Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wines from Hawaii


This month I went to Hawaii for 8 days and was blessed with 83F degree weather every day, along with sunny skies and some pleasant wines from Hawaii. Actually, to be honest, I try to go to Hawaii at least once a year. It is my second soul home after Sonoma. My real dream is to live in both locations for part of the year – Sonoma during late spring, summer and harvest, and Hawaii from mid November to early March.

Each time I go to Hawaii I switch islands, and have now lost count of how many trips I’ve made – at least 15. This time it was Maui again – for about the 4th time. I enjoy the beauty and relaxed tranquility of Maui, but have to admit that my heart lies with the Big Island on the sunny Kona side. Kauai with its lush greenery, waterfalls, chickens, and too much rain is also appealing, and Oahu is always exciting. I’ve also visited Lanai and Molokai on day trips, but never stayed overnight. In each case, I rent a condo for the week and settle in for a relaxing sunny break with long walks on the beach each morning; fresh fruit, seafood, and Hawaiian vegetables.

The reason I love the Big Island so much is because most of the natural produce of Hawaii is grown there….avocados, mangos, coconuts, pineapples, vanilla, coffee, beef, fish, star fruit, orchids, and many other products too numerous to mention. The Big Island is like a small self-contained nation, which even has an active volcano. It is also big enough that I don’t get island fever, and I love the fact that it has such huge mountains that they receive snow in the winter!

What surprises many people is that Hawaii has 2 (two) wineries: 1) Volcano Winery (http://www.volcanowinery.com/) on the Big Island on the road to Hawaii Volcano National Park, and 2) Tedeschi Maui’s Winery in the small town of Ulupalakua (http://www.mauiwine.com/) However, I always wonder why people are surprised when the Spanish, Portuguese and Greeks have been growing grapes and making wine on tropical volcanic islands for centuries? My visit to the Canary Islands several years ago was just like going to Hawaii and they make wonderful wines. You also have the island of Pantelleria off of Italy as well as Cyprus and Crete where many wonderful wines are made on volcanic soil. My favorite of all time is the island of Madeira where the legendary wines of that name can be found. What surprises me even more is that the two Hawaiian wineries are not growing any of the grapes that are prolific on these other islands. Oh Hawaii, why not Malvasia, Bual, and Tinta Negra Mole?

Anyway, I can’t help but digress and get caught up in future dreams of a vineyard on Hawaii –but let’s focus. I’ve been to both wineries two times now – a total of four visits. On this recent trip to Maui, I found the Tedeschi Winery quite changed. For one, Mr. Tedeschi has returned to California and the winery is owned by the original Hawaiian partner….and slowly the name is being changed to Maui’s Winery (which is probably wise). For another, they are experimenting with many new grapes – still grappling with what will work in their climate, soil, altitude, etc.

The Tedeschi Maui Winery (http://www.mauiwine.com/) is actually just above the beautiful resorts of Wailea and Makena on the hillside of the dormant volcano – at an 1800 foot elevation. However, you must drive back towards the airport and then take the road toward the Haleakala Volcano National Park (which we visited before going to the winery) - in order to reach the winery and tasting room in Ulupalakua. As a visitor to the island, there are plenty of winery brochures with directions if you rent a car, or you can also sign up to take a tour bus to the winery. It is open every day from 10am to 5pm, except holidays. Tastings are complimentary and there are free tours.

The tasting room itself is a small charming ranch house – part of the original Rose Ranch for cattle. There are picnic grounds set amongst very ancient and beautiful trees – so bring a picnic. One tree is an amazing 100 year old camphor tree that takes your breath away it is so impressive. The only downside is you cannot drink wine with your picnic, because it is against Hawaiian alcohol laws.

When we entered we approached the long beautiful wooden bar, which we discovered was made of an 18 foot long mango tree! Our first server was distracted with many phone calls and appeared to find my questions about clones, trellising, and oak aging irritating…but eventually someone else helped me and provided me with the information I needed for this blog.

She informed me that they currently have 23 acres of vines at 1500 to 1800 elevation. The soil is a rich volcanic soil, and they have a southwest exposure on the hillside of the dormant Haleakala Volcano. She didn’t know the rootstock, but said it was originally from UC-Davis and that the vineyard was 35 years old (started in 1974).

I was able to view the vineyards from a distance after I left the winery. They are on quite wide spacing – looked like 12x8 with high vertical shoot position trellising. I asked if they had to spray a lot for powdery mildew, and she said there were many issues which required spraying due to the more humid, tropical environment.

She said they have been experimenting with many different varietals by grafting over on the original rootstock. Right now they grow syrah, chardonnay, chenin blanc, French Colombard, and a hybrid cabernet sauvignon. They also make pineapple wine which I found quite delicious with a refreshing acidity. The local restaurants and some of the grocery stores sell their wines also.

Interestingly, they are importing some bulk grape juice from California which takes one month by ship. They then ferment it in stainless (in fact, she said everything was fermented in stainless, temperature controlled), and only oak staves (both French and American) are added to some of the wines for minor oak nuances.

I tasted through all of the wines and enjoyed the Maui Blanc ($11) which is a blend of Chardonnay and French Colombard. It is very dry and perfect for fish, but needs food. Not a gentle quaffing wine. I also found the syrah to be surprisingly good, and agree with them that it could be a good match for Maui. All of the pineapple wines were delightful – especially the sparkling one. Interestingly, they can ship wines to the mainland and allow you to order from their website (http://www.mauiwine.com/).

When I visited the Volcano Winery on the Big Island just a couple years ago, I was very impressed with their use of the Symphony grape, which is a UC-Davis developed varietal by crossing Muscat Alexandria and Grenache Gris. It has lovely floral and peach aromas with a silky body, and this winery does this grape high credit. Volcano Winery has also shown much creativity by making wines from unusual ingredients such as macadamia nuts, honey, guava, and the island jaboticaba berries. They too ship to the mainland (http://www.volcanowinery.com/).

I’m sure I will visit both of these wineries again, because I can’t resist seeing the progress and experimentation each time I stop by these amazing Hawaiian wineries. Furthermore, I can’t help but cheering and celebrating for wineries being established in all of our wonderful 50 (fifty) United States!

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