Proof that wine does indeed grow in all 50 states, the lone winery on Maui produces some very noteworthy wines from myriad fruits. Conveniently known as Maui’s Winery (there are also wineries on The Big Island and O’ahu), the winery itself is not so convenient for visitors. Maui’s Winery is easily a half day trip, at least an hour from Kahului, way high up in the upcountry beyond Kula. It feels like the top of the world there, or at least the island. No, there are no roads that lead from Wailea up the hill to the winery, as convenient as that would be (“Only Oprah” is allowed to use those back roads I was told at the tasting room).
It’s only convenient if you spent the morning exploring the volcano Hale’akala, but well worth the drive for more than just the novelty of drinking wine from Hawaiian terroir.
Let’s first understand that these wines aren’t exactly going to be getting 90+ plus points from Wine Spectator. It’s a fine terroir, but there’s a reason humidity isn’t a grape’s best friend. The tropical climate and volcanic soil are excellent for many vegetables and fruits, including pineapples. That doesn’t mean pineapples age elegantly into wine like Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Pineapples do age into admirable wine, though, that is certainly worth at least trying.
For most of the 180,000 yearly visitors to Maui’s Winery, the big question is, “What will pineapple wine taste like?”
The answer is very simple: It tastes like a less sugary, more refined pineapple juice. In many ways, pineapple wine is much more pleasing because of its restrained sweetness compared to regular pineapple juice. Everything is very balanced with a beautiful guava nose leading to a semi-dry wine, teetering between fresh fruit and floral influences. Some mineral notes arrive at the close letting you know this is a thorough, full-frontal wine that is absolutely drinkable. Maybe too drinkable for those of who know how quickly well balanced Mai Tais last.The Maui Gold pineapples for Maui’s Winery are grown in the tiny North-Central Maui town of Pukalani. You can sample the pineapple as another traditional wine in the pale, sweet Maui Splash that is not far from a weak Moscato d’Asti, or in a very light and deft semi-sweet sparkler, Hula O’ Maui.
Maui’s Winery was founded in 1974 when grapes were first grown on the Ulupalakua Ranch, then and still now mostly a cattle ranch. The first pineapple wine was released in 1977 and grape wine was not released until 1981.
Meanwhile, grapes for grape wine grow in the Hale’akala rich volcanic soil of Ulupalakua along the highway leading to the winery. The Tedeschi Vineyards at 1,800 feet overlooking Maui’s South Shore grow syrah, malbec, chenin blanc, chardonnay, and viognier.
If volcanic soil produces such impressive wines in Chile and New Zealand, then why not Maui?
Unfortunately, the Ulupalakua Red is a muddled blend with tense tannins and little depth. Sage, crushed bitter espresso beans, and unripe Bing cherry jam clash for an unbalanced wine seeking direction. The mouthfeel is very rugged. Better is the Upcountry Gold, a blend that is very reminiscent of the tangy melon and passion fruit that viognier grapes boast. There is also a Lokelani sparkling rosé.
The unanimous winner from the tasting? Without a doubt, that would be the Framboise raspberry dessert wine. The inside of a Godiva raspberry truffle has been captured in wine form from crushed raspberries. The Framboise is elegant, not far from a Tawny Port, with excellent character and just the right amount of sweetness and ripe fruit without being too cloying. Sommeliers should be stocking bottles of these for dessert wine menus now.
For those who brush aside the potential of wine made on Maui, keep in mind that the Maui Brut (grape sparkling wine) actually was served at President Reagan’s 1981 Inauguration. These are real wines, not just some hobby. Best of all after making the drive to the winery, the tasting of four wines is still free. Did you hear that Napa and Sonoma?
Wines made on Maui really exist? Absolutely. Maui isn’t Napa or Mendoza, but give them a chance. From pineapples, raspberries, or grapes, they’re often exciting wines too made with plenty of Aloha.