Wine Culture is on the rise in America. Thirty years ago there were only 250 wineries in the country, now there are more than 5,000 in all 50 states. California’s Napa Valley is the hottest destination, rivaling Disneyland’s numbers. While Americans still consume less wine than Europeans, our consumption is growing, up more than 35 percent in the last decade.
With all this in mind, I have tasked myself with becoming a wine geek. It sounds more romantic than it actually is; I’m cracking open books, pouring over wine magazines and studying, without a glass in my hand. But that’s going to change this weekend at the 29th Kapalua Wine and Food Festival. Kapalua’s signature event brings wine newbies, explorers and investors alike together with winemakers and sommeliers in the perfect atmosphere to taste and pair. With my new knowledge, I have a profound respect for wine experts. There is so much to know: growing regions, reds, whites, old world wines, new world wines—it’s enough to drive a girl to drink.
When I asked Fred Dame, host of the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival and Master Sommelier, what a newcomer to the festival should do, he beckoned, “Come on a wine adventure with me. Attend as many things as you can. The quality of the wines is amazing.” It’s this welcoming spirit that appeals to so many and holds my attention so well. The culture of wineries is to have visitors come by and taste.
There are thousands of appreciators of wine, and only a few experts, and Fred Dame is one of the top authorities in the industry. Festival-goers will reap the benefits of his experience and relationships with wineries. He is the reason we’ll be drinking so well. But he also has help, a team of master somelliers that includes Emily Wine, Jay Fletcher, Geoff Kruth, Michael Jordan (not that one), Shayn Bjornholm, Joseph Spellman, Chuck Ferruya and Greg Harrington.
“Everyone brings their A game to the festival,” says Dame. “I ask my team and the winemakers to stop and take the time to answer questions. What makes this festival so special is that we have an intimate setting and put a lot of emphasis on interaction.”
The Grand Tasting, “Summer Soiree”
At the Grand Tasting on Friday, keep an eye out for the master sommelier tents, where they’ll be pouring their top-five wine selections.
The Tour of California Wines is the largest station at the Grand Tasting, featuring 96 offerings. Other wine stations include Wines from the Southern Hemisphere, Wines of the Pacific North West, Sparkling Wines from Around the World and Wines of Europe, all totalling more than 200 wines to taste. “It would cost an individual $10,000 to $20,000 to taste all of these wines if you did it yourself,” says Dame.
With that many wines to pair, it seems like creating a menu for the evening would be a daunting task. That challenge goes to Executive Chef John Zaner of the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, who has created a menu in line with the festival’s focus on Hawaiian regional cuisine and the new partnership with Maui County Farm Bureau. Each food station is Maui themed: Haiku Tomato Stand, Upcountry Farms, Hukilau Foods, Maui Cattle Company and the Island’s Finest Desserts. The menu features local gems like Haiku tomato and housemade mozzarella, Hawaiian moi and hamakua mushroom, teriyaki New York steak and Maui Gold pineapple caramel cake.
D.K. Kodama is festival chef for Sunday’s culinary exhibition, featuring the Seafood Festival and a much-anticipated luncheon, D.K. Secrets: Sansei Style. Chef Kodama is the mastermind behind the wildly popular Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar; he opened the first one in Kapalua in 1995 and now runs six restaurants.
Chef Kodama is embracing the farm-to-fork concept and will have a mini-farmers market at the luncheon on Sunday, giving participants the opportunity to talk story with the farmers, Darren Strand, Doug Schenk, Geoff Haines and Warren Watanabe. In D.K. Secrets on Sunday you’ll get an insider’s view of one of the most inspired innovators of Hawaiian regional cuisine and how he works with local ingredients to create award-winning dishes.
“The Festival has always showcased intriguing wines from around the world, but this year’s culinary spotlight will be centered on Hawaii’s unique cuisine,” says Nancy Cross, Vice President of Events Management at the Kapalua Resort. “We’re very excited to have D.K. Kodama as our featured chef. With D.K.’s focus on local farm-to-table menus it also made perfect sense to collaborate with Maui County Farm Bureau and its members, including Maui Cattle Company, to highlight grown on Maui local products and produce.”
