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Mar 31, 2024

Blue Crab: the Fruit of the Vine

Cheryl Ricer

Photography By

M.Kat
A Sea Pines Resort Story

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The blue crab epitomizes everything we love about the Lowcountry: salt water, sand, and seafood. It is a recognizable Lowcountry mascot, so it is only fitting that The Sea Pines Resort chose the blue crab to represent their private label wines. The first iteration of Blue Crab was a red blend and a white, which were bottled and available in 2022. 

“Our first release went really well,” said Matthew Roher, director of food and beverage at The Sea Pines Resort. “We had a very ambitious case load for our first round because we felt like it was that good, and it sold out.”

Now, just in time for the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, The Sea Pines Resort is releasing three new varieties of Blue Crab: a chardonnay, a Bordeaux blend, and a rosé. 

Of course, that’s big news all on its own. But what you might find even more interesting is what it took to produce the Blue Crab wines and the people who made it happen. So, pour yourself a glass, get comfortable, and have a good read.  

 

From left to right: Mark Bowman, Amiri Farris, Rob Mondavi and Matt Roher

CHAPTER ONE: ROHER AND MONDAVI

Roher and Rob Mondavi, a fourth generation Napa Valley winemaker and son of famed vintner Robert Mondavi, have been friends for more than 20 years, having met when Roher was executive chef for an heirloom community in Georgia called Hampton Island, where Mondavi and his family were members. To say they hit it off is an understatement. 

“We were about half the age we are now, and Rob and I started hanging out, having fun, and we also put on some cool events with some great chefs that he brought out from California,” Roher said.

While Roher was there for only a few years, wherever he was working after that, he involved Mondavi at wine dinners or as a personality at different events, an energy they’ve continued to enjoy as their careers emerged. 

“I’ve always said that all good things come from my wife,” Mondavi said. “I’m from Napa, but she is part of the Rutledge family of South Carolina. We met in Atlanta, Georgia, and because of her work, we were introduced to Matthew. He and I became great friends. Then in 2014, my family built a beautiful little cottage down here, so now I’m very fortunate to be able to spend more time with my friend and business colleague.”

CHAPTER TWO: ROHER AND FARRIS

Roher met Amiri Farris 15 years ago at a Bluffton artist’s market. Farris is a multi-disciplinary contemporary artist who is known for dynamic artwork that combines an alluring blend of vivid colors and layered textures. At the time, Roher had a restaurant in downtown Savannah and was shopping for art for the restaurant. 

“Amiri’s art blew me away – his Lowcountry style, his colors, and his authentic cultural vibe,” Roher said. “It was a real connection.” 

Roher bought some of Farris’s work for the restaurant and a couple of pieces for his home. One of those pieces was a painting of a crab that he says continues to arrest his attention to this day (and incidentally was the inspiration for the Blue Crab wine logo). 

Along with his work at The Sea Pines Resort, Roher serves on the board of the Technical College of the Lowcountry. At one of the functions there, he reconnected with Farris, who is one of the artists in residence. Once again, Roher was awestruck by one of Farris’ murals that hangs in a board room at the college. That reconnection proved pivotal for Farris, for The Sea Pines Resort, and for Mondavi Wines.

CHAPTER THREE: BLUE CRAB IS BORN

“A lightning bolt hit me,” Roher said. “I thought, ‘How cool would it be to have Mondavi and Amiri – two incredible artists and craftsmen – create an amazing product for The Sea Pines Resort restaurants?’” 

The men were equally excited about the project. Mondavi had the connections, the resources, and the know-how to put it together, and Farris just jumped right on board. Next, enter Mark Bowman, sommelier and assistant general manager at Links, An American Grill in Harbour Town, one of the highest rated restaurants in the Lowcountry. Roher invited Bowman in for a chat.

“I asked Mark, ‘What if we paired a world class artist and a world class, multi-generational winemaker, and you get to make your own wine?’” Roher said. “He nearly passed out.”

Bowman confessed it was about the greatest thing he ever heard, truly one of the highlights of his career. So, meetings commenced with Mondavi, Farris began submitting renderings for the label, and Blue Crab was born.

CHAPTER FOUR: MONDAVI AND BOWMAN

The process began with Mondavi bringing in a neat little package, reminiscent of a poker chip case. Instead of chips, though, it carried vials of various tannin extracts. 

“First and foremost, Rob Mondavi is a friend of The Sea Pines Resort and a phenomenal winemaker with an unmatched pedigree,” Bowman said. “In 2022, when the idea of creating a Sea Pines Resort private label wine came up, we convened with beakers in front of us – like in a high school science lab. Rob would say, ‘Let’s try 33% of this, 33% of that, 33% of that, and let’s add two drops of this tannin extract or another drop of that, then we’ll see what it’s like.”

The process took months of trial and error, throwing out the things they didn’t like, and adding new flavors. 

“I would bring various wines to blend,” Mondavi said. “Mark would suggest that we needed a bit more of a fruit profile or a bit more of an oak profile, and we were able to adjust that in real time, blending and sculpting the wine. The sommelier and his team experienced the wine come to life and their excitement was probably the most rewarding part of the experience for me.” 

Eventually, the team whittled it down to arrive at the initial Sea Pines Resort Blue Crab red blend and Sauvignon Blanc, two wines that eventually did really well for the label. 

