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Searching for Wine in Hawaii  (April 2, 2003)

They say that wine is made in all fifty of the United States, and I was determined to see if this was true for Hawaii.

The Hawaiian island of Maui doesn't immediately leap to mind as a wine destination, but there is more wine activity there than BC Premier Gordon Campbell can shake a corkscrew at.

There is, in fact, a flourishing winery on the island – one of two commercial wineries producing grape wine in Hawaii.

Tedeschi Vineyards is located some 2,000 feet above sea level on the grass-covered volcanic slope of Haleakala in east Maui. Twenty-two acres of grapes, part of a 20,000-acre ranch called 'Ulupalakua, are planted with Carnelian (a 1936 Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon crossing which was then crossed with Grenache) and Chenin Blanc. From this combo, winemaker Ben Mendez, a former drummer from Honolulu, and his consulting oenologist Californian Dimitri Tchelischeff, produce two sparkling wines and four still wines as well as a pineapple wine.

In 1974 C. Pardee Erdman, the owner of the property, and Emil Tedeschi (who had vineyard experience in California) planted 150 different grape varieties before settling on Carnelian. While they were waiting for the vines to mature they experimented with making wine from pineapples, Hawaii's native fruit. In 1977 they released the Maui Blanc Pineapple Wine, which is still made today.

Produced from concentrate, Maui Blanc is the winery's most popular product, selling more than 250,000 bottles a year and accounting for more 70 per cent of its production. The pineapple wine is something of a cash crop, since it's ready for shipping three months after fermentation. Their biggest market is Japan and it's a big seller in the local tourist shops on the islands.

Apart from the Tedeschi Vineyards, there are other wine-making enterprises in Hawaii.

Winemaker Tim Kenny at Volcano Winery on The Big Island produces honey wines, tropical fruit blends of local fruits and grapes, and wines made from the Symphony grape in dry and semi-dry styles. Email:

At Diamond Head Winery, in Honolulu, if you feel moved to make your own wine while you're on vacation you can select a kit from 50 varietals, mix the ingredients and return 8 weeks later to bottle your two cases of wine. Or you can have a wine tasting party on the premises for US $10 a person. Call (808) 841-WINE.

Beautiful Weather
Such is the microclimate around the vineyards on Maui that Ben Mendez can get two harvests in, a year – the first in September-October, the second in December, the fruit of which is used for the sparkling wine. His major problems are humidity, mildew and the birds. "Sometimes we have to stop bottling," Mendez told me, "because of the humidity. The labels won't stick to the bottles." The average rainfall here is 28 inches a year.

The winery itself is located in a large tin shed removed from the main single-story white wood cottage that houses the tasting room with its 18-foot long bar cut from the trunk of a single mango tree. In adjoining rooms is an intriguing collection of photos and artefacts depicting the history of the 'Ulupalakua Ranch and the paniolo (the Hawaiian cowboys) who worked it. Towering over these buildings and old stone cottage, which once served as a jail, are huge 100-year-old trees.

In the tasting room I was permitted by the young lady behind the bar to sample only four wines, mindful no doubt of the tortuous drive up from our hotel. It took about an hour to reach the winery, although when my wife Deborah and I arrived we could see our hotel by the ocean below us.

These are my notes:

  • Maui Blush (a Chenin Blanc/Carnelian blend)
    Deep salmon pink in colour, off-dry raspberry flavour with a crisp finish (US $8.00).
  • Maui Brut Sparkling (which, I was told, was served at Ronald Reagan's presidential inauguration in 1985)
    Off-dry, similar in style to a Prosecco (US $18.95).
  • 'Ulupalakua Red
    Pale ruby with a raspberry candy nose, off-dry and syrupy (US $10.25).
  • Maui Blanc (pineapple wine)
    It tastes like pineapple juice with a kick (US$7.95).

For information on how to visit Tedeschi Vineyards, go to or email

Winter Wine Escape
From the heights of Tedeschi Vineyards you can look down on the ocean and see the Maui Prince Hotel at Makena, where we were staying. The sister hotel on the Big Island, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, is certainly a wine destination. For the last ten years they have held a Winter Wine Escape Weekend in November. Last year's event was a six-course dinner featuring the wines of Grgich Hills and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars from the Napa Valley.

Before the meal, our reception wine was Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2000. We sat down to Kawamata Tomato Soup with Tomato Poke Purse – a deliciously light essence of tomato drained from the pulp – paired with Stag's Leap Sauvignon Blanc 2000. Then came Lobster Cake with Corn Relish matched to Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2000, followed by Mustard Seed Crusted Ahi tuna with Shoyu Butter alongside Stag's Leap Chardonnay 2000.

The first meat course was Colorado Lamb and Lamb Shank with Golden Whipped Potatoes and Maui Onion partnered with a brace of reds, Stag's Leap Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and (the wine of the night) Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon SLV 1998. The cheese course, a fabulous construction billed as "Chef Corey's Selected Domestic Cheeses with a Micro Greens tower, Toasted Shallot Vinaigrette and Pecans," was matched with Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and that winery's Zinfandel 1999.

Dessert was a Chestnut Torte on Hazelnut Cake with Valrona Chocolate Cream in a Vanilla Wafer with Pear Sorbet served with Grgich Hills Late Harvest Violetta 2000.

Now, if that menu doesn't make you salivate, you must be off your food.

Our host for the evening, who led the assembled wine lovers through the dishes and the wines, was New York sommelier Steven Olson. His definition as to what makes a great wine was succinct and very apposite. "To make great wine," he said, "it takes the four "G's" – the grape, the ground, the guys and God."




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