. And this taste of the sea was fabulous. “When you come to California, you’ve got to have dungeness crab,” he said.
We didn’t quite eat 70 pounds, but our group, along with Rick and his partner, Bridget Slevin, ate a lot. The piles of shells were formidable.
Rick makes about 5,000 cases of wine a year in the Dry Creek Valley. He started on the bottling line of a large winery 37 years ago and started his own winery in 1996. He makes 17 varietals, but focuses on petite syrah, syrah and zinfandel. He buys grapes from families of farmers he’s known for generations. Soils give grapes distinctive flavors and characteristics. In Dry Creek Valley, that means fruit flavors. “It gives my wines and my neighbor’s wines dark blue fruit character, blueberry and cherry,” he said.
Rick Hutchinson at Amphora Winery
The soils and grapes make a wine. So do temperature and fermentation processes. Rick understands all those, as other winemakers in this region do. But he’s also so passionate about his work. “Wines are like people – if you have good balance in your life, you will live a lot longer and more gracefully,” he said.
We tasted his wines, the result of his passion. And we went outside to talk more and play bocce ball. On the side of the Dry Creek Valley on a gorgeous day, a bunch of Hoosiers talked and laughed and deepened friendships that just started forming a few days ago. In the tasting room, another customer commented, “They’re from Indiana. They’re never leaving.”
Earlier in the day, we’d visited Mauritson Wines, which agreed to accommodate us when another winery couldn’t. We tasted more Dry Creek Valley wines and a few from Rockpile, an appellation that is only 200 acres and is getting a lot of buzz. The volcanic soils of Rockpile produce really interesting wines. Mandy Freel of the winery also gave us some port to sample with dark chocolate. It’s a pairing that never seems to fail.
The trip is ending. We’ve sampled wines and eaten at a few nice restaurants in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. We learned about wine from people who make them.
But by listening to Rick Hutchinson and Francis Mahoney, we’ve seen that care and passion for a craft makes a difference. And now when we raise a glass of those wines, we’ll know their story and place because of how they spent time with our group. That’s huge.
But more than that, this group has laughed and formed friendships. This group of 32 people and a great bus driver named Randy Orosco spent a few days together in the California sunshine. And we had a lot of fun.
Mandy Freel at Mauritson Winery
Joe and Simone Nelson at Amphora