Next stop is MauiWine at Ulupalakua Ranch, a relaxing thirty-minute ride along Kula Highway. I’m happy I’m not driving; the view from the country road encompasses the upper reaches of Haleakalā’s green, rolling pastures, and the ridges and valleys of Mauna Kahalawai, informally known as the West Maui Mountains. In between, the islands of Kaho‘olawe and Lāna‘i float on the blue Pacific Ocean.
Moose pulls our attention in closer. “Now, if you look over the hill to the right, you’ll catch a glimpse of the vineyards. The six cultivars—viognier, chardonnay, malbec, syrah, grenache and chenin blanc—are harvested for MauiWine’s premium wines.” This is a fairly young vineyard; 2013 was the first year that I tasted the syrah. Today I’m looking forward to tasting the 2016 release.
We gather in the history room for a private tasting. Tamara Evans, our personal bartender, offers three menu choices, each with five wines to sample. I opt for the Collection Tasting: chenin blanc, rosè, grenache, 2015 syrah, and the newly released 2016 syrah. Tamara shares, “Maui pineapple wine is a legacy of the winery and 250,000 bottles are sold every year.” While I prefer to taste the grapes grown on local terroir, others in the group opt for the Maui Gold pressed pineapple, and blended wines whose grapes are culled from off-island sources. Pineapple wine wins them over with its dry, flavorful character. One guest discloses that he is not a wine drinker, but a beer drinker. I tell him that this tour also visits Maui Brewing Company, that it’s informative, and that the tasting flight is fun and diverse in flavor. I compare my 2015 syrah to the 2016 and the latter has a bit more cherry and is sweeter on my tongue. But my favorite turns out to be the grenache, a relative newcomer to the MauiWine family.
We head down the mountain, stopping at the Kula Country Farm Stand. The Lopes family’s egg- and butter-rich Portuguese sweet bread (pao doce) lines a shelf, along with Maui’s freshest and best strawberry jams and jellies. They tempt me, but just the day before, I made some bread and grumichama (Brazilian cherry) jelly. Instead, I buy a crisp crown of Kula-grown broccoli, sweet Maui onions and cauliflower to cook for dinner. The farm stand is a bucolic scene: a giant rooster wanders the grounds with his two hens; protea flowers in starburst colors fill metal buckets; and succulents seem to say, “Take me home!”
Our final stop is Hali‘imaile Distilling Company, located in old WWII Quonset huts repurposed by Maui Pineapple Company. Once the largest pineapple producer in the United States, the company ceased operations in 2009. Soon after, the newly formed Hali‘imaile Pineapple Company (doing business as Maui Gold Pineapple) started bringing 700 acres of Upcountry fields back into production. Moose tells us that ripe Maui Gold pineapples are trucked to MauiWine for juicing. The juiced fruit is used at the winery, the distillery, and award-winning Maui Brewing Company in Kīhei. Sharona Belcher, our guide, walks us to the front of the distillery and points to other huts across the street. “The pineapple juice needed to make the distillate for PAU Vodka comes from right there,” she tells us. “It’s really fresh! We’re also the only maker of gin in the islands. It’s infused with a dozen botanicals [to achieve] its brilliant flavor.” We go inside to see a chemist’s room with giant, clear-glass flasks that turn out to be stills—the largest glass stills in America—which percolate the high-octane distillate. Oak casks are filled with whiskey and Sammy’s Beach Rum. (Former Van Halen musician and songwriter Sammy Hagar is a partner.) These and macadamia-nut-flavored liqueur are just a few tastes we get to sample.
We head back down the mountain, munching on Grampa Joe’s crunchy caramel popcorn (a gift from the distillery) and savoring this taste of Upcountry Maui.
Maui Craft Tours, 633-1801, MauiCraftTours.com