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If you believe that boxed wine can’t be high quality, Woody Hambrecht and Ross Dawkins are here to change that. Career winemakers and decades-long friends, the pair are the co-owners of Ami Ami, a direct-to-consumer brand focused on providing high-quality, eco-conscious, and delicious boxed (yes, boxed) French wine.
“Most wine brands are hyperfocused on the wine, in the terms of ‘Let’s lead with which [vine] row it came from or what brix it was picked at,‘ but that’s not the core focus for us” Ross explained. “We have three decades of experience making high-quality wines around the world. You can trust us. We don’t need to explain the nuances of every single thing to you. We’re trying to break down those barriers of pretension around wine and make it more inclusive and accessible.”
When the duo decided to create the brand—named after their daughters who are both named Sophie and are best friends, as ami is French for “a friend”—they knew they wanted to create a quality, high-end product that would be convenient, accessible, and memorable, regardless of the occasion. Most importantly, they wanted to package their wine in a way that was sustainable. “More than two-thirds of glass in the United States is not recycled and ends up in a landfill,” they write on their site. Not only that, the carbon footprint of producing and transporting glass is immense. This inspired the shift from more traditional glass packaging to boxed. After all, it creates half of the carbon footprint and is more efficient and easier to transport.
Based in Healdsburg, Calif., the pair are deep in the heart of wine country. With this, and their obvious roles in the wine community, comes a schedule packed with wine tastings, vineyard visits, and endless hosting—whether it’s a backyard barbecue, dinner party, or backyard happy hour. “I love hosting,” Woody said. “I’ve been hosting for as long as I can remember; it’s totally built in my family culture. I live on this beautiful ranch, we grow a lot of our own food, we raise pigs and chickens, and we have orchards. So, we’re able to utilize a lot of the stuff that we grow and it’s just one of my great joys in life to be able to share that with people.”
Living among countless vineyards undeniably comes with its perks. “If you’re a winemaker, you’re also probably a pretty good cook—those two things go hand in hand,” Ross said. “So with our friends, we’re all competing to host because we all want to be the host and are all super precious about our wine, we’re super snobs about our food, so we all compete for the title.” Spend a warm-weather day in Healdsburg and you just might find yourself at a casual backyard barbecue stocked with some of the best wines in the country. “It’s kind of ridiculous going around Healdsburg to a little barbecue because you’ll find exceptional wine and exceptional food that the chef just whipped up.”
All of this considered, when I began my hunt for experts on hosting outdoor gatherings centered around great drinks, great food, and great friends, Woody and Ross felt like an obvious choice. So, we sat down and talked all things Ami Ami, backyard barbecues, hosting tips and tricks, and more. Keep reading for 10 of the pair’s essentials for a perfect backyard bash, regardless of the season.
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1. Ami Ami Summer Duo, $60
“Who wouldn’t want this when you’re hosting folks at your home?,” Ross asks. “There are two bottles in each box, so it goes further [than a typical bottle] and it looks great on the table. It really is perfect—and that’s not just us trying to oversell this—especially for an outdoor barbecue. It can be used in spritzes or enjoyed as-is, and it’s so convenient.” The convenience of the packaging goes further than just for entertaining, Woody adds. “It’s great if you want to come home and just like have one glass of wine,” he says. ”Rather than having to open a bottle, you can have that one glass of wine without the pressure to finish the bottle so it doesn’t go bad in a couple of days if you don’t.”
2. Compostable Stemless Wine Cups, $14+
The pair loves these compostable cups for their blend of being eco-friendly and well designed. “So many plastic cups or other compostable cups don’t have a nice design. These have a beautiful shape and are sustainable—they’re a great alternative to plastic,” Woody says.
3. Polaroid Go Instant Camera,
“This one comes from my wife,” Ross says. “We got married in 2017, she wanted a Polaroid at our wedding, and I had to Google what it was. I’ve never seen anything at an event or party get more attention than a Polaroid—it’s an absolute no-brainer. There’s something so special about them and it’s a great way to make memories without it being one of the 3,000 iPhone photos that get taken throughout the day.”
“Don’t forget the essentials, right?” Ross says. “Gotta have a nice, clean grill.” Woody has a whole system to get his grill nice and clean. “First I get my fire going. Once it’s at a pretty high heat, I use a brush to break down whatever is leftover from our last barbecue. Then I take a paper towel, throw a bunch of olive oil on it, and wipe the grill. But, you need that brush to break down the carbon from your last cookout—you’re only as good as your tools,” he says.
5. “Sizzle” Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $14+
“I have a really curated home, the bottle sits next to my stove, and that’s what I cook with basically every day,” Woody explains. ”I think it’s a great product and it’s a great package.” Ross, also a Graza lover, agrees. “I’ve got a monthly subscription that arrives at my doorstep every single month,” he says. “Cool packaging, incredible olive oil, and super educational [about where it comes from, how it’s harvested, why Picula olives are used, and more].”
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6. French Oak Serving Boards, $74+
“When I host I always have a cheese and charcuterie board,” Woody says. “I’ve been doing it for over a decade and they’re just beautiful.” Bubbles and charcuterie are standard in Healdsburg, Ross confirms. “If people are arriving and there’s no charcuterie served when they arrive…are you even hosting?” he jokes.
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7. Yeti Tundra, $325
“The amount of time I’ve spent, before getting a Yeti, walking to and from the fridge to get people drinks is ridiculous,” Ross says. “I cannot believe it took me this long.” Now, no more running back and forth from the backyard to the kitchen for cold drinks. The pair relies on a Yeti Tundra to keep drinks nearby and ice-cold, even when it’s sitting outside, right under the sun. “I don’t even know how they actually make these, but I’ve had ice sit in them for like two weeks and not melt.”
“My kid is in a pizza phase,” Woody says. “We eat pizza almost every night and this makes for a better quality frozen pizza. It also taps into my chef fantasies—it makes me feel a little more serious in the kitchen.” Ross, whose daughter is also in a pizza phase, has used the stone for cooking flatbreads on the grill, too.
9. Lazzari Mesquite Charcoal Lump, $19
“This is the real stuff. If you’re going to do something, do it properly,” Ross says. “Gas grilling is super convenient and super handy, but coming from South Africa—we call grilling over coals a Braai—and you will be canceled in South Africa if you invite people over and crack on the gas. Old vineyard wood is actually some of the best wood for grilling, but I love this brand for coals. I’m actually standing outside now looking at a huge bag in the corner,” he adds.
10. KHEM Studios Simple Meat Board, $90
“What’s great about this cutting board is it has the trough to capture the juices,” Woody says. “Say you throw a steak on the grill, you let it repose for 10 minutes, start cutting that steak and it’s still going to release some juices and those juices are flavor, so you’ve got to capture it.”
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