Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn
“Extra love” is how Master Sommelier Michael Jordan describes the spectacular cult wines of Pritchard Hill. “There’s more of everything going on in these wines. From the first sip, I fell in love.”
That’s saying a mouthful. Jordan is one the most respected members of California’s wine-and-food community. And this June, as host of the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, he will present a panel of elite winemakers from Pritchard Hill. “To have these amazing wineries represented all together as a group is a peak experience for any wine lover,” says Jordan. “These wines are handcrafted in tiny amounts with all the passion they can muster — and all the trappings of everything perfect.”
Jordan’s pedigree is awe-inspiring: One of just 129 master sommeliers in North America, he is also one of only fifteen people in the world to hold both Certified Wine Educator and International Court of Master Sommeliers diplomas. He won Wine Enthusiast’s highest honor, the Award of Ultimate Distinction, five years running (2004 through 2009), and other accolades too numerous to mention here.
Yet the man himself is eminently approachable, perhaps because he has deep roots in Hawaiʻi: he attended school here, and his family owned and operated the famous Matteo’s in Honolulu. Though Jordan’s official title is “Vice President of Food & Beverage” for The Ranch Restaurant and Saloon in Anaheim, California, he’s better known as “Sommelier for the People” — because he loves to share what he knows.
Jordan’s joie de vivre is legendary, and, lucky for us, infectious. At Kapalua, he will share his passion for wine and his joy of teaching when he and Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast present The Pritchard Hill Gang, a panel featuring five of the most elite and respected winemakers. “This is a super area for California’s most sought-after cult wines,” Jordan explains. And the most expensive. It’s the terroir (the land) itself that is responsible for both.
A small region situated above Oakville, Pritchard Hill is in the high part of the Vaca Mountains, near Howell Mountain and the Stags Leap District. It is a rugged area of volcanic rock and rich, red soil; vineyards begin at an elevation of 800 feet, with some at 1,800 to 2,000 feet above sea level. This incredibly difficult terrain is also very expensive to farm; only 300 acres are in vines. The area is so rocky, some wineries have had to dynamite before planting, creating costs of up to $20 million for a single winery.
Why go to so much trouble and expense? Because the region creates some of the most delicious grapes on Earth. Rocky terrain can’t hold water, which stresses vines. Sounds bad, but it’s good for wine. Stressed plants produce clusters of tiny, thick-skinned berries. More skin per berry intensifies flavor “with an added minerality you can perceive,” Jordan says. The high altitude is perfect for grapes. Many days, while the valley is shrouded in cloud, Pritchard Hill basks in sunshine.
And, Jordan tells me, because these vineyards are so small and specialized, “they aren’t just using a refractometer to measure ripeness; they are actually going into the field and chomping on the grape, waiting for the brown crunchy seeds and mature flavor. The fruit is different than anywhere else.” In the September 2012 Wine Enthusiast, Steve Heimoff characterized the region’s wines as “dark, incredible aromatics, delicious, powerful, classic, fantastically rich and flashy.”
“I’ve been friends with these winemakers for years, so when I read Steve’s article, I thought, ‘I need to do a dinner with these guys!’” Pulling together these prestigious (and competitive) wineries was unprecedented, but Jordan succeeded, bringing them to The Ranch along with Pritchard Hill’s newest winery, BRAND, which debuted its first vintage crafted by acclaimed winemaker Phillipe Melka.
The event was so successful that the group agreed to come to Kapalua for the Wine and Food Festival. Their seminar will feature legendary cabernets most people would otherwise never have the opportunity to taste. “Wines this costly to produce are rarely poured at an event,” says Jordan. “It’s a once-in-lifetime experience, even for someone like me.”
The Kapalua Wine & Food Festival runs June 7 through 9, with wine tastings, winemakers’ panels and more. The Pritchard Hill Gang seminar (June 9, 3:30 p.m., Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua) features Cyril Chappellet, Chappellet Winery; Andy Erickson, Ovid Napa Valley; Phillipe Melka, BRAND Napa Valley; David Long, David Arthur Vineyards; and Carlo Mondavi, Continuum Estate.
The finale is the annual Seafood Festival sponsored by Maui No Ka ʻOi, featuring fourteen of the island’s top restaurants. For more information, visit kapaluawineandfoodfestival.com.