Maui is home to one of the oldest and most exclusive vineyards in the state. What started off as Tedeschi Vineyards in Ulupalakua has evolved into MauiWine. The company has expanded its wine selection in the last decade from its signature pineapple wines to the Rose Ranch collection and onto Estate, Library and Specialty releases. Now the winery has obtained a new license to grow their wine selection at the King’s Cottage tasting room for the first time in years. Joe Hegele, Director of Sales and Marketing, says the reception has been incredible from their guests.
“The new license is awesome,” says Hegele. “We have been working on it for three years, no joke. It’s the first of its kind in the state. It’s one that was created specifically for the craft industry. Garrett Marrero had a lot to do with it. It’s legislation that supported the craft beverage industry and the growth in it. It’s a huge license! It allows us to do a lot. We are not taking advantage of the whole entirety of its capabilities.”
The problem they ran into with their old license was that while the sampling was free, you could only get about three tastes, then that was it. For folks who’d visited nearly any other winery on the planet, this kind of manini tasting was unprecedented–and unwelcome.
“When people go wine tasting now, there are expectations ,” says Hegele. “When they come in, they’re like, Hey, we want to pay for tasting and it has to be substantial. If we want to buy a glass or a bottle afterwards and enjoy it here on property, that’s what we have become accustomed to in this industry. For us, on our old license, it was extremely limited. We were basically offering sampling before. Now we’re offering tastings.”
The new license opens up a whole new world at MauiWine.
“We’re doing a very normal five different wines at one and a half ounce pours for a $10 fee,” says Hegele. “Obviously, we reimburse people who purchase six or more bottles and people can split the tastings if they’re not interested in doing the full tasting. We get a lot of couples who come in and are just starting off their morning and heading to Hana, and they just split a tasting. On the other end of things, there are people coming in and tasting five wines and then doing glass pours on the porch and hanging out.”
The winery is excited to invite people to hang out longer, enjoy the views, take tours and have a complete experience around drinking their wine at the King’s Cottage. They’ve also added some light fare to the menu, and you can also order mimosas, too.
“We’re doing a bunch of fun little cheese and lavosh and charcuterie plates,” says Hegele. “People are spending a lot more time at the tasting room, sitting on the porch, buying a glass of Lokelani and enjoying the environment, which is great. We want people to stay as long as they can. It’s one of those environments where you walk into the winery grounds and for most people, it’s ‘this is a cool place!’ It has a relaxed tone. People want to spend time here. We just needed to give them a reason and things to do. So with more elaborate tastings, offering food, and we have games in the yard. People can hang out.”
For those people who want to really get into the wine, they can get into one of their Old Jail tastings sessions that really go into the production and history of the winery, as well as tasting the special releases. The wines you get in the Old Jail will be different than the wines in the King’s Cottage.
“We still have an elevated tasting experience in the Old Jail which is going to be where we are going to do wines that we make 20 cases of or special releases,” says Hegele. “Like right now we’re pulling the 2014 Syrah and doing a library release of our 2012 that we are only offering in the jail. That’s one side of it. We’re offering those tastings in the jail twice a day. When we made only 10 cases of viognier one year, that needs to be explained. We need to talk about what happened that year and this is what this wine is like, and this is what we did to it, so that people can get a bigger appreciation. For $25, you will taste wines that we have made very little of, and you get to go in the Old Jail.”
For the casual tasting that includes several estate wines, there’s a new expanded porch area built with seating built on the King’s Cottage.
“The majority of the new offerings are in the King’s Cottage tasting room,” says Hegele. “We redid the history room and added a bar in there, in addition to the big mango bar in the main tasting room. We built out the lanai and added some square footage to it and added some furniture out there. Put some shade on it and tried to make that a comfortable environment for people to stay. We want people to hang out on the porch. We are adding live music. We are going to make that a place where people want to sit down and eat some cheese and wine.”
With the small batch wines that MauiWine produces, the menu changes often.
“Some things don’t change,” says Hegele. “We have our three pineapple wines. Then we also have our Rose Ranch collection: the Lokelani, Mele, Kula is the new white wine and then the Lehua is the raspberry dessert wine. Those four wines are blends and we have all of those to taste and by the glass right now. But the big changes in the menu will be in our Estate wines, where we are about to roll from the 2015 Malbec to the 2016. We just moved from the 2015 Chenin to the 2016. Those are changing right now and the jail is also really changing constantly. We print a lot of menus. It’s good–it keeps everyone on their toes.”
This year’s harvest is just about completed as well. The exciting news is their Chenin blanc sparkling wine is coming back, and the viognier yield was good, too.
“We are 75 percent of the way through our harvest,” says Hegele. “We are doing the Chenin blanc sparkling which is really exciting. In 2014 we made a sparkling wine where we harvested the fruit early to make 100 cases and aged it for 30 months. We did that as an experiment, to see what’s going on in the vineyard and see what we can do. We want to make a broader range of wines in a smaller lot to experiment and give people things that are different. The Chenin blanc sparkling was an experiment that was really well received so we did it again this year. That was the first thing we harvested. We brought that in early June. We want it to be really high acid and low sugar for sparkling.”
The ups and downs of wine harvesting are just a drop in the bucket for MauiWine. Their philosophy is to roll with the punches to create these unique annual small batch wines. They are especially excited about this year’s crop.
“I think the shining star this year is the viognier, in big part because it was a really low crop last year,” says Hegele. “If you don’t know too much about grape growing you would assume rain is great, it’s food for the plants. Rain at the wrong time of year can be like poison falling from the sky. There is disease pressure from rotting. We are not super humid up here but we are not dry, we are not California dry. If we get rain, we’re going to see some rot and lose some tonnage. This year it has not. We’re not getting rain, it’s dusty up here, and perfect. We’re not losing any tonnage to rot for the first time in three years. That’s the beauty of farming–we have different challenges, and that’s the great part about wine. You get to have challenging years and the wines are a reflection of that. Sometimes you have really good years, and this is looking like a good year.”
Photos: Sean M. Hower