Bucket List Food & Wine – Maui
Wait! What? Did I read this right? A bucket list travel must for food & wine is… Maui, Hawaii? Maui for food makes sense, but Maui for wine … Wine in Maui? YES, that’s right, and it’s a spectacular idea for any itinerary to this stunningly mediative island. Take the road to Kula on a ride to their Upcountry, heading toward the “House of the Sun,” Haleakala Volcano Crater, the highest elevation in all of Maui, and along the way with all its seriously breathtaking twists and turns, you’ll find the most perfect rewind to another time and place, with the most inspired backdrop for food and wine. Your destination: Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill and Maui Wine.
Rich in history, soak up the past like a paniolo – Hawaiian for cowboy while being completely present at Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill, a small market of local goods and fare, where you can order the island’s famed Maui beef and other grilled game, such as elk, venison and lamb, all from their 20,000-acre cattle and game ranch. Preserving traditions of locally grown, even the vegetables are sourced from Maui for a perfect farm-to-picnic table experience. In this case, a humble picnic table on the southern slope of a dormant volcano, overlooking the ocean, Molokini crater, the small island of Kaho‘olawe and Lanai, becomes the place setting for the most divine burger of your lifetime.
Any seasoned foodie list of requisite eats in Maui will include Maui Beef and Maui Sweet Onion, among other items like the Ono Plate, Loco Moco, Opah, Opakapaka, Ahi Poke, Maui Gold Pineapple, and Hawaiian Shaved Ice to name a few. In this mountainside destination, it’s all about cattle and game, so it’s the perfect place to buffer a post-lunch wine tasting, across the road, only within walking distance at Maui Wine. For us, it was a fresh, from-the-ranch, savory Maui beef burger topped with Maui sweet onion and the elevated version of a “Loco Moco” Ono Plate with elk burger topped with rich, brown gravy, a mound of furikake rice, and a side salad with an optional add-on of grilled Maui Gold pineapple, all scratch-made, to put checkmarks on at least five essential food consumptions while in Maui.
With ample sustenance, we crossed the picturesque pastoral road to the historic King’s Cottage Tasting Room at Maui Wine. There, we walked among the hulking eucalyptus and jacaranda trees that greeted royalty, like King Kalākaua and his distinguished guests over 150 years ago, to the quaint cottage that houses the tasting room – reservations required. Here, time decelerates and the pulse slows, while inhaling the fresh mountain air and absorbing the astonishingly scenic views. Decisions become simple. Which wine flight to try first and should it be chased with a wine cocktail or paired with some pupu – Hawaiian for small bites?
We began our journey with their very rare and eloquent Ulupalakua Blanc de Blanc sparkling made from Chenin Blanc, crafted in méthode champenoise, the“traditional method” of a second fermentation inside the bottle, employed around the world and especially in the Champagne region of France to make ultra-premium, structured bubbles. As oenophiles, we were openly hesitant about the pineapple wine. Wine is from grapes, period, but being in Maui, feeling relaxed and clear of thought, we knew pineapple, the “King of Fruit,” was mandated, and Maui Gold, the “King of Pineapple,” was required. So, our next flight was a three-stop journey on the pineapple express, with the first stop being a sparkling brut again, but this time made from 100% Maui Gold pineapples, using the traditional method, creating a complex, bright, crisp sparkling with the bubble structure of a high-end Champagne. With respect to the vinopiña, as we might call it in Miami, it’s truly the bread-and-butter wine that paved this vineyard, allowing them to support their artistry in planting some very proper estate-grown, mountain fruit. At around 1,800 feet, seasoned with ocean and mountain air in volcanic soil, they’re farming varietals: Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Grenache, Syrah, and Malbec.
Open in 1974 (nearly 50 years ago), Ulupalakua is now a 23-acre vineyard, with its own distinct microclimate, which we witnessed firsthand when it rained at the tasting room and surrounding areas, but not the vineyard only a short distance down the road. Complex growing conditions, such as cultivating on the slope of a volcano and being on a tropical island, makes for a particular and intricate climate for winemaking. As of late summer 2021, Ulupalakuawas is recognized as one of the newest American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in the United States, a great honor and feat to showcase the uniqueness of this region.
By far, the most spectacular and memorable part of our visit was a private tour of the vineyard, which sorry folks, is not open to the public. Joe Hegele, Director of Marketing & Sales for Maui Wine, showed us around in the tradition of aloha, sharing a historical perspective of the area while opening bottles of their limited production sparkling and Syrah. It’s truly a family affair with mom, Paula Hegele, at the helm as President, and Joe’s wife running the tasting room. While their mission is “Crafted with aloha in a special place,” I believe this travel experience was a prequel to heaven and thus, an adventure that is necessary for one’s lifetime – a food and wine sine qua non!
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