Hawaii is a volcanic archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean some three-thousand-seven-hundred kilometres from the Californian coast. Comprising eight major islands and one-hundred-and-thirty-seven in total, the state is a visual feast of spectacular volcanic terrain, palm-fringed lagoons and some of the most incredible beaches on our planet. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll also find a rich cultural heritage and a unique and celebrated cuisine which reflects the diverse settlement history of the islands.
Hawaiian wine is something of a mystery to anybody outside the boundary of the islands as well as to many of the islanders themselves! Most of the state’s viticultural activity takes place on Maui - the second largest of the islands, but wine is also made on Oahu and on the Big Island (Hawaii). Many of the state’s best vineyards occupy sites at higher elevations on the slopes of mountains, where mineral-rich soils typical of a volcanic island group, dominate the terrain. This, coupled with the fact that Hawaii is also home to ten of the world’s fourteen climate zones, makes for a truly unique terroir. Unsurprisingly, given the small scale of wine production in Hawaii, the state has only one sub-zone, Ulupalakua, which is located on the slopes of a dormant volcano!
Symphony - a beautifully named, little known crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris - is the only variety used to make grape wine in Hawaii, but the islands also produce sparkling ‘wines’ from the emblematic pineapple fruit as well as from the honey of the macadamia nut tree. Hawaii’s Symphony wines are made in both sweet and dry styles; both are fruit-driven with notes of apricot, lychee and peach, and noted for their fragrant bouquet.
Hawaii’s isolated location, as well as the small amount of wine it produces, means that inevitably most of its wines are consumed on the islands themselves. However, over the last twenty years, reciprocal trading agreements have been put in place to allow Hawaiian winemakers to sell their products in other states, and for Hawaiian residents to purchase directly from mainland wineries.
As the US wine industry continues to enhance its reputation for quality, it remains to be seen if the momentum will extend across the Pacific to the island paradise of Hawaii, and whether the place famed for serving fresh pineapple with just about everything (you even get pineapple with your McDonald’s here!), may soon be serving up delights of a different kind.