Story by Michael Shapiro
photo courtesy Kapalua Resort
When they were handing out godly powers up on Mount Olympus, Dionysus clearly won the jackpot. God of revelry, ecstasy, madness and—the fuel of respectable debauchery—wine.
And there’s no more respectable debauch in Hawai‘i than the annual Kapalua Food & Wine Festival, where each summer epicures and bon vivants indulge their inner Dionysus over a long, lush weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.
An island chain in the middle of the Pacific, where there are only two wineries and a small percentage of oenophiles compared with say, California or Italy, might seem an unlikely place for a presitigious wine event, but this year’s festival, from June 9 to 12, will be the thirtieth, making it both the largest and longest running celebration of its kind in Hawai‘i. The trigentennial jubilee, “A Toast to 3-0,” promises to be a barnburner, says master sommelier Fred Dame, who as host of the past seven festivals might just have the world’s best job. “People are pulling out all the stops, and we’re going to drink like we’ve never drunk fine wine before.”
In addition to Friday night’s signature Grand Tasting, where more than two hundred wines from around the world will enchant palates both expert and amateur, there are smaller tastings, seminars, farm tours and classes. “We’re gonna have some real fun this year,” says Dame. “We’re gonna have a really wild Pinot Noir and cheese fest, a tasting of southern California’s great Cabernets and we’re going to do the three decades since the festival began: wines from the ’80s, the ’90s and the 2000s.”
When you have so many superlative wines (“about six hundred and not a flea on the dog,” says Dame), your food had better back them up. In this, the festival doesn’t disappoint. This year’s highlights include a three-course Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine event (with wine pairings) hosted by local celeb-chef Peter Merriman and Sunday’s orgiastic Maui Seafood Festival.
Come thirsty and expect a few surprises —special editions courtesy of the master sommeliers, including Dame, who will be hosting again in 2011. “What we’re bringing in this year is really spectacular,” he says. “I’m not going to tell you what they are, but you’re going to like them!”