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Grape Expectations

Though Maui may still be better known for its beaches than its vintages, the future is promising at the valley isle’s own Ulupalakua Vineyards—especially after the arrival of a new talent.

Winemaker Brett Miller has traded the temperate vineyards of Oregon for the slopes of upcountry Maui.

While winemaker Brett Miller can recall childhood memories of his French grandmother allowing him sips of wine as he helped prepare the family meals, his formal training happened in world-class vineyards and cellars in his native Oregon and New Zealand. A few months ago, Miller moved to Maui to take his place as head winemaker at Ulupalakua Vineyards.

“I feel that Ulupalakua is one of the few, if not the only place where wine grape vines could successfully be grown on Maui,” says Miller, who recently worked with Bruno Corneaux and Laurent Montalieu of Solena Estate winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. “Our cool mornings from Haleakalā’s sun shielding allows our grapes to retain their acidity and brightness,” he explains. The Kona and trade winds decrease disease pressure, while the warm air flowing up the mountain from Kīhei provides the heat that helps the grapes reach full maturity. “With our shallow volcanic soils and Haleakalā’s cooling effect, our wines exhibit some bright red fruits and unique spices,” he adds. Ulupalakua’s whites and reds have subtle nuances of baking spices like nutmeg, cardamom and white pepper, as well as notes of eucalyptus.

As the vineyards turn 40 this year, there is certainly much to toast. Look for exciting new releases like the multitiered 2012 Chenin Blanc-Viognier. Varietals of gewurztraminer, grenache and malbec will also produce their first harvest this year. “I’m excited to see how they do,” says Miller. “The goal is to eventually have two to three stand-alone varietal red and white wines to display the unique terroir of the vineyard in each.” Plus, to give each varietal a fighting chance in the unique climate, staff spends considerable time with each vine. It’s undoubtedly a labor of love.

Also in the works—a single varietal viognier, a classic saignée rosé from grenache and malbec, and extended tirage chenin blanc sparkling wines for the upcoming 45th and 50th anniversaries. What oenophiles can enjoy now, however, is the stellar sparkling rosé, Lokelani, a classic blend of pinot noir and chardonnay with a touch of the estate syrah. “It is elegant and refined with tiny bubbles, and its depth and breadth of aromatics and flavors are impressive,” said Miller. “I think it’s a fun and vibrant, soft pink wine that goes hand in hand with everything Maui!”