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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

The History Of Wine In The Islands

I have been reading about the history of wine for many years now, and its significance in many cultures, primarily European. The central role that wine plays in rituals, religious or otherwise, is unique as a beverage. The symbolism of life that the vine has in Western culture is also a recurring theme. The vines’ naissance, growth, struggles and ultimate flourishing to produce its fruit and thus wine can be an apt symbol of the human life.

But what significance does wine hold in island cultures? Or even our own modern/current culture in Hawaii?

Earliest accounts of alcohol to the Islands were brought by whalers and missionaries. Whalers brought rum and spirits mostly, but Christian missionaries brought the sacrament of wine. Wine, of course, was not produced in Hawaii in those days, so all of it had to be imported. What resembled wine most in the Pacific Islands was kava. It was used in many ancient rituals in the same fashion as wine, and is still used today. It exemplified a type of communion with another world of ancestors and gods, similar to the Judeo-Christian communion with Jesus and the event of the Last Supper.

Fast forward to modern-day Hawaii and wine is no longer just for Mass or saved for rituals. It is part of many families’ everyday lives. This has a lot to do with the influx of Western culture over the past 50 years. Hawaii’s Caucasian population not only brought their European food culture, but also their love for wine. Restaurants and hotels, of course, were the first to cater to the visitors with wine-friendly palates. Now it is almost impossible to enter any establishment that sells food for cooking or any restaurant without seeing wine on the shelves or on the table.

But in terms of wine culture, Hawaii is still in its infancy. Most adults in Hawaii did not grow up drinking wine or seeing it on the table. From my own experience growing up, it was much more common to see beer rather than wine at any party. But today’s generation of young adults was exposed to wine at a much earlier age. I often tell my wine friends that my son opened his first bottle of wine when he was 4 years old – and not just any bottle, but a bottle of 2000 La Tache. He smells everything I drink, but has never tasted any yet. Wine is becoming more of a grocery rather than a luxury.

And what does wine mean for the newest generation of people in Hawaii? Funny enough, it means the same as it has for many generations before them. It is embodies conviviality, shared passion, friendship, discussion, hedonism … love even. It also can exemplify affluence, luxury, exclusivity and fanaticism in its extreme. But what I hope most is that it brings enlightenment to those who share it – not so much in terms of reaching nirvana or some higher plane, but that it brings a bit of sunshine, happiness, soothing or perhaps a simple smile to our everyday lives when we get to drink the divine liquid that is wine.


Recommendations: 2005 Corte di Signori Amarone ($69) This wine is exceedingly polished for Amarone. It has this sleek texture backed up by loads of deep-blue and black fruits. Perfectly ripe and thick, but somehow it doesn’t overdo it. 2007 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard ($199) OK, this is expensive, but this is reference standard when it comes to classic Napa Cabs. It has everything: huge fruit, thickness, good use of oak and a stupendous finish. This wine will repay cellaring for 20 years or more and will only appreciate in value. Absolutely gorgeous!

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