Mana Wines just launched their new wine brand on Maui, and you can find it at Foodland. But what you may not know about this new wine is that former Maui resident Ashleigh Hutchinson, 38, is behind the new startup. I met her nearly a decade ago when she built the popular Vineyard Dining Series at David Paul’s Island Grill in Lahaina. Since then she worked for JMD Beverages on Maui, then moved to wine country in California, where she began to represent a portfolio of wines with Vinefera, and later Miner wines. But the yearning to do something more was always in the back of her mind.
“Someone recently asked me, ‘Oh isn’t this what you always wanted to do?’ I was like ‘no, I had no idea that this would happen,’” Hutchinson says during a phone call from Huntington Beach in California. “It all started seriously with wanting to do creative writing. I had this dream and started a company called ‘Industry Outlaw.’ The graphic for this company is a black silhouetted figure of a cowgirl who’s slinging wine bottles. Instead of guns in her belt, it’s wine bottles. Down by her feet are empty wine bottles. Then I met this gentleman, and I was trying to explain the concept to him and he was like, ‘Well, if you want to buy wine I can tell you how to do it and I can sell it to you.”
So she started to do some hush hush research.
“Then I started the process to buy this wine,” says says Hutchinson. “He told me who to call and what to do. Next thing you know I’m applying for liquor license, TTB license, federal permitting. I was asking everybody I knew in the business what I needed to do, what kinds of licenses to get. It was total grass roots. I didn’t tell anybody. Not even my boyfriend. I just did it.”
But to set up all these licenses and get her branding together it was going to cost some money.
“I was doing all these catering jobs on the side to pay for it,” says Hutchinson. “I decided I would become a catering chef to make the extra money for it, and landed a couple of really great clients in Carmel. These people throw dinner parties like it’s their job. I was just killing myself planning menus and cooking for these parties, in my nonexistent spare time.”
Then as the process continued, she had to plan the business name and her logo.
“My son Kalani and I were going back forth about what to name it,” says Hutchinson. “I remembered that my aunt had a cat named Mana Pua named after my favorite food, manapua. That kind of planted the seed. I started researching the word ‘mana.’ Chef Mark Ellman had given me the list of all the definitions of ‘aloha,’ and how he used them in management. That really resonated with me.”
On a research trip back to Maui, she got a few Hawaiian words that would become her brand resolve tattooed on her side by Nate Robertson (@nate_rose) at Paia Tattoo Parlor: Ikeloa. Ha`aha`a. Mana. Pono.
“It really started with what has Maui and Hawaii done for me, what does it mean to me,” says Hutchison. “The word and concept behind Mana was perfect. I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself to just have Mana mean something only to Hawaii, but what I found is really is a universal term, and it opens up dialogue. Today is the two-month anniversary of me labeling and people have stories they want to tell me about their trip to Hawaii and what mana means to them, and how it’s pronounced where they’re from in the Philippines or Mexico. I was really surprised that there was going to be such a connection for people, and such an outpouring of emotion about mana. It’s been so surreal.”
She plans to keep Mana Wines modern, contemporary and affordable.
“Everything is price-point-driven for the competitive wine market,” says Hutchinson. “The wines are super approachable and affordable. I’m not trying to change the world. I’m just trying to create a lifestyle brand. We just did a thousand cases of North Coast Chardonnay from Mendocino. I like to drink Chardonnay but I don’t like the Chardonnays out there that are thick with oak. All that Butter, Oak, Rich flavor of Carneros Napa in a glass – that’s what my mother drinks! Mendocino is a cooler growing climate but still gets great sun exposure. It’s way more affordable than Napa, Carneros and Sonoma along the Russian River.”
Then there are the reds.
“I did 200 cases of Rose from Napa Valley,” says Hutchison. “You don’t see a lot of Napa Rose. It’s a blend and it’s delicious. I’m sold out of it in two months. I got my hands on some Pinot Noir from Arroyo Secco. The Pinot is light and bright. I wanted a red blend and I love this.”
The wave in the logo and label is also personal.
“I’m going to start a nonprofit that can support and raise money for female athletes,” she says. “I’m planning to make a wine just for this nonprofit where 100 percent of the profits can go to supporting these athletes. This wine project is much bigger than just me. Right now I’m at Operation Surf right now in Huntington Beach. We’re auctioning off 200 cases of wine at the fundraiser–$50 for every case sold will go to them, so at the end of this golf banquet I’m writing a check for $10,000.”
What she really wants is to build a brand that she can live by.
“I can’t do this without everybody and I feel I have to share it,” says Hutchison. “That’s the whole definition of mana to me. I have to give it back. All I want is to make a living for my son and me, and be back at home in Hawaii. I want to show a good impression and good example. Especially for my son. That’s truly why I’m doing this. And it’s fun.”