Ξ February 29th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wineries |
If you thought you knew Hawaiian wines or haven’t thought about them at all, then you just might want to read this. An interesting experiment is underway on the island of Maui. Tedeschi Vineyards, also known as Maui’s Winery, has been working for the past six years on an ambitious program of winery and vineyard improvement, including the planting grape varieties never before tried in Hawaii, Syrah, Syrah Noir, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, and two Chardonnay clones, 4 and 74. And their hard work is beginning to pay off. Under the visionary leadership of its President, Paula Hegele, Maui’s Winery has begun a new phase in its already successful history.
The vineyards are located at an elevation of 2000 feet on the historically rich ‘Ulupalakua Ranch. Owned since 1960 by C. Pardee Erdman, Jr., he was approached in 1974 by Emil Tedeschi, a Napa Valley vintner. He was persuaded to lease Mr. Tedeschi about 23 acres of his considerable estate for the growing of grapes. Mr. Tedeschi, after experimenting with dozens of varieties, finally settled on Carnelian. The wine would prove rewarding, as would the exotic pineapple wine, Maui Blanc, made while waiting for the Carnelian to come into maturity. The Carnelian was first harvested in 1980. Maui Brut was released in 1983, followed by a methode champenoise sparkler, Blanc de Noir, in 1984.
And so the winery motored along until the turn of this century when a die-off of the Carnelian vines was first noticed, eventually taking virtually all of the plantings. Only a single acre remains today. The culprit was finally diagnosed as Eutypa Dieback, a plant fungus most common in conditions of high moisture. The aggressive pruning required for Hawaiian viticulture leaves little time for the proper healing of cane wounds, as would normally happen in a drier, seasonal climate, when a vine becomes dormant. There is, in fact, no dormancy period in Hawaii.
As you might suspect on an island chain where there is but one season punctuated by frequent rains, where tomatoes live for years, finally snaking into trees, growing grapes is no easy task. Vines experience no seasonal stress. They simply grow. Left to themselves they would cease producing a harvestable quantity of grapes and be perfectly happy to live out their lives true to their nature as vines. So, after harvest, for Tedeschi typically August to September, a considerable labor-intensive intervention in the vineyard is necessary to force a kind of dormancy on the vines, a rest, as Paula Hegele called it. Hence, the vines are starved, pruning is heavy, no irrigation, no fertilizer.
And Eutypa is just one concern for the tropical viticulturist. There are also grape root borers, fruit-loving birds, smashing rains. And these problems are quite apart from the matter of grape phenolic and flavonol concentration at the greatly accelerated rate of fruit maturation as occurs in Hawaii. Indeed, from year to year Maui’s Winery may experience a variance of grape yield of anywhere from 6 to 30 tons! One thousand cases were produced this year.
But the die-off of Carnelian vines, though a disaster, proved a short term set back. Paula Hegele saw an opportunity. A new plan was devised: replanting with the new grape varieties listed above. In the ground: 2 acres of Syrah Noir, 2 acres of Chenin Blanc, 2 acres of Pinot Gris, 4 acres of Chard, 2 of clone 4, two of clone 74. Four acres of Syrah (clone 877) are already yielding. 2006 saw 580 cases made of Plantation Red, a 91% Syrah, 9% Carnelian blend. New vines are being added each year. A balance of only 8 acres remain to be planted. They hope to maintain a production level, when all the new vines are producing, of 2000-3000 cases of grape wines. They are serious. They’ve sought out the services of wine consultant Chris Martell. Thirty years in the business, he has been a winemaker and consultant at celebrated wineries in California, France, Chile, Australia and Tasmania, a specialist in difficult climates.
Yet, the question has to be asked: Why do it? Why the effort? Because they are simply not satisfied with providing a satisfying but souvenir wine. Because Maui’s Winery, driven by Paula Hegele, wants to make a great wine from Hawaiian-grown grapes. I wish them well