This side trip to Maui was fueled by a desire to really explore a place far from home to which I had journeyed for work. It was also driven by curiosity. Why would a winery producing fruity pineapple wine take the time and make the financial investment to use traditional method to produce their sparkling pineapple elixir? I was also wondering if what I poured at the Luau several nights earlier represented the true character of the "wine". After chatting with retailers on Hawai'i', I learned many distributors used the big island as a final resting place for old, tired vintages. Or perhaps bottles that had been poorly handled. I, myself, had found three bottles that I had to retire and use for cooking rather than toasting during my tenure as the Wahine of Wine.
Thus the big, long drive all around Maui, over the slow, bumpy road that car rental houses refused to insure (not entirely true but definitely the urban myth they choose to perpetuate), and through a side of the volcano that revealed long, wide expanses of waving arid land grasses and crooked trees that were reminiscent of Japanaese woodblock prints. It was, simply, breathtaking. I tend to prefer marginal lands--the land of wine. The rough and tumble beauty and comes in areas with not quite enough rain, with soil that lacks in depth and fertility and maybe has more than its fair share of boulders, rocks and craggy ranges. I was at home here, and I didn't want to leave. But a pedal to the metal was needed in order to make it to the town of Ulupalakua, the home of Tedeschi Vineyards/Maui Wine Company. We pulled up to a quaint white, clapboard house with large deep wood-colored totem-like poles scattered throughout the front yard. Large trees and green grasses also signaled that we had rounded the coast to an area sees a bit more rain. Not quite the tropical rainforest of the east coast portion of the adventure this morning, but certainly less arid that the south coast we just left behind. Ulupalakula lies in a cut through north between the western (Mauna Kahalawai) and eastern (Haleakala) volcanoes which together make up the island of Maui. As I walked up, I saw a sign advertising a free tasting of up to three wines. I wasn't really sure I wanted to taste three version of pineapple but I definitely wanted to taste the current release of this methode champenoise pineapple sparkling (I kinda still can't believe this is a real thing). What I found on the "Wine Menu" before me was a bit of a shock. There were two estate wines that I could taste. Wait. Estate? Are you using that term in the same way? Indeed they were. So it seems that actual and real grapes are grown on the island of Maui -- in Kihei just down the road, in fact -- and are vinified for bottling right here. Chenin blanc, viognier and syrah to be precise. I was confused. I know we were at about 2,000 feet but I didn't think it ever became cold enough at that altitude for the grapes to become dormant. So apparently they force the vines into dormancy. Hmm....something new to research. The white was a blend of chenin and viognier and surprisingly, not of the high alcohol, flabby variety found in some west coast locations. Honestly, it wasn't bad. The floral aromas definitely dominated the aroma profile for me--smelled like the lei that decorated my neck my first night on the island. But the distinctly ashy quality in the mid-palate kind of obscured the fruit for me. Very sense of place though and I wouldn't turn it down. The syrah, on the other hand, was downright impressive. Filled with rich ripe berries, a hint of camphor and fresh ground white pepper this wine was fruity and savory all at the same time, balanced with minerality from the basalt dominated soils (hello Mt. Etna!). The woman in charge of the bottles in the tasting room was extremely generous when she sense my enthusiasm and poured me one extra wine in my flight--the Lokelani Hawaiian Sparkling Rosé. This wine was a blend but used some grape juice from off the island so couldn't be estate. It was delicate with a lovely floral aroma and fruity palate with citrus and black cherry, hints of almonds and really nice perlage and mouthfeel. Even at $28 per bottle, I'd definitely drink that one again. And again. My little Hula o'Maui Pineapple Sparkling? Well, in fact, I had indeed sampled and served an older vintage. The label was completely different on the bottle before me. But despite a change of winemaker since my bottle was produced and extended time on the lees (eight months), it didn't make too much difference. It was still as I described it before. A great pour for a Luau or Hawaiian-themed evening--not sweet and such a curiosity with its traditional method. But for $24.00 bottle, I think I'd opt for a bottle of Prosecco DOCG instead. Sorry little Hula girl...but thanks just the same! You inspired me to get here and explore the island in 360. And who knew.....wine-worthy grapes growing in Maui?! I wonder how much land here costs?