It has been a HOT minute since my last blog! I spent the majority of my "free time" in February and March reading and wine tasting for WSET levels 1 and 2, though surprisingly (given that we're still living amidst a global pandemic), "free time" seems harder to come by than ever these days. Anyone else feeling this?
Just remember, if you're ever hankering for some Corker Content, you can always hop, skip, and jump over to my IG page @thecandidcork, where I post daily musings, share WOTW features every Wednesday, and talk about the general goings-on in the wonderful world of wine.
This week, slather on the sunscreen, grab a lei, and get ready to hang ten, because I'm taking you to the Aloha state. Maui, to be exact. On this lush and majestic island, you'll find an unsuspecting vineyard tucked away in upcountry, sprawled across the volcanic soil of Haleakala, a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the island.
Photo taken from The Experience | MauiWine.
Now, I bet I know what you're thinking: is it possible to produce quality wines on a tropical island that hovers between 70 and 80 degrees? And the answer may surprise you....YES! Just visit MauiWine in Kula and you'll see what I mean.
Armed with passions for both wine and agriculture, Pardee Erdman, owner of Ulupalakua Ranch, established the vineyard in 1974. While waiting for the newly planted grapevines to mature, he began to practice making sparkling wine using fruit that was abundantly available...pineapple! Initially, a scant amount was produced, but the public response to this sparkling surprise was overwhelming. Today, pineapple wine makes up the majority of production at MauiWine.
The fruit comes from Hali'imaile Pineapple Company (about 30 minutes from the winery) where hundreds of acres of fresh Maui Golds are grown and harvested. While arguably the best pineapple in the world, making tasty wine from them is not an easy feat! The fruit used to make the wine is hand selected and picked. Based on the aromas, taste, and ripeness of each pineapple lot, it is selected specifically for the wine it will create. In other words, the flavor profiles are assigned to the wine style it is best suited for. This process can be time consuming, but it ensures that the end product is something absolutely delicious, refreshing, and authentic to the region from which it hails.
The process of making pineapple wine can be thought of as a cross between making white wine and brewing beer. First, the fruit is crushed, similar in fashion to how grapes are crushed to make wine. We're talking 3 TONS of pineapple at a time. Next it's fed into the bladder press. Using a Champagne cycle, the press gets to work, ultimately yielding 150 gallons of juice per ton of fruit, then it's pumped to stainless steel tanks for cold settling.
The shell of the pineapple is thick and bitter, similar to the skin of some grape varietals, while the flesh of the fruit is high is sugar, which needs to broken down to be fermentable. Cool temperatures are used during this stage of the process to help preserve the unique fruit flavors. Lower temperatures also help the character and the terroir to shine through.
A new batch of pineapple is crushed every month and the process from crushing to bottling takes 5 months.
The Pineapple Wines:
-Maui Blanc: off-dry, crisp, and refreshing. This zesty wine displays characteristic tropical fruit flavors that only 100% Maui Golds can impart.
-Maui Splash: originally designed as a bar mixer for Makena resort, this wine has been adapted to stand on its own. This porch pounder offers the perfect amount of sweetness with a touch of passionfruit to make it irresistible!
-Hula O Maui: likely one of the most unique sparkling wines you'll encounter, this delight is made in the Traditional Method and aged on the lees for 6-8 months. It's a wonderful representation of Maui - vibrant and lively!
Pineapple Wine Flight
But what about those grapevines that we were waiting to mature? Well, you may be surprised that the Ulupala'kua vineyard, farmed by MauiWine, produces 6 different varietals: Syrah, Malbec, Grenache, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, and Gewurztraminer; these create the Estate Wines, which benefit from the long growing season, crisp mountain air, 18,000 feet of elevation, and volcanic soils of Haleakala.
Photo taken from The Experience | MauiWine
It's really unprecedented to grow grapes on Maui, and MauiWine has experimented for over 40 years in search of the perfect growing conditions. It's been a series of trial and error with a multitude of techniques: trellising, soils, and varietals - to name a few. The grapes need to be able to withstand the nighttime warmth, the daytime humidity, and the hurdle of having no dormancy season. This translates to a strong community with all hands on deck all year long to constantly work the fruit. The final product? A wine that is exceptionally intriguing, mystifying, and sensuous.
The Estate Wines (Estate Grown):
Syrah: a spicy rustic wine with complex notes of eucalyptus, oregano, lavender, rose, raspberry, and dark cherry.
Grenache: A juicy, light-bodied red, dancing with notes of ripe strawberries, pomegranate, cranberries, and a titch of orange peel.
Malbec: an elegant wine featuring notes of blueberry, black cherry, wintergreen, and mocha.
Rose: a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Malbec, this delightfully dry wine offers aromas of tart cranberry, fresh raspberry, ripe strawberry, and lemon zest.
Chenin Blanc: This crisp, refreshing wine comes from the oldest vines in the vineyard and reveals notes of lychee, elderflower, zesty lemon, and juicy pear.
Blanc de Blanc: a Chenin Blanc based bubbly that benefits from over 22 months of lees aging, this sparkling wine offers notes of creamy lemon, zesty lime, and brioche bun.
Jazzy and I had a wonderful afternoon at the winery. We had reservations at 4:00 so we were really able to take our time moseying our way down Piilani Highway. From Lahaina, the drive took about an hour, but the beautiful scenery made it fly by. We actually rented a convertible so I was really able to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face! We passed gorgeous rainbow eucalyptus trees (pictured below) and enjoyed the slower-pace (and cooler temps!) of life in upcountry.
As we approached the Kings Cottage Tasting Room, we were greeted with panoramic views of Maui's Southern coast. The contrast between the vast blue ocean, rolling green hills, and black lava rock walls made for a breathtaking landscape.
MauiWine sits on land with a lot of history; we meandered up the path under the same trees that greeted guests over 150 years ago and were met by our hostess who enveloped us with the warmth of the aloha spirit.
While we weren't able to tour the winery or the vineyard due to COVID-19, we did have the opportunity to talk to the enthusiastic team at MauiWine. I explained that I was studying for my WSET L2 Certification and was curious to learn more about what they do. Everyone was extremely patient with me and took the time to explain their climate, terroir, varietals, and wine-making process. Each person we spoke to was well-informed, passionate, and proud to be a part of the MauiWine tradition.
Photo taken from The Experience | MauiWine.
After tasting through several sparkling wines, pineapple wines, and estate wines (my tasting notes are included in this blog in the "Pineapple Wine" and "Estate Wine" sections), we strolled through the retail store before hitting the old dusty trail - just in time to catch the sunset from the summit of Haleakala.
Sparkling wine flight
If you ever find yourself on Maui, I highly recommend setting aside a day for a trip to MauiWine, and if you do....don't miss out on the Pineapple wine flight! Pineapple is a symbol of hospitality and that's exactly what you'll feel as you savor a glass of the good stuff.
That's all for now, folks. Be sure to join my email list here so you'll be the first to know about goings-on in the Corker Community and follow me on Instagram @thecandidcork for daily content!
I love you all for being here; cheers, aloha, and mahalo. Until next time...