Vineyard hosts visitors as part of celebration

ULUPALAKUA

Ulupalakua Ranch celebrated its 50th anniversary Sunday with food, entertainment and an exclusive tour of one of the ranch’s most hidden secrets.

For the first time since the original vines were planted in 1974, the ranch, owned by Pardee Erdman, held an exclusive tour of its 23-acre vineyard located about two miles north of its winery and Ulupalakua Ranch Store.

“We were thinking, ‘What can the winery do to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ranch,’ “Maui’s Winery President Paula Hegele said. “It became this Willy Wonka kind of thing . . . you needed a golden ticket and everything.”

The property, which supplies Maui’s Winery – the only commercial winery on the island – hosted about 30 people from across the country and let participants eat grapes directly off the vine. Winemaker Mauricio Soler and vineyard manager Bryan Davis guided the group and provided information on their operations.

“It’s nice to have people down here because we’ll tell people about our wine and some don’t even know the ranch has a vineyard,” said Davis, who joined the company about four years ago. “So it’s pretty cool that we can show people around since only about handful of people have been here.”

While answering questions about the variety of grapes the vineyard has and the number of wines it offers, the two men also spoke about the uniqueness of growing on the Valley Isle.

“Contrary to belief, we can grow grapes here, but it is difficult,” Soler told the group.

“We don’t have any neighbors, so a lot of this is trial by error,” added Davis.

Debuting with a sparkling pineapple wine in the 1970s, the winery formerly known as Tedeschi Vineyards (named after original winemaker Emil Tedeschi) released its first grape product about a decade later.

“I remember when I first came they wanted to get away from the pineapple wine because they wanted to be looked at serious,” said Hegele, who took the job and moved to the island with her family in 1990. “But they realized that the pineapple wine allows them to survive.”

After more than 30 years of tinkering with different wines and grapes, the vineyard now has a half dozen varieties of grapes and two estate wines.

At the end of the tour, guests had the opportunity to taste the wines, including a pair of unreleased offerings and the recently released Lokelani Sparkling Rose.

Before the vineyard was established, though, Rosalyn Meyer, who grew up on Oahu and regularly visited the Erdmans’ ranch, remembers playing with high school friends on the property and staying inside what is now the winery.

“We used to come for two weeks and take care of Sumner and Chris,” Meyer said of the Erdman family’s two children. “We could go anywhere we wanted on the ranch, and the only rule was we couldn’t wear jeans to dinner.

“This was our playground.”

Pardee’s wife, Betsy Erdman, 83, said the property used to be horse and cow pastures.

“Our cattle used to graze this land, and we were looking for something to do with it,” she said. “My husband’s always wanted to learn more about wine . . . so we decided to make the vineyard.”

At the conclusion of the wine tasting, Hegele said that Pardee Erdman’s vision for the vineyard and winery helped her excel with the company, which has tripled its yield in the past four years.

“The reason we’re here is because of Erdman,” Hegele said. “He allowed that creativity but has provided a sense of integrity for it.

“I think this is part of who Pardee is.”

Back at the ranch store and winery, hundreds of people enjoyed music by slack-key musicians Jeff Peterson and Nathan Aweau, along with hulihuli beef and lamb sold by Maui Cattle Co.

Pardee Erdman and his two sons, Sumner and Chris, held a talk-story session and gave an overview on how the past 50 years has faired for their 18,000-acre property, which was originally about 50,000 acres. The men also fielded questions from the crowd in regard to current issues at the ranch, including Madagascan fireweed and their shrinking number of cattle.

“I truly believe and hope to see that whatever is here 50 years from now, people will be happy to see it like they see it today,” Sumner Erdman said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.