Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sips on the Road: Volcano Winery - Volcano, Hawai'i

In another exciting edition of “Sips on the Road”, I visited America’s Southernmost Winery, Volcano Winery (@VolcanoWinery), on the Big Island of Hawai'i! I had done my research in advance of my trip to the island and knew that our road trip from Kailua-Kona around to Hilo and back would take us directly through the small town of Volcano, Hawai'i where the winery is located. While we had a bit of a trouble with where to turn (i.e. we were farther east than we thought when we exited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and had to double back) we made it up to the winery and were delighted to find that there weren’t many people already there (my favorite types of visits, I love chatting with tasting room staff when they are available!). 

 We bellied up to the tasting bar and our fantastic tasting room host Janet took us through the line-up and educated us on the winery and how they came to be. Volcano Winery was started in 1986 and has been utilizing local tropical fruits like the yellow guava and the Jaboticaba berry and blending them with traditional wine grapes to create wines that capture the Hawaiian spirit. About 40% of their grapes are locally sourced across all of their production, and sometimes less. The remainder is generally sourced from California. The locally sourced harvest has been down since the volcano “woke up” again in 2008. The gases from the volcano have a big affect on the soil and they actually had no harvest in 2008 due to this. Pinot Noir is one grape this has had a big impact on. They planted it long ago and it produced fantastically, but it has not been as good since 2008. 2011 was the first year they were again able to make a 100% Pinot Noir, but in 2012 they had to purchase all grapes from California. It’s amazing the ups and downs the growing area has here! It was fascinating to learn that vines are planted by digging a 6 inch hole in the rock (remember, this whole area is lava rock) and hoping it takes hold before the rain comes.

Volcano Winery

Another interesting grape they work with is called the Symphony grape. This is a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache Gris. The winery planted 10,000 vines of this grape and it has produced award winning wines, including a bronze from the 2004 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, the largest charitable wine competition in North America. The Symphony Dry poured in the tasting room at our visit was super sweet, but definitely fun. The Symphony Mele has only 3% residual sugar and won a gold medal in 2004 and a bronze just 10 months ago. This was a favorite during my tasting. At first taste it reminds you of a Riesling, but finishes not quite as sweet. This wine pairs well with just about everything, including our little picnic we enjoyed on the winery grounds after our tasting!

Their Volcano Red is a fruit blend, with 15-30% of this wine coming from the Jaboticaba fruit. The Jaboticaba is originally from Brazil and the thick skin tastes like black pepper. The remainder of fruit in this wine is California grapes and has similarities to a Chianti. They recommend chilling this wine and enjoying it like a sangria. This was one I picked up to bring home, looking forward to chilling it and trying again with some fruit on a nice Seattle day.

The Volcano Red

The Volcano Blush is made from 50% Symphony Dry and 50% Jaboticaba fruit and won a bronze in the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2006. Their Hawaiian Guava-Grape is a fun blend of 50% Symphony Dry and 50% Guava. They made a fantastic Macadamia Nut Honey wine that is sourced from the honey of blossoms of the macadamia nut tree, and contains no actual macadamia nuts (and those are plentiful on the Big Island!). They combine a light champagne yeast, water and the honey to create the “wine” (technically called a wine, more like a Mead though considering it comes from honey). This wine has a nice nutty finish and a sweet honey nose. It pairs well with Asian food I’ve been told and I’m looking forward to trying that combination out since I brought a bottle home with me!

The Volcano Blush

Another thing that the winery offers is tea. They planted four varieties of black tea 8 years ago. The different layers of the leaf create different types of tea and tea is a good crop for the area since it does well with the gas conditions of the volcano. Their Infusion is a bright, crisp tea wine that they have been offering for 4.5 years now. They infuse four varieties of black tea while the macadamia nut honey wine is fermenting. It is 12% alcohol and has caffeine in it since it’s technically a tea, so it packs a lovely little punch that’s not to be missed when visiting the winery!

The line-up at Volcano Winery!

I was so glad to make it to another winery in the islands (you’ll remember my visit to Nani Moon Meadery last year) and try more wines made from locally sourced ingredients. It’s so much fun to try wines from different regions since they can be so different from what I’m used to. I look forward to more adventures and hope to provide another “Sips on the Road” post soon!

Some of the vines on the estate

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