Pardee Erdman is packing saddlebags full of fond memories from 50 years of owning Ulupalakua Ranch. On June 30, he'll share some of his best recollections with the public in a "Looking Back" talk-story session at 1 p.m. as part of his ohana's "Ulupalakua Inspires - The 50th Anniversary Celebration" (see sidebar).
But how did he have the foresight in 1963 to come to Maui and purchase what was then a 40,000-acre ranch that ran from the 6,000-foot elevation on the rolling slopes of Haleakala all the way down to Maui's leeward shoreline?
"I actually first came to Hawaii in 1960," says Erdman, who was a young geologist and rancher in Sheridan, Wyo. "Laurence Rockefeller sent me here to check out land for future development. We wanted him to go into Wailea, but he decided on the Big Island. So we surveyed everything and made sure it was all OK."
Ulupalakua Ranch cowboys stand outside the stable (from left): Francis Poouahi, Kaimi Kona‘aihele, Christopher Waite, Sumner Erdman, Ryan Wendt, Jimmy Gomes, Emerson Makekau, Alex Santiago, Wendell Wong and Sam Akoi.
RANDY JAY BRAUN photo
Betsy and Pardee Erdman
RANDY JAY BRAUN photo
The result of the development, of course, is the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, with its famous Rockefeller Kitchen on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii, at the time named the world's "most expensive hotel ever built" at $15 million.
But it was Maui that made an impression on Erdman, who bought Ulupalakua Ranch Ltd. from Maui's famous Baldwins, turning it into Ulupalakua Ranch Inc. The purchase let the Baldwins keep their Kipahulu acreage.
In addition, about half of Erdman's original purchase was land leased from the state of Hawaii. The ranch returned this acreage to state control between 1967 and 1997. Today, Ulupalakua Ranch is 18,000 acres in size, covering five distinct ecosystems.
PARTY WITH PARDEE
* "Ulupalakua Inspires - The 50th Anniversary Celebration," will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 30 on the grounds of Ulupalakua Ranch and Maui's Winery.
* "Looking Back" talk story with Ranch owner Pardee Erdman will run from 1 to 1:45 p.m.
* Other highlights are mouthwatering barbecue of huli-huli beef and lamb prepared by cowboys; live music by slack key master and Ulupalakua native Jeff Peterson, with award-winning bass guitarist Nathan Aweau; hula; historical displays; information booths; wine tasting; and more.
* For the first time since the original vines were planted in 1974, the Ulupalakua vineyards will open for an intimate tour, led by the winemaker and the vineyard manager of Maui's Winery. "Walk in the Vineyard," features a vertical "taste through time" of estate and unreleased wines, chef's pairing of appetizers such as Muscovy duck rillettes with dried plum, and two bottles of estate syrah to take home.
* For more information, visit www.mauiwine.com or call (808) 878-6058.
There were some interesting players before them, but Erdman and his family have owned this important Maui landscape for the longest haul since it was "first leased from King Kamehameha III in 1841," according to a news release.
Back in the days when it was Rose Ranch, King David Kalakaua, known as "the Merrie Monarch," visited all of the time. So much so that he had a cottage built for him.
Rose Ranch owner Capt. James Makee was an "incredible host," according to Paula Hegele, president of Maui's Winery, situated at the ranch. "He put in a sugar mill and plantation and had grand parties. They played poker and drank champagne. Ulupalakua was a true playground. The parties would start with a rodeo in the morning and end with ballroom dancing in the evening."
Today, several historic sites, including the remains of the old mill, are preserved.
The ranch land also boasts spectacular and almost surreal views. Mauka, Haleakala's gigantic, softly rounded pu'u, or cinder cones loom, and black lava fields intermingle with pastures and upland forests. Makai, the mountain rolls down to Makena and Wailea, and you can see across the Alenuihaha Channel to Molokini, Kahoolawe and Lanai.
Provisioning cowboys for more than 150 years, the Ulupalakua Ranch Store is arguably Maui's longest-running five-and-dime. These days, tourists arrive by the bus loads, on bicycles and in rental cars to check out beautiful Upcountry.
"In 1990, responding to ever-growing numbers of people curious about the ranch and intent on driving the long 'back side' road around Haleakala, the store reinvented itself," says Hegele. "Yet it's still the general store, packed with U.R.-branded cowboy gear, locally made products, deli and Maui souvenirs and gifts."
Saunter past the swinging doors and you'll find Wrangler work shirts and jeans with U.R. logos, cowboy hats and a plethora of barbecue and hot sauces along with Maui Cattle Co. beef jerky and signs that read "Born to Hunt, Forced to Work."
"Our open-air grill features ranch-raised beef, elk and lamb prepared daily with fresh local ingredients," says Hegele. "Travelers eat at the store's picnic tables while chuckling over the life-size sculptures of old-days ranch characters such as the Manapua lady and cowboy Ikua Purdee, created by late artist-in-residence Reems Mitchell."
Of course, cowboys and cattle were always a big part of the picture. But the Erdmans have taken it much further.