CHAPTER FIVE: MONDAVI AND AMIRI:

As the Blue Crab emerged, the logo of the brand came to life through the collaboration of Mondavi and Farris.

“Amiri is a wonderful artist who exemplifies the Lowcountry in a unique and recognizable way,” Mondavi said. “He is a wonderful representative of the original island inhabitants – the Gullah Geechee community – and he is the artist in residence this year at the Penn Center on Saint Helena Island, so it’s a great time to feature him. While his art has a loud voice, he is a gentle giant with a beautiful brush stroke. I love his art and his persona.”

When Mondavi and Farris discussed the logo, the collaboration was easy. Farris’ vision for the artwork and Mondavi’s for the wine joined in integrity and translated to what you’ll see on the back of the bottle: Mondavi, the artist of the wine and Farris, the artist of the label. 

CHAPTER SIX: THE BLUE CRAB MOLTS

Over the course of the winter, the food and beverage team at The Sea Pines Resort went back to the well and developed new varietals. 

“The new Blue Crab white is a very crisp, light chardonnay with all of the flavor and textural components that most Chardonnay drinkers expect,” Bowman said. “But then it also has this delightfully bright acidity on the back end that will make it a great ‘porch’ wine in the middle of summer when it’s hot and humid.”

For the new red, it’s a pivot towards a Bordeaux style, with the goal to distance a bit from the decadent texture of the first blend towards a more earthy mineral, high acid flavor. 

“It’s still a very generous California style wine,” Bowman said, “but it’s not nearly as rich as the first one. The thinking behind that is entirely based on food compatibility.”

The Chardonnay has already dropped. At press time, the red was finishing its barrel aging and was expected to drop by the end of March. 

“The rosé is delicious – light, crisp, and still full body at the same time, with lots of minerality, lots of tart red fruit, a little bit of watermelon,” Mondavi said. “Just an absolutely crushable wine. It’s the sort of thing where you’re like, ‘Can I have a straw?’”

All three – red, white, rosé – will be available for the RBC Heritage.

CHAPTER SEVEN: COMMUNITY

The first night that Roher and Mondavi discussed The Sea Pines Resort signature wines was at a fundraiser for the culinary program at the Technical College of Lowcountry, an organization that both men have supported since before the college broke ground. 

“Supporting the local community and developing future chefs, sommeliers, and other skilled workers in the community through the culinary and hospitality program is something that The Sea Pines Resort is invested in,” Roher said.

Mondavi concurred. “At this year’s college fundraiser, an ‘Evening with Chef Matthew’ was one of the auction items,” Mondavi said. “We donated a bottle of 1971 cabernet sauvignon – my birth year – along with some of the Blue Crab wines. It was a great private experience for the Technical College patrons.”

Roher, Mondavi, Bowman, and Farris agree that this project is super cool because it encompasses so much that is special about Hilton Head Island. Not only does it celebrate a local artist, but also the fabric and lifestyle of the community. The blue crab underscores the unique coastal cuisine, the vibe and the style of the residents, and the allure of the tourists. Perhaps most importantly, the Blue Crab wines underscore the ethos of The Sea Pines Resort and how they support the local community through their charitable ventures, the jobs they provide, and the image they create for the patrons and guests that visit the island. 

“The Sea Pines Resort and the experiences they facilitate are a big part of why people return year after year,” Mondavi said. “The Heritage is a perfect example. All the people coming from out of town and out of state will have the opportunity to experience the classic Lowcountry hospitality exemplified at Sea Pines through their culinary and beverage program.”

At day’s end, with Farris’ art on the label, the quality of the wines crafted with Mondavi, and the entire culinary and sommelier team, the result is a personalized and signature wine exclusive to guests at The Sea Pines Resort.

TAKE AWAYS

“For a restaurateur, to have these incredible talents come together for a project of this magnitude is magnificent. I want to express my appreciation to all of them, and I look forward to designing even more incredible wines in the future.” – Matthew Roher

“This experience has been one of the most exciting opportunities of my career. It has been such an honor to work with Rob Mondavi and to be entrusted by Sea Pines to oversee these tastings and blendings and create these wines. I couldn’t be prouder of the Blue Crab brand.” – Mark Bowman

“I truly love the Lowcountry. My family has a home here because we believe this is a great place to live. We know that raising our children here will help to instill within them the values of family and hospitality, which are cornerstones of Mondavi Wines and the Hilton Head community.” – Rob Mondavi

Certainly, the Blue Crab team got it right: the collaboration, the craftmanship, the artistry, the presentation, and most importantly, the heart of the community. 

“The ability to craft and shape wine comes from a generational training and passion for bringing people together through wine and food,” Mondavi said. “Having lived here in the Lowcountry and having a wife whose family generates from here, and great friends who work and create and thrive are the inspiration. Working with the Sea Pines team, we’ve crafted something that is exceptional, unique, and something we’re very proud of.”

THE END

AFTERWORD:

Mark Bowman is happy to accept requests for reservations and private events. Email him at Mbowman@seapines.com. Oh, and maybe go ahead and make dining reservations at your favorite Sea Pines Resort during Heritage. You’ll want to be among the first to taste these new Blue Crabs. 

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