Méthode Champenoise Meets Hawaiian Terroir

by Emily Bell with Jeff Harding
Maui's Winery & Tony Novak-Clifford
November 2012

Restaurant

  • Maui's Winery - Tedeschi Vineyards
    Highway 37
    Kula, HI 96790
    (808) 878-1266
    www.mauiwine.com/

Pineapple Wine Types:

Hula O’Maui
Type: Sparkling pineapple wine
Cost: $22 per 750 mL bottle

Maui Blanc
Type: Semi-dry still wine
Cost: $13 per 750 mL bottle

Maui Splash
Type: Pineapple-passion fruit wine, light and fruity
Cost: $13 per 750 mL bottle

As a winemaker Mauricio Soler was inspired by two wine cultures: the young, progressive market of his childhood in Baja, California, and the roots-deep wine culture of Spain. No surprise, then, that Soler heads up wine production at Maui's Winery, where the age-old traditions of winemaking are finding new fertility in rich volcanic soils.

Sunset at Maui's Winery (Photo courtesy of Tony Novak-Clifford)

Sunset at Maui's Winery (Photo courtesy of Tony Novak-Clifford)

Grape vs. Pineapple

Blending old school and new pantry, Maui's Winery produces both grape and pineapple wines. And the differences in harvest and production showcase two very different kinds of Hawaiian wine culture.

For grape-based red wines, it’s tradition-meets-climate. For reds, the winery uses “Syrah and Malbec, and a few other experimentals,” and for whites, they focus mainly on Chenin Blanc and Viogner—proving the Hawaiian winemaking climate is not what you think. “Contrary to what a lot of people believe, we are considered to be in a cool-climate viticultural area,” says Soler. “We grow our grapes anywhere from 1,600 to 1,800 feet of elevation, and those qualities are shown in our wines. We have spice, pepper, and ripe berries in our red varieties, and stone fruits such as nectarine, Asian pear, and high acidity in our whites.”

Pineapples on the way to pressing
Pineapples on the way to pressing

For pineapple wine, it’s product-meets-process. Grapes are harvested once a year, but “with pineapples we have multiple harvests every year, one every three weeks, all of them with different fruit quality and different acid and sugar levels,” says Soler. That means he and his team not only have to hunt for the right fruit maturity levels for every pineapple pressing, but they also have to follow each batch “from juice to wine, through all the tank movements, to select the juice that will best suit our three pineapple wines.” Whereas grape wines are crafted to showcase each year’s individuality and uniqueness, with pineapple wine, Maui's Winery “focus[es] on maintaining a house style, so when you get a bottle from different months within a year, you’ll find similar fruit qualities and characteristics, as well as a similar flavor profile and finish,” according to Soler.

Then of course there’s the central challenge for grape and pineapple harvest: climate, namely variations in humidity, sudden changes in weather, and unpredictable rains, leading to issues of vegetative overgrowth and rot. But if climate is a factor in the multi-faceted magic of terroir, that terroir is also the solution. “Terroir also includes the people that are involved, and our winemaking philosophy, and the company culture to approach each vintage, ” says Soler. When the right people make the right decisions, incredible wine is the result.

Harvested pineapples

Harvested pineapples

Giving Pineapple Its Due

And so we come to the bottles themselves. Maui produces three pineapple wines—the Hula O’Maui (brut, sparkling pineapple), Blanc (a semi-dry pineapple wine), and Splash (with “more developed pineapple aromas”)—but we found ourselves drawn to the sparkling, perhaps because Soler himself is so excited about the winery’s sparkling program. “These are exciting times,” he says. “We have revisited our sparkling wine program and made a few adjustments to focus on wines of great approachability, a fruit-forward quality with a creamy texture and a well-balanced finish.” In another key instance of Old World meets new pantry, Soler says they’re making only sparkling pineapple wine with the Méthode Champenoise. (Grape-based Lokelani should be available in about two months.) It might be a hemisphere away, but the proud traditions of Champagne are alive and well—in Maui.

Tasting the Hula O’Maui, we can see why Soler is excited. It sparkles with an aroma of subtle pineapple rind and white flowers, with delicate bursts of citrus, florals, and fresh-cut pineapple on the palate. Volcanic soil minerality keeps the finish long, and the juicy citrus and green apple notes similarly persevere, all of it refreshingly dry and very subtly fruity. There’s a pleasant aftertaste of pineapple rind, and a ghost of tropical aromatics in the mouth long after you’ve finished the sip.

We’re not alone in our appreciation. We know a few somms who already love the stuff.

What the Somms Say

Andrew Shapiro
Barkeep, Green Pig Bistro
1025 North Filmore Street, Suite 4
Clarendon, VA 22201
(703) 888-1920

At the Green Pig we really love the Hula O'Maui. It’s become a staple of our list. We enjoy it in particular for its effervescent qualities, and its wonderful pineapple aroma that hits the sensors of your nose and then its refreshingly smooth delivery that delivers just the perfect pineapple taste (not too sweet) as it envelops on your palate. We love to use it as an aperitif wine, something to be enjoyed at the bar, before your dinner or with dessert. Great for light salads, fruit-driven dessert, and light pasta dishes.

Kirk Wiles
CEO / Founder, Paradise Springs Winery
13219 Yates Ford Road  Clifton, VA 20124
(703) 830-9463

The nose has a lot of pineapple and you do taste it, but it’s misleading since it’s dry. That’s why we like it. This wine does well because it’s different, but well made at the same time. It’s educational to explain that wine can be made from not just grapes, and people are surprised at the dryness of the wine despite their preconceived notion that pineapples are very sweet. All of that with the traditional Champagne method and it makes for a great sparkling during the holidays. 

Donna Henrickson
Owner, Little Washington Winery
72 Christmas Tree Lane
Washington, VA 22747
(540) 987-8330

The Dirt Road Wine Club LOVES the Hula O Maui! We cannot keep enough of it around. People now come zooming into the Little Washington Winery tasting room on Friday so that they can get it before it gets sold out every weekend.

Sommelier Andrew Stover
OYA
777 9th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 393-1400

We serve the Hula at OYA by the glass, and we have done so for about two years straight.
The Hula O’Maui Brut came to my attention at a Congressional Wine Caucus tasting a few years ago and as soon as I tried it, I knew I needed it for the OYA wine program. The wine works well with the Asian flavors found in OYA's rolls. The wine is especially tasty with the Hawaiian tuna tartare specialty known as poke.