2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Making Wine in Strange Places is a Thing, Thankfully

Making Wine in Strange Places is a Thing, Thankfully

Wine in Hawaii

When I heard we’d be going to a winery on the slopes of a volcano, at first it didn’t sound that strange. Some of Italy’s best wines are made from grapes grown on volcanoes. Then I remembered I was on Hawaii island, which, as far as I can remember, isn’t a hotbed for fermented grape juice.

Still, making wine in strange places seems to be a thing. Somewhere off the beaten path all over the planet, you’ll find someone making wine if the climate is right. Volcano Winery sits 4,000 feet above sea level. It’s on the north side of the Kilauea volcano, which is erupting as I write and has been for the last 34 years: the world’s longest continual eruption. Next stop up from the vines is a crater with a churning lava lake. Downstream is an active lava flow that empties into the ocean, giving the island an extra 15 acres a year.

Thanks to its location, the winery is an unusual outpost. Beyond making grape wine, it also produces a variety of fruit wines made from crops on-property or from around the island. The tasting is a structured affair: you line up with lots of people you don’t know, thrust your plastic glass in front of you and quickly sip. Repeat for each selection. It was impersonal and the wines were just okay, but my mood improved when they offered a wine made from local macadamia nuts. Served chilled and infused with estate-grown black tea, it tasted like a fragrant mead or an alcoholic iced tea. Either way, it was great. I had two glasses.

After a dinner of Hawaiian barbecue, we were invited to tour the property, where tea trees and vines criss-crossed the mountainside. A stroll through the vineyard revealed lava tubes and craters, which was a new feature for me, as far as visiting wineries was concerned. Overhead, the volcano’s caldera loomed large and its peak was flanked by clouds.

While leaving the winery, I tucked a bottle of their honey-and-tea wine into my bag. The sun set soon after and the bus I was in headed upwards, where we’d go into the crater and see if we could spot the lava. The visitor center was extremely crowded. Though I usually hate crowds, it was comforting to see people from all over the globe basking in nature’s beauty and fury together. It made me wonder what business we humans have messing with each other when the earth can shoot fire and gas at us whenever she likes.

The lava lake was higher than normal that night, my guide told me, adding that we were extremely lucky to see it gurgling and spitting upwards. So, I decided to toast myself, as none of the strangers around me were keen to accept a swig of tea wine from a friendly unknown. I took a sip and thanked Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess, for letting us all commune at her home, and for the wine.

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