The Seafood Festival is a culinary exhibition on a grand scale. Thirteen restaurants and executive chefs present the best they have to offer in hopes of fetching Maui No Ka Oi Magazine’s “Best of the Fest” award. The bounty of our surrounding sea takes center stage: scallops, opakapaka, hamachi, ogo and swordfish, accompanied by Maui’s fresh farm foods like goat cheese from Surfing Goat Dairy, Kula corn, O’o farm carrots and Kapalua farm herbs. You’ll find a few surprising beef dishes to round out the flavors, like Maui Culinary Academy’s Hawaii Ranchers Hawaiian red veal and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse sushi a la Ruth.
There will also be live entertainment, wine and beer and your last opportunity of the weekend to mingle with winemakers and master sommeliers.
Sandwiched between the Grand Tasting and Sunday’s culinary exhibitions are a number of interactive wine tasting seminars. These usually specialize in a particular wine, like “Heal the World with Pinot Noir,” “Zins and Cheese” and the “Cab Franc Retrospective.”
“The Wine Idol: The Master Challenge” takes a different approach, with the festival sommeliers bringing their favorite wines to the panel to be judged with a winner chosen at the end. What to pair the wine with and why the wine was sommelier favorite will be examined in a lively discussion. The judges are Fred Dame, Geoff Kluth and Blakesly Chappellet.
The Winemakers Dinners
The winemakers dinners that stem from the festival are an excellent opportunity to get cozy with the experts. Vineyard owners, grape growers and winemakers lead fascinating discussions of their wines while local chefs offer the perfect culinary pairings.
Lucia Vinyards visionary Gary Pisoni will be on hand Thursday night at Merriman’s Kapalua with his California Central Coast wines. Relatively new to the wine world, Pisoni began bottling wine with his sons Jeff and Mark under the Pisoni Estate label, with their first vintage in 1998. By 2000 they added the Lucia label featured at this wine dinner.
Pisoni and family already had a reputation for growing some of the best grapes in the region, despite many challenges with water supply. He planted his first vines in 1982 on his family’s ranch 1,300 feet above sea level and trucked water in from the valley floor. From ’86 to ’89 he drilled five wells that turned up dry, but hit water in 1991. With the addition of the well water he planted 40 more acres but continues a philosophy of growing with low amounts of water. “My theory is simple,” Pisoni says. “Make the grapes scream for water.”
The Chappellet family has been making wine in the Napa Valley since 1967. The Chappellet Winery is known for its award-winning cabernet sauvignon, and the 2007 Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard is on The Wine Spectator’s list with a score of 96, described as, “Sleek, rich, intense and beautifully balanced.” With three generations of the Chappellet family working on their vineyards, they are recognized as one of the great winemaking families of California. Cyril Chappellet and wife Blakesley will be hosting the wine dinner at Merriman’s on Saturday, June 26, featuring their chardonnay, Mountain Cuvee (a cab sav and merlot blend), their signature cabernet sauvignon, Pritchard Hill cab and the Pritchard Hill Cabernet Franc. Chef Merriman will be pairing in five courses.
