I heard it through the grapevine … at Spago … in Wailea

Annual Destinations Portfolio wine tasting offered lots of ‘juice’

Rupert Billins of Dalla Terra Italian wines pours for Peter Longhi of Longhi’s restaurants. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Napa Valley, Sonoma vintners, reps recount recent wildfires

Of course, the late-great Marvin Gaye wasn’t there. And the soulful Motown classic that he sang didn’t emanate from Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Maui at Four Seasons Resort Maui.

But I did hear a lot of good “juice” from the grapevine of famous winemakers, proprietors and representatives that gathered there last week for the annual Destinations Portfolio Tasting by Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants as the conversations flowed and Maui’s restaurant and hotel industry insiders tasted varietals and made purchases.

About 30 winemakers or their reps from as far away as France, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Oregon and California came to tour Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island for the popular annual trade show.

“Hawaii has been really great for us,” said John Gabelhausen, owner of Alexana Winery in Oregon, Revana Family Vineyard in the Napa Valley and Corazon del Sol (“heart of the sun”) in Argentina.

Tori Williams of Frog’s Leap -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“It’s a billboard market here, meaning that people from all over the world visit Hawaii and get to taste our wines. To have a company like Chambers & Chambers distribute our wines to all the top restaurants, wine shops and resorts is just incredible.”

All three vineyards were personally planted by Gabelhausen and his team and the fields are sustainable and organic. Two Revena Terroir Series wines are rated 95 and 96 by Robert Parker of Wine Spectator.

Chambers & Chambers Napa Valley-based owner, Suzanne Chambers, was also pouring at the trade show and her husband, Dr. Larry Turley of Turley Wine Cellars, was in another room with his famous varietals.

“My dad and I started the company in 1973,” she said. “He was an airline pilot for Western (which was acquired by Delta) and he flew to Hawaii all of the time and realized there was no good wine here. So in 1979, it was the impetus of opening a branch in Hawaii.”

So what does Chambers think will transpire with the Napa Valley and Sonoma wines after the devastating fires that swept through there in October?

Rob Sinskey of Robert Sinskey Vineyards -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“Most Napa Valley fruit was already in, as in harvested,” she said. “Like for Turley, only two percent was out on the vines. It’s so small it doesn’t make a difference.”

But when the fires were raging and merging and causing loss of life and property, it was a whole other story for those living and working in the area.

“In my whole life, I couldn’t have imagined it,” Chambers remembered. “My God, the winds were whipping at 45 miles an hour and more and the fires were burning from Calistoga all of the way to Santa Rosa. Fountain Grove looked like a bomb went off.

“But now, if you stay on Highway 29, you won’t even know that there were any fires,” added Chambers.

Robert Sinskey, of the acclaimed Robert Sinskey Vineyards that produces fine, organic wines, didn’t fare so well at his estate in Napa Valley on the Silverado Trail.

Keith Ross of Bodegas Borsao in Spain with Crissa Hiranaga of Four Seasons Resort Maui -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“It was a very dramatic few days,” Sinskey reported. “My winery was hit by the Atlas Peak Fire and my home was evacuated because of the Partrick Fire as they merged. I lost my Stag’s Leap District vineyard.

“The flames came up on three sides of my winery’s walls. The horses chose to evacuate themselves from the pastures and were found down the road. The fires took out all of the cell phone towers and were racing 200 yards a minute in 50- to 90-mile-an hour winds. It was like a hurricane. If you didn’t look at the mountain side and just at the valley floor, the rest of Napa was fine.”

Winemaker Ivo Jeramaz of Grgich Hills Cellars lost his home in the fire as did two of his employees.

“Ivo’s got six kids who all grew up in that house,” said National Sales Ambassador Sean Barrett. “He’s a nephew of Miljenko ‘Mike Grgich’ who won the Judgement of Paris blind tasting in 1976 when he was winemaker for Chateau Montelena.”

All five Grgich vineyards and winery were unscathed and 95 percent of the fruit was in when the fires struck. While on Maui last year, Jeramaz said their Croatian facility had suffered a fire awhile back. Sad, but the Napa winery is still celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Chambers & Chambers’ Charles Fredy and Suzanne Chambers -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Tori Williams of Frog’s Leap in Rutherford was also at the tasting for John Williams, her winemaker husband.

“I volunteered to come to Hawaii in his place,” she said, grinning from ear to ear.

I could have sworn that I heard Gaye singing, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. . .” to keep her away from Maui . . . as she beamed.

“We dry farm our grapes. We use no irrigation, just like in France. It’s unique in our neighborhood. The roots go deeper, allowing us to make great wines lower in alcohol and sugar at picking time. Our Sauvignon Blanc does really well here with fresh fish and our Napa Valley cab is king with steaks.”

Frog’s Leap did OK in the fires as it’s on the valley floor and escaped damage.

Evan Bakke of Clos de Trias in France -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“But our cellar master was evacuated from Calistoga.” Williams continued. “And it was horrifying. There was so much smoke. It was surreal without any power. We felt so insular living in Napa, yet the outreach was incredible from everywhere. People called and emailed and posted on social media. We’re such a tight-knit community that everybody just pitched in and helped.”

How can Maui wine lovers assist the cause?

“Come and visit,” Williams added. “Napa Valley is open for business. The best way is to come and support us. We’re a one-horse town and at the end of the day, we want to keep people employed.”

Sean Minor, self-described “owner, winemaker and chief bottle washer” of Sean Minor Wines, produces sought-after vintages from Oregon, Paso Robles, the Central Coast and Sonoma.

“Fortunately, our facility in Sonoma is just fine,” he said. “The majority of the fruit was harvested.

As for European selections, Rupert Billins of Dalla Terra Winery Direct represents fine Italian wines. Peter Longhi and Michael Rose of the Longhi’s restaurants were spotted at the table checking it out.

“I think Italian wines offer some of the best value and best selections in the world,” Rose explained. “Italy has more than 1,000 different varietals and its price points are good. The same for Southern France, if you get away from Bordeaux and Burgundy.”

Evan Bakke of Clos de Trias is a case in point. He moved to France from the U.S. in 2005 to farm his own biodynamic and organic grapes in the town of Le Barroux in the foothills of Mount Ventoux. He makes blends with Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault grapes on 65 acres.

“We offer many of the wines featured in the tasting at DUO Steak & Seafood,” said Assistant Manager Kassey Wolf. “The Destinations Maui Portfolio Tasting not only offered an opportunity to taste the many wines represented but it also provided our staff with a venue to further expand their knowledge and develop their palates. Many of Four Seasons’ 11 sommeliers were thrilled to take part in such a special event.”

Special, indeed. But next year, can someone please play a Marvin Gaye tape?

* Carla Tracy can be reached at carlatracy@mauinews.com.


Trade-show wine pairings for DUO Steak & Seafood

• What: With 11 sommeliers from Four Seasons Resort Maui attending the trade show, wine pairing suggestions flowed for diners at the resort’s DUO Steak & Seafood.

• Billecart-Salmon: Brut Rose pops with fresh oysters, perfect for Tuesday night Raw Bar.

• Far Niente: Its Dolce dessert wine is an elixir of the gods with Kula strawberry Pavlova. Its Chardonnay is one of the most popular wines by the glass and rocks with crab cakes.

• ZD: Its Abacus Cabernet Sauvignon fits like a kid glove with signature bone-in short rib.

• Peter Michael: Its Chardonnay pairs with onaga laced in lilikoi beurre blanc.

John Gabelhausen of Alexana Estate in Oregon -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo