Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya – featured on MidWeek‘s cover Nov. 24, 1993 – speaks with a slightly different tone about the (at times) swanky stereotyped field of grapes and wine. He continues to be inspired by the worldly veterans, those craftsmen who work tirelessly with calloused hands to create the world’s finest wines. He often travels to spend time with the icons of wine to gain a better understanding of the artistry they have mastered through a lifetime of dedication to vinification. He recalls meeting famed wine traditionalist Bartolo Mascarello of Barolo, Italy.
“My wife and I had a chance to see him three months before he passed, and he signed a drawing he did as a young man for us. It was amazing. These type of people changed the game forever. That kind of inspiration is irreplaceable. It reiterates that there is a whole world of wines out there beyond California, beyond the Bordeaux, the Burgundy and Champagnes,” says Furuya, who is a partner in DK Restaurants group, which includes restaurants Sansei, Vino, d.k Steakhouse, Hiroshi and Maui Fish and Pasta (formerly Cane & Taro).
Gaining membership in The Court of Master of Sommeliers in 1989, Furuya now can be considered the veteran sommelier in Hawaii. Roberto Viernes and Patrick Okubo are Hawaii’s other two master sommeliers, both receiving their accreditation within the past decade. Hawaii has a pretty solid showing, as there are only 117 master sommeliers in the U.S. and 180 worldwide. Even with membership in a class with such distinction, Furuya, a former chairman of education for the American chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, wants to denounce any type of elitism among sommeliers.
“Master sommelier is the restaurant person. We are like a guild of carpenters or plumbers. It is not a highfalutin type of thing, it is a craft,” adds Furuya, who has seen the placement of new sommeliers expand quite extensively since he gained entrance. “In the old days, you apprenticed with a master sommelier for eight to 12 years, then they spoke on your behalf and you were allowed to sit through the examination.”
There are now extensive courses offered to those who wish to pursue an education and a lifetime experience in wine, courses that Furuya respects.
“The quality of education has risen. I don’t think the exam is easier; I think it might be more detailed and harder than before. The standards had to change; the standards are really high now. My hat goes off to Patrick and Roberto because that is a tough gig for them to go through,” Furuya says.
Aside from DK Restaurants, Furuya works on many projects including teaching wine and restaurant professionals through his partnership with Southern Wine and Spirits and serving as a consultant for Hawaiian Airlines’ first class international services.
In our modern times, where trends skip with fleeting popularity, Furuya wishes to encapsulate the romanticism and traditions that have surrounded wine and winemaking since before the birth of Christ.
“Wine is not only about a sense of place,” he states, “but also about a sense of culture and heritage.”