Sip a glass of chardonnay with a trilobite.
Guzzle red wine while admiring a ginormous dinosaur femur.
What’s up with that?
It’s Fossils, Minerals & Wine, a unique pairing between an online fossil business in Monroe and a Woodinville winery.
Matt Heaton, owner of FossilEra, came up with the idea to showcase some of the tons of items from his warehouse in a venue with wine.
Wine goes with art, so why not the remains of ancient organisms from past geological ages?
Heaton is hauling hundreds of items to the three-day event this weekend at Davenport Cellars. We’re talking ammonites, gastropods, echinoderms and a bunch of other species’ names you might have to Google.
Prices range from a few bucks to five digits to take home a piece of once-living history.
“We’re turning a wine-tasting room into a museum,” Heaton said. “We get requests all the time from people to see stuff in person. We’re not set up that way.”
FossilEra is buried in the modern-age commercial landscape. It’s just another beige doorway tucked inside a nondescript business park west of U.S. 2. From the outside, there’s no clue that what lurks inside roamed the earth and crawled the ocean floor a gazillion years ago.
I totally see why the 5,000-square-foot warehouse isn’t open to the public. The hour I was there, Heaton’s seven employees were busy packing orders and processing a recent purchase of 20 tons of fossils and minerals that he bought at a liquidation sale. Even though I don’t know an ammonite from a trilobite, I was infatuated with the billions-of-years-old fossils and wanting to see and touch everything.
It’s like the Amazon of bones and stones.
Heaton started FossilEra four years ago at his home. As fossil and mineral orders grew, he expanded his commercial space.
“In the last 12 months we’ve shipped about 10,000 orders,” he said.
The winery custom-branded two wines, Thirsty Trilobite White and Amethyst Splash Red, for this weekend’s fossil event.
“Drinking wine, one of the oldest alcoholic beverages dating back thousands of years, while touching the bones of dinosaurs that roamed the planet millions of years ago is just plain cool,” said Jeff Jirka of Davenport Cellars.
After a few glasses of wine, you might spring for that $5,000 colorful slab of Marra Mamba stromatolite that’s 2.7 billion years old and will look good in any room. Stromatolites are layered trace fossils of microbial life, primarily cyanobacteria.
Who knew germs could be so gorgeous?
“Fossil collecting has been my passion since I was a little kid,” said Heaton, 39, who grew up in Bellevue and now lives in Snohomish with his wife, Kim. “All my vacations were spread out in the middle of nowhere, breaking rocks and looking for them.”
Heaton collects trilobites, marine animals that lived at the bottom of the ocean hundreds of millions of years ago, before the dinosaurs.
“They were the dominant life form on this planet for several hundred million years, and there were tens of thousands of different types of them,” he said. “They took so many different forms, and some could be very ornate as far as having spines. They went extinct 250 million years ago.”
Heaton majored in computer science and ran several tech startups. That background, combined with his years of fossil hunting, helped with running a company that melds the prehistoric world with the digital one.
“In my early 20s, I did a lot of collecting through buying things online and was scammed a number of times,” he said. “That is something that is definitely out there in the fossil market. There are a lot of fakes.”
For the business, he buys from suppliers he trusts and respects the rules.
“There are certain countries and regions which strictly regulate or even ban the export of fossils,” he said, listing China and Mongolia as examples. “In the United States, you can’t sell stuff that came off public lands. I know where the leases are. I can verify the stuff came from private property and is legal to sell.”
He said that his inventory doesn’t hinder research collectors. “In general the material we sell does not have a high scientific value,” he said.
Heaton encourages people to find their own fossils.
“There are lots of areas around Western Washington that have marine fossils,” he said. “I’m sure you could find a place within 5 miles of here where you could find fossils.”
At FossilEra, colorful geodes go for a few dollars. A pair of pretty polished ammonites is $50. Trilobites range from $25 to thousands of dollars.
Who shells out that kind of cash for organic matter turned to stone?
Collectors, mainly, but the majority of shoppers are people buying gifts.
“Most of the stuff we sell is under $100,” he said. “Most of the pricing is based off of what we have to pay. We’re like any other retailer. We have a wholesale cost for things, and we’re marking it up a percentage on top of that.”
Sales spike during the holidays for stocking stuffers you won’t find at the box stores. “Things like ammonites and megalodon teeth and fossil fish,” Heaton said.
FossilEra snags some business from Hollywood.
Heaton said Chris Pratt’s assistant called him during the filming of “Jurassic World” and ordered dinosaur teeth.
“She was looking for a few pieces as gifts for people on the set,” he said. “Warner Brothers is doing a megalodon shark movie coming out next August, and I had a big order for megalodon teeth from someone related to the film.”
Heaton offered 500 free fossil kits for teachers this week in honor of National Fossil Day, Oct. 11.
The wine-tasting event is family friendly.
“We are going to set up a big sandbox and let kids dig through it and keep the fossils,” Heaton said.
It’s a gateway for kids to get hooked while you mow down with a mosasaur.
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; email@example.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.
Fossils, Minerals & Wine
Davenport Cellars, 19495 144th Ave. NE, Suite A-160, Woodinville.
Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Oct. 13; noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 14 and noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 15.
Admission is free. For all ages. Red and white wine. Small plates, salads and sandwiches.
National Fossil Day is Oct. 11. The purpose is to highlight the scientific and educational value of paleontology and the importance of preserving fossils for future generations.