Hawaii – a land steeped in the ancient lore of Pele, a volcano goddess with a passionate and fiery temperament. One legend states that when Pele is angry lava flows from her in great molten streams destroying everything in its path leaving a desolate moonscape waiting to be reborn.
Del and Marie Bothof, owners of Volcano Winery have turned their corner of the tropical moonscape into a prospering vineyard. Proving that from Pele’s violent temperament there can also be life and love – in the form of sweet wine.
A Friendly Environment For Grapes
Volcano Winery, a 64-acre vineyard nestled on the edge of Volcano National Park. They use tropical berries and fruit from local farmers in combination with their own locally grown grapes to create a silky smooth wine. A wine so exclusive, that is only available on the Islands.
The terroir of the vineyard is acidic due to the volcanic rock formations. Alex, the vintner of Volcano Winery, explained to me that to make the environment more favorable for the vines, two-foot square trenches are dug. The lava rock is removed and replaced with a rich organic soil combined with compost making a sweet home for the vines roots.
Grapes need a cold dormancy period to produce healthy vines and abundant fruit clusters – in Hawaii that can be difficult to come by. Grapes also like a little moisture, but not a significant amount. According to Alex, the winery is located in a tiny ecological biosphere sweet spot. It is nestled on Mauna Loa at an elevation of 4,200 feet giving it stable yearly temperatures ranging from high 40’s to the low 70’s. The winery receives an average of 70” of rainfall a year – in comparison to Volcano Village just 11 miles away which receives an average of 120” of rainfall a year.
The Tasting Room
Loni, the tasting room manager, lines up a selection of sipping samples. She tells me that Volcano Winery creates a variety of fruit forward red and white wines from Symphony, Cayuga, and Pinot Noir grapes combined with local exotic tropical fruits such as guava and jaboticaba. Jaboticaba trees bear sweet berries that grow directly on the trunk of the tree. I stand at the tasting bar as soft casual Hawaiian music plays in the background, Loni tells me interesting history tidbits about Hawaiian lore and some local events going on nearby that weekend.
One of Loni’s favorite wines is the Hawaiian Guava-grape, a combination of 40% Symphony grapes and 60% whole local yellow guava. It has a smooth butter and nutty flavor, almost like movie theater popcorn. The butter flavor comes from the guava seeds and the nutty flavor is from the skin of the guava fruit. Loni says, “The guava flavor is unique and distinctly Hawaiian. If you add a bit of dry champagne it makes a great mimosa. It pairs nicely with a stack of pancakes and a side of bacon” she says with a big smile. That made me think about other bubbly cocktails I could make to accompany breakfast while I was in this tropical oasis.
The Volcano Red, a velvety blend combined with local jaboticaba berries had a deep fall cherry note with a light spice finish. This two-time bronze medalist left a full-bodied flavor in my mouth that would pair nicely with the Kailua Pig I was having later for dinner.
Roughly ten years ago Volcano Winery partnered with the University of Hawaii which was researching ways to diversify crops grown on the islands. The vineyard planted some of the first Camellia Sinensis (black) tea plants on the island. Today Volcano Winery produces a three-time bronze medal winner tea infused macadamia nut honey wine.
Infusion Tea Wine is a perfect marriage between tea and honey. A light golden toast color that Loni says deepens with time in the bottle, has the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. Technically not a wine, but a mead, the Infusion Tea Wine is 100% local with both the guava and the honey supplied from farmers on the Big Island. Loni tells me that they use champagne yeast to ferment the mead keeping the viscosity low so it is not a heavy syrup and it gives the wine a silky smooth finish.
I had a glass of the tea wine chilled. At first sip, I knew I would have to bring a bottle home with me. I could just imagine enjoying a cold frosty glass of this honey wine on a hot summer day. It would be like a glass of sweet iced tea – with a kick. Once I returned home, a super chilled glass of the infused wine was perfect on hot summer days. Unfortunately, all I have left are fond memories. Which made me wonder… what can I infuse from my own kitchen? Check out a recipe for lemon liqueur below.
Make the Drive to Volcano Winery
People say that when you visit the Hawaiian islands, you feel as if you have been reunited with old friends. The pace is slow, relaxed, and comfortable. The vibe is “come, sit and have a cold drink as we talk a spell.” Even though I had just met Loni, she made me feel as if we were longtime friends.
Volcano Winery might feel like a bit of a drive as you make your way down a windy, quiet residential road lined with brightly colored flowers and tropical trees. It is worth the drive for several reasons. They create a uniquely distinctive wine that is exclusive to the islands, they are the only winery in Hawaii, and Loni is a wealth of knowledge about local hangouts and lore. What better way to experience island vibe than with locals.
- 12 fresh lemons
- 1 750 ml bottle vodka of your choosing
- 3 cups sugar
- 3 cups water
- Thoroughly wash lemons. Slice lemons into long strips peeling fruit from the rind. Scrape all of the white inner flesh from the rind. Not doing this will create a very bitter infusion. Place lemon rinds and vodka in a large jar or glass pitcher. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and let it sit for one week.After one week:heat sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Once cool, add it to the lemons and vodka. You may need to split the lemon vodka infusion in two unless your jar is quite large. Let the infusion sit for 24 hours. Optional: after 24 hours, strain the vodka to remove the lemon peels or keep them for presentation. Refrigerate overnight
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