Drink Local Guide: Where to Get Locally Made Wine and Mead in Hawai‘i
Two wineries on the slopes of Hawai‘i volcanoes are producing small-batch estate wines that keep getting better with age. Plus, two local spots to try one of the oldest alcoholic beverages.
BACKGROUND DESIGN AND ILLUSTRATIONS: KIM SIELBECK; PHOTO: STEVE CZERNIAK
Think of Maui and your mind might conjure images of Haleakalā, cream puffs from Komoda Bakery and strawberry guri guri. Wine? Not so much.
That’s been the challenge for Maui Wine, the 40-year-old winery once called Tedeschi Winery at the historic ‘Ulupalakua Ranch. It has had to overcome its reputation for producing pineapple wine—still its best seller—to be considered a serious winery with serious wines.
“If you’re making pineapple [wine] and that’s what you’re known for, it’s challenging when you’re launching small-production estate wines,” says Joe Hegele, director of sales and marketing for the state’s oldest winery, whose family owns MauiWine. “It’s like Anheuser-Busch trying to call themselves ‘craft.’”
After a major rebranding in 2015—including changing the winery’s name to MauiWine—the company has focused on expanding its estate-wine portfolio, which includes a woodsy grenache and a fruity syrah, all grown in the 23-acre vineyard on the leeward slopes of Haleakalā.
Maui Blanc pineapple wine is made from fresh-cut, often off-grade, Maui-grown pineapple, and a sparkling pineapple wine is called Hula O Maui. The company invested in its own pineapple press—nicknamed the Pine-O-Matic—to extract the juice for its wines, selling the excess to Maui Brewing Co. and Pau Maui Vodka. In 2016, MauiWine crushed just under 1 million pounds of pineapples, most of which would have gone to waste. And whatever’s left of the pineapples is fed to the animals on the ranch. “It’s a no-waste product,” Hegele says.
Beyond pineapple wine, MauiWine grows six varieties of grapes at its vineyard and produces a surprising mix of wines, from a velvety malbec with hints of Belgian chocolate and dark cherry to juicy rosé bursting with pink strawberries, nectarines and Meyer lemon.
The Lokelani, a sparkling wine, tastes of fresh raspberries and orange blossom. Made in the méthode champenoise, it has started to change public perception about the winery. “That wine has really improved the most,” says master sommelier Roberto Viernes. “It’s much more refined, not so in-your-face.”
The winery recently hired experienced winemaker Mark Beaman, who crafted award-winning wines for Mendocino Wine Co. in Northwestern California, a region that he describes as being in the shadow of the wine-centric Napa Valley. “I’ve always been drawn to more challenging and unique locales,” Beaman says. “I love surprising people, opening people’s eyes to wines from areas they haven’t really experienced before … People want something new and exciting and exotic, and there’s that opportunity with this product here.”
Founded in 1986, this quirky winery, located on the outskirts of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park at 4,000 feet, produces a mix of wines made from estate-grown grapes, local fruit and honey, as well as a line of tea. Owner Del Bothof took over the property in 2011 with his wife, Marie. He says the guava wine, made from Island-grown fruit, is especially popular. “They’re unique,” he says of the appeal of fruit-based wines, which also include a white wine blended with jaboticaba berries.
The Bothofs, who produce 5,000 cases of wine a year, have also been experimenting with making tea-infused wine, augmenting their macadamia nut honey wine with tea leaves grown on site. A limited selection of more familiar styles of wine, including a pinot noir and cayuga white, round out the selection.
Five years ago, the winery got licensed to serve wine by the glass. A tented area makes for an ideal pitstop for a D.I.Y. picnic en route to the park.
Mead sounds like a beverage you’d find on Game of Thrones, which isn’t too far from the truth. As one of the oldest alcoholic beverages—there’s evidence of consumption dating back as far as 7,000 BC in what is now central China—this fermented mixture of honey and water was the drink of choice for Ancient Greeks and Norse Vikings alike. Flavorwise, mead falls somewhere between wine and beer with between 8 and 20 percent ABV. It can be sweet, carbonated, naturally sparkling, or dry and malty, produced with yeast, grains, hops, spices and various fruits. Wherever there were bees and honey in the world, there was often mead.
Bees may not be native to Hawai‘i, but Nani Moon Meadery on Kaua‘i is. Founded by Stephanie Krieger, a former marine researcher and educator for the National Tropical Botanical Garden, she began making mead in her garage in 2000. “My intent was to create a product that was 100 percent sustainable and locally sourced, which is why I made mead rather than beer or wine, which have ingredients that don’t grow locally,” says Krieger.
Today, the brand boasts six varieties of mead with flavors that include ginger, cacao and vanilla, chili pepper, mountain apple, starfruit and creamy pineapple. Nani Moon also harvests its own honey from close to 45 beehives that workers manage on site.
In Honolulu, Paisley Meadery takes a similar approach, using only local honey from Big Island Bees in Captain Cook on Hawai‘i Island. Owner Brian Paisley, former brewer of Pacific Breach Brewing Co. in Pearl City, opened the meadery in 2015 with a commitment to make every aspect of his mead on-island. “I even hike to the back of the Ko‘olau Range and culture my own yeast. So every aspect of production is 100 percent local,” Paisley says.
He likens his mead to a fine Champagne—light and bubbly with notes of honey and fruit. Says Paisley: “You could enjoy Krug [Champagne] for a few hundred dollars a bottle, or enjoy mead, which is affordable, produced locally and tastes even better.”