"We've introduced elk, sheep and goats at various times into the mix, also augmenting horse-based ranching with ATVs and even helicopters," says Erdman. "At the same time, our ranch cowboys invested in the training and use of skilled dogs, who provide tireless service in herding and protection."
Also in its sustainable history, the ranch created a feedlot, purchased an Oregon ranch in order to finish the cattle profitably, and helped create Maui Cattle Co., whose mission is to provide grass-fed, island-raised beef to local markets.
The Erdmans have also explored and encouraged small-scale farming ventures such as strawberries and sweet onions, but their real claim to fame is with Maui's only commercial vineyard, an evolving success for nearly 40 years.
Directly across the road from the ranch store is the King's Cottage, where Kalakaua stayed and which houses the winery's Tasting Room, with its expansive mango-wood bar; and the ranch's History Room, a fun little museum.
Shaded by magnificent towering trees, the store and the cottage and epic grounds that include what is erroneously known as the old jail will all provide the venue for the June 30 party.
"We are doing hulihuli beef and lamb by the Tasting Room grounds, and the cowboys will be helping," says Ulupalakua Ranch Store's Manager Diana Azevedo. "People will want to see it and smell it and watch it."
The cowboys will first load kiawe wood into half drums and then set them on green banana stumps and leaves. Then they will set the kiawe ablaze until the coals glow red hot, slow-roasting hormone-free, all-natural meat over hulihuli spits. Ranch store Chef Will Munder will serve up the savory meat in sandwiches.
"At the store, chef will be doing house-braised elk tacos, birria style, and barbecued braised beef brisket plate lunches," said Azevedo.
It will be like the old Ulupalakua Thing days, in which you bring your friends and family along with low-back chairs or blankets, and spend the afternoon listening to music, sipping some wine from the Tasting Room and buying some country fare. While the event is free and open to the public, people may also make reservations for an exclusive vineyard tour complete with a select vertical tasting of Syrah wines (see sidebar).
Maui's Winery, aka, Tedeschi Vineyards Ltd., was assigned the license number BW-HI-5 as the fifth commercial winery in the state in 1974.
"Before us, Maui had seen quite a few small vineyards, a steady progression of Portuguese from the Azores and Madeira, but most not licensed," says Erdman. "Funny thing, when I was thinking of planting grapes, I called one of the growers, who (had) ceased his operations. I said, 'Why did you stop? Grapes must not grow here.' He said, 'No, I stopped growing because Joe died and he was the only one who would drink wine with me.' "
Formerly named Tedeschi Vineyards after original winemaker Emil Tedeschi, Maui's Winery has expanded from its original pineapple wines to now include Syrah and other varietals.
New Winemaker Mauricio Soler hails from Baja California, where wine was a significant part of the culture. He graduated from San Diego State University with an international business degree and from the University of Barcelona with a minor in marketing. Then he kicked it up a notch with a eunology (wine) degree from Fresno State.
But the pineapple wine remains a mainstay.
That is why Erdman's support for local agriculture took a dramatic turn when Maui Land & Pineapple Co. discontinued its vast agricultural operations last decade.
"Collaborating with other investors and a team of talented agribusiness managers, he played a key role in establishing the Hali'imaile Pineapple Co." states the news release."Part of his motivation was to ensure a supply of high-quality local fruit for the popular pineapple-based vintages of Maui's Winery. At the same time he was helping to keep an island agricultural tradition from going extinct. Today Maui Gold pineapple continues to be a premier island product."
While rescuing Maui's pineapple, Erdman and family also got wind of a plan for more renewable energy production - a top priority for Hawaii to reduce its dependence on petroleum-based kilowatts.
Working with Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, the Erdmans dedicated a remote stretch of ranch for a wind farm that opened in December 2012. Eight wind-driven turbines deliver 21 megawatts of power into Maui's energy grid.
This installation helps the state meet its goal of 40 percent renewable energy by the year 2030. The turbines also ensure that the ranch can continue to maintain its wide swath of open space to benefitfuture generations.
Speaking of which, Erdman's sons are now at the forefront of the ranch.
"I've turned over the reins to Sumner, who's been president of the ranch since 1997," says Erdman. "My son, Chris, is also involved. He now lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But he does a lot of real estate deals . . . and such for us."
One land deal was with the Hawaii Islands Land Trust, which established an agricultural conservation easement of 11,300 acres along the leeward slopes of Haleakala so that it will remain a working ranch and wildlife habitat. This was the largest-ever voluntary easement donation in Hawaii's history.
"People think that cattle ranching is about raising cows," says Sumner. "It's really about land and pasture management. We focus a lot on the native flora and fauna because of the critical role they play in the water and mineral cycles of the land."
The Erdmans also have played a critical role - from the evolution of their wines and their beef, elk and lamb products, to seeing ATVs and other machines augment horses, to developing wind-powered renewable energy.
What farsighted stewardship. What a legacy. So come and party with Pardee and his wife, Betsy, and the rest of the family, and celebrate their 50th anniversary.