Story by Becky Speere
It started in 1994 as a dare between Ulupalakua Ranch owner Pardee Erdman and Maui Wine president Paula Hegele: Make 100 cases of sparkling pineapple wine for the winery’s anniversary.
Twenty years earlier, as Tedeschi Vineyards, the winery had experimented with fermenting pineapple while waiting for its newly planted grapevines to mature in fields tucked amid the ranch’s pastures. As the vines grew and the winery shifted to grape wines, it discontinued the pineapple sparkling wine, though people kept asking about it.
So when Pard Erdman made that dare, Paula took it on. Recreated as Hula O Maui, the pineapple wine was a sparkling success, with all 100 cases selling out within two months. In 2013, it won a gold medal and a 90-point rating at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition; then earned a second gold at the 2014 the Dallas Morning News & TEXSOM Wine Competition. Hula O Maui remains among Maui Wine’s best sellers, with more than 2,500 cases produced every year.
Paula’s son Joe grew up at the winery; today he’s Maui Wine’s director of sales and marketing, and an enthusiastic advocate for Hula O Maui. “People who say, ‘I don’t like pineapple wine,’ like this one,” says Joe.
Good thing. Maui Wine produces Hula O Maui in the traditional methode champenois, developed in 1600s in the Champagne region of France by the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon.
“It’s the most hands-on, time-consuming and expensive way to make wine,” says Joe, “and the most quality driven. Not many wineries are crazy enough to make pineapple sparkling wine, and no one else is crazy enough to make it using the traditional method.”
Every month, Brett Miller, Maui Wine’s head winemaker, surveys the fields at Hali‘imaile Pineapple Company, tasting and selecting the fruit . . . after which, Hali‘imaile Pine delivers thirty to forty tons of sweet, sun-ripened, handpicked pineapple.
“We crush the pineapples whole, producing between 4,000 and 5,000 gallons of pineapple juice onsite every month to ensure freshness — the fruit is crushed and the juice pumped into the protection of a 4,000-gallon, stainless-steel tank within minutes. It makes the whole town of Ulupalakua smell of fresh-cut pineapple for a couple of days!”
Not all the juice ends up as pineapple wine. Some gets processed for Maui Brewing Company’s Mana Wheat ale, and for Pau Maui Vodka. The juice that stays at the winery spends approximately six months in those stainless-steel tanks, fermenting and finishing into a still wine base. A second fermentation takes place in the bottle with the addition of the liqueur de tirage (wine, yeast and sugar). This aging period, called tirage, is a precise and delicate balance as the winemaker works to ensure proper yeast viability and pressure. After the sugar is digested and lees (yeast residue) removed, the wine ages another three months in the bottle. The end product is a pineapple wine that is clean, crisp and refreshing — comparable to Brut in sweetness.
Drink it as is, in a mimosa that Joe Hegele says will ruin you for all other mimosas, or try this playful cocktail created by Greg Shepherd at Cow Pig Bun in the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei. We found it a spirit-driven cocktail with subtle reminders of a mai tai — great with quiche!