Schedule of Events including Winemakers Dinners
Maui Brewing Company Dinner – Thu, Jun 24. Dinner features five courses and four beer pairings. $50. 5:30 p.m. Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Kapalua, 600 Office Rd., Kapalua; 808-669-6286; www.sanseihawaii.com
Brewer Clifton Winery Dinner – Thu, Jun 24. Wine pairing featuring owner and winemaker Greg Brewer. Seven Wines and 13 appetizers enjoyed in a casual bar lanai gathering. $65. 6 p.m. Pineapple Grill, 200 Kapalua Drive, Kapalua; 808-669-9600; www.pineapplekapalua.com
Lucia Vineyards Dinner – Thu, Jun 24. Wine dinner featuring wine grape grower Gary Pisoni. Five courses and eight wine pairings. $125. 6:30 p.m. Merriman’s, 1 Bay Club Pl., Lahaina; 808-669-6400 www.merrimanshawaii.com
Cab Franc Retrospective – Fri, Jun 25. Cabernet Sauvignon lovers listen up. Cab Franc, a major red varietal and the parent grape to CS has taken two centuries to make it to the U.S. See if you will fall for the Cab Franc too. $75. 1:30-3 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-665-9160; www.kapalua.com
The Grand Tasting at Kapalua Wine and Food Festival – Fri, Jun 25. This year’s festival theme is “Summer Soiree.” Live entertainment in the Aloha Garden Pavillion with close to 200 international wines. Cuisine by Ritz Carlton Kapalua Executive Chef John Zaner. $135. 6 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-665-9160; www.kapalua.com
Heal the World with Pinot Noir – Sat, Jun 26. Wine can make the world a better place, especially when the vineyards and winemakers of Sapphire Hill, Pisoni, Patz & Hall, Scherrer, Brewer-Clifton, Brooks, Lachini and Hanzell are involved. Keep the faith in this pow-wow with Pinot Noir Winemakers. $75. 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-665-9160; www.kapalua.com
Kapalua Wine Tour – Sat, Jun 26. Embark in an adventure through the spectacular Kapalua Resort, as local wine distributors showcase the unique and hard-to-find wines in their current portfolios. Shuttle service is provided. $50. 12:30-2 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-665-9160; www.kapalua.com
Zins and Cheese – Sat, Jun 26. With Cheese Master Kent Torrey of The Cheese Shop in Carmel in the house, anything can happen at this pairing with Zinfandel, the apparent chameleon of the wine world. $75. 3-4 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-669-6200; www.kapalua.com
Brewer Clifton Winery Dinner – Sat, Jun 26. Greg Brewer will preside over a dinner featuring four courses with surprises and four wine pairings. $65. 5:30 p.m. Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Kapalua, 600 Office Rd., Kapalua; 808-669-6286; www.sanseihawaii.com
Patz and Hall Wine Company – Sat, Jun 26. Featuring owner and winemaker Donald Patz. Reception starts at 6 p.m., three appetizers, four courses and six wines. Dinner at 7pm. $115. 6 p.m. Pineapple Grill, 200 Kapalua Drive, Kapalua; 808-669-9600; www.pineapplekapalua.com
Scherrer Winery – Sat, Jun 26. Featuring owner and winemaker Fred Scherrer. Reception with dinner to follow. Two appetizers, four courses and five wine pairings. $75. 6 p.m. The Plantation House Restaurant, 2000 Plantation Club Dr., Kapalua; 808-667-9225; www.theplantationhouse.com
Chappellet Vineyards and Winery – Sat, Jun 26. Wine dinner featuring owners Cyril and Blakesley Chappellet. Five courses and five wines. $125. 6:30 p.m. Merriman’s, 1 Bay Club Pl., Lahaina; 808-669-6400. www.merrimanshawaii.com
Wine Idol: The Master Challenge – Sun, Jun 27. The best of the best is featured here with Master Sommeliers Fred Dame, Geoff Kruth, and Blakesley Chappellet judging. Learn why the wines got to the favorites table, and what to pair them with at this lively discussion. $75. 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-665-9160; www.kapalua.com
D.K.’s Secrets: Sansei Style – Sun, Jun 27. Learn about the impeccable palate of D.K. Kodama, at this intimate get together of food and wine. D.K. has set the bar for sushi restaurants and his Hawaiian fusion style has created one of the most sought-after menus on Maui and Oahu. Chef Kodama will host this amazing lunch and take you on a tour of tastings you won’t forget. $135. 1-3 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-665-9160; www.kapalua.com
The Seafood Festival – Sun, Jun 27. Join Festival Chef D.K. Kodama at this year’s Kapalua Wine and Food Festival finale. Fourteen amazing Maui restaurants and their executive chefs come together to strut their stuff, and compete for the Maui No Ka Oi “Best of the Fest” Award. This year’s participants include Gannons, Banyan Tree, David Paul’s Island Grill, Capische?, I’o, Pacific’o, Kai Sushi Bar, Maui Culinary Academy, Merriman’s Kapalua, Pineapple Grill, The Plantation House Restaurant, Roy’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Spago and the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. $135. 6-9 p.m. Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Kapalua; 808-665-9160; www.kapalua.com