Wednesday, November 28, 2012

They Make Wine There? The Aloha State!

On a recent family trip to Hawaii, I did what any good wine enthusiast out new wines and wineries. After a quick search, I narrowed it down to one winery that I really wanted to try...Volcano Winery. Did I mention that there is only one official winery in the Aloha State? Regardless, I was still excited to learn that they make wine in Hawaii and to see how it stands up to wine I know and love from the mainland.

Located in the town of Volcano on the big island of Hawaii, Volcano Winery began in 1986 as a hobby of Lynn “Doc” McKinney. Through the years and lots of experimentation with a variety of wines and tropical fruits, Volcano Winery opened up to the public in 1993. Still largely a hobby, the winery began with two pure grape wines from the Symphony grape (more on this later), a couple fruit blended wines and a couple honey wines. Longing to retire Doc, put Volcano Winery up for sale. Now current owners, Del and Marie Bothof, jumped on the chance to combine their love of Hawaii and their passion for wine into one in the same and bought the winery in 1999. While there I had the chance to speak with Marie and she told me that they became an officially bonded winery, the only one in Hawaii, the first part of 2012. Today they make a variety of fruit wines, honey wines, and a couple pure grape wines.

2009 Limited Bottling Pinot Noir
Their pure grape wines include the Symphony Mele, newly released Symphony Dry, and a 100% Pinot Noir. The Symphony grape, a genetic cross between the Muscat of Alexandria and the Grenache Gris grapes, was originally developed by Harold Olmo at the University of California, Davis. Symphony Mele wine had a floral nose and flavors of peach and apricot. Although not a late harvest wine, the sweetness of it reminded me of many of the late harvest wines produced here in CA. 

The other pure white grape wine they produce is a 100% Pinot Grigio, which I was unable to taste because it was sold out. It is the grape used in many of the wines they blend with local, tropical fruits. Volcano Winery also produces two different Pinot Noir wines. The first Pinot was very fruit forward but tasted a little young to me. The second, a limited bottling 2009 Pinot Noir was not available on the tasting menu. Rather, it was necessary to purchase a full glass if I wanted to try it. One of the members in my party purchased a glass and while I understand that a limited bottling makes it difficult to offer on a tasting menu, I was turned off by the requirement to commit to a full glass, especially at a cost of $20 a glass. Don’t get me wrong, I go to restaurants and buy glasses of wine without trying them first, but generally have knowledge of the winery, region, etc to make an informed decision. Because the wines of Hawaii were very new to me, it was a big commitment. This wine was not to my palate and I preferred Volcano’s fruit blended wines because of their uniqueness.

Volcano Blush fruit blended wine

Hawaiian Guava-Grape Wine
 For the fruit blended wines, Volcano Winery makes the Volcano Red, a blend of 85% red and white grape wine and 15% Jaboticaba berries. Their Volcano Blush blends Pinot Grigio grapes with the same Jaboticaba berries and had flavors of cranberries and cherries on the finish. My favorite of the day though belonged to the Hawaiian Guava-Grape wine. Blended Pinot Grigio with the tropical guava fruit, this wine was truly unique with flavors of guava (obviously!) and a little nutty on the finish. Definitely more of a dessert wine and something I would pair with fresh tart fruits. To enjoy the fruit wines I had to be open to a new style of wine and thus avoid comparing it to other wines. These wines just felt Hawaiian to me and very fitting of the surroundings. The final two wines they offer were a Macadamia Nut Honey wine and Infusion, a wine made of Macadamia Nut Honey and black tea. This wine was unlike anything I have tasted and found the subtle flavors of black tea quite enjoyable.

After a long day of trekking over old lava flows and watching steam coming from the Halema’uma’u Crater, stopping by Volcano Winery was just what I needed. Beth, our tasting room hostess was wonderful to meet and very knowledgeable of the winery, process, and their wines. I appreciate her answering all of my questions to try and learn as much about them as possible. If I ever find myself back on the big island, and I hope I do, I will surely make a trip back so I can once again taste wine in an island paradise.


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