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Abalone…do you hear my footsteps?

June 19, 2009

Life on the north coast of California provides a wealth of opportunity for the outdoor enthusiast. Falling into this category myself, I recently jumped at the chance to accompany DeLoach Vineyards’ grower partner, Ulysses Van Der Kamp on an abalone hunting expedition. Ulysses is a very thoughtful farmer who pays close attention to every factor at play in his families’ renowned Sonoma Mountain vineyard, and with close ties to the land he is the driving force behind the outstanding grapes that create the canvas for our vineyard designated Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir. Second only to his skill as a farmer, is his knack for finding abalone. Born and raised in Sonoma County, Ulysses spent his formative years combing the local coastline in search these elusive sea snails.
Members of a large class of mollusks that possess one-piece shells, Red Abalone are native to the Pacific Coast. For millions of years abalone have existed in sub-tidal zones along the California coastline, providing those lucky enough to find them with delicious meat and colorful, iridescent shells. Hiding from predators in dark, protected areas along the seafloor, abalone grip tightly to rocks via a muscular, suction cup-like “foot” located on the underside of the shell.
Red Abalone
At sunrise on a drizzly morning in May with abalone on our minds, Ulysses guided the way as we hiked out across a wide stretch of grassland, ambled down rocky bluffs to a remote beach, and submerged ourselves in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean. After some brief instructions, Ulysses and I set off to survey the waters of a small cove. Up and down, under and around, I searched and searched as my digits grew numb. As a minute turned into an hour I began to love my motivation Then, just as I was about to hang up my diving mask forever, I found one! The wrestling match that ensued involved a deep breath, a series of panicked thoughts as I pried at the abalone with every ounce of force I could exert, then a rush of excitement as I felt the abalone give. With a sense of accomplishment welling up in side, I paddled over to a large rock to bask in the glory of the moment. Thrusting my abalone up above my head, I yelled to Ulysses who was enjoying a successful find of his own! A congratulatory hoot acknowledged his approval. As the morning progressed, the tide rose, we lost steam and the search came to a close. Taking inventory back at the truck, we ended up with a total of four abalones. Plenty of meat for a meal, an opportunity to strengthen the bond with one of our many valued grower partners, and an experience that will have me back in the water at the next minus tide! The in the following photo Ulysses (left) and I (right) display our respective abalone.

Apparently size does matter...

Apparently size does matter...

Please note: in this picture there seems to have been some strange photographic effect causing Ulysses’ abalone to appear substantially larger than mine…merely a trick of the camera…merely a trick of the camera…merely trick camera…

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