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Live from the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival

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After a boring but easy flight from Oakland, I arrived at Kahalui Airport safe and sound at 8.25 a.m. yesterday Maui time, despite having left Oakland at 7 a.m., which was kind of weird. The same dense fog that had covered the Bay Area extended well out to sea, so it wasn’t for many hours that the blue waters of the Pacific became visible.

At the car rental desk I ran into Carlo Mondavi. We were on the same flight but didn’t know it. He’s in the ocean now; I’m writing this; what’s up with that? Anyway, shortly it will be mai tai time.

The Ritz Carlton Kapalua certainly is a grand resort. Michael Jordan, M.S., who runs (or co-runs) the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, told me how he used to surf at this very spot, before the resort, with its heavy footprint, was built. Michael also told me about the festival’s 32-year history. I didn’t know it was that old. He just took it over two years ago, and is elevating it. Certainly this year’s collection of chefs and winemakers (and Master Somms: they’re everywhere) is one of the greatest assemblages I’ve ever seen. (The only way to experience it all and not leave ten pounds heavier is to  hit the gym every day.)

At the opening reception I was talking with a winemaker who complained how so many winemakers nowadays talk about what brix they picked their grapes at. He was referring to the “In Pursuit of Balance” thing that’s been so hot in media circles lately. It seems that the aggressive criticism of high alcohol wine is having its effect on certain winemakers, so much so that the first thing they say is, “I picked at 23, so don’t accuse me of making unbalanced wines.” Well, that is ridiculous, of course. Ten years ago everybody wanted to make Parkeresque wines of high alcohol. Now they want to make Parr-esque wines of low alcohol. How about making delicious, balanced wines, and stop worrying how the media will react to your alcohol level?

After an interesting chat with Fred Scherrer about rosé–interesting because he understands what a good, dry one should be–I ran into Matt Trevisan, from Linne Calodo. I told him how high I’ve been lately on these Paso blends, and he said, “You know how that started?” Actually, I didn’t. “The acids are so high in Westside Zinfandel,” he said, “that the only way to balance it is to blend higher pH wines into it, to help lessen the total acidity.” One of Matt’s wines, for instance, is his Cherry red, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Mourvedre. This fits in with my “divot” theory, that in Paso (at least), a single variety or single vineyard wine may have holes (in color, aroma, flavor, texture, whatever) that the addition of other varieties, no matter how weird, can fill in. Paso Robles can get away with this, where Napa can’t, because Napa is expected to make template wines–Bordeaux blends and Cabernet Sauvignon–while Paso’s absence of tradition allows younger winemakers to explore the possibilities. Matt also said in fifty years, we won’t be talking about varieties anymore.  We’ll refer to a Napa Valley wine, or a Paso Robles wine, the way people talk about a Bordeaux or a Rioja wine.

I sincerely hope so, and I hope it won’t take fifty years.

  1. “Ten years ago everybody wanted to make Parkeresque wines of high alcohol. Now they want to make Parr-esque wines of low alcohol.”

    I believe I’ve read you mocking the existence of this trend more than once. I suppose maybe you just liked the play on names enough that you thought it was worth contradicting yourself.

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