by Jen Reyneri

I landed on the glorious island of Maui the same weekend as the 25th annual Kapalua Wine Fest. The event, founded by Robert Mondavi, was a welcomed detour on a ten-day sand-filled holiday while visiting a friend. After meeting lovers of the juice from all parts of the globe, I left Maui with not only a suntan, but new friends and new favorite wines.

The weekend’s festivities at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua’s Pavilion included reserve tastings, demonstrations by culinary wizard Julian Serrano, and seminars conducted by master sommeliers including Fred Dame, John Blazon, Rob Bigelow and Robert Smith from the Bellagio. The last two both work with my husband in my hometown of Las Vegas.

I was fortunate enough to attend the festival at the culmination of the weekend—the seafood fest. This was unlike any wine event I’ve attended globally; the pretense was gone and the island spirit was in full swing. After all, it is Maui. No black ties, evening gowns or suits here—they’d been replaced by tropical Tommy Bahama shirts, sundresses and of course slippahs (flip-flops for us mainlanders).

The experience was unforgettable. Top restaurants of the island including Chez Paul, Lahaina Grill, and the Ritz Carlton’s own served samplings of their finest island fare accompanied by wine distributors offering a potpourri of worldly selections. Armed with only a wine glass and my digital SLR, I frolicked around the pavilion making friends, sipping, snapping photos and savoring unique seafood dishes.

The Hawaiian bands were captivating even without a typical Hawaiian song on their playlist; I guess Bob Marley translates at any island event. The only addition that could have made this event more spectacular was the company of my husband, a true island shirt fan and master sommelier candidate himself. This time, he was home with our son and as a “good wife,” I must report my discoveries.

The crowd was mixed with locals, Australians, Japanese and haoles (locals’ word for pale U.S. mainlanders). The food tables seemed unending and wine selections were slightly overwhelming without my wine-fest tasting partner, so I began to take an informal poll of guests as to the best foods, ensuring my taste buds would savor the finest culinary offerings. I’d make my own wine selections based on the flavors of the top ranked foods.

First stop, a runner up in my informal poll… the culinary school’s Asian inspired opakapaka, a light and flaky pink snapper native to these waters, perfect with the Alsacian pinot blanc from Josmeyer. Chez Paul had run out of their first batch of parchment paper opaka by 7:00 pm, and when the second serving emerged, I was in line to sample this soft and delicate white fish baked in Niçoise olives, capers and lemon butter sauce which steamed like the active volcano when the sealed parchment paper was broken.

By far the star of my tasting poll was the Ritz Carlton’s scallop dish—truly a euphoric symphony of flavors. The teriyaki butter scallop was perched atop a tofu-taro root flan which was the color of a certain periwinkle island flower and topped with a tempura Maui onion. The Incognito viognier from Lodi was the perfect accompaniment. I went back for seconds and soux chef Michael posed while signing a shaka. I believe us haoles would call it the hang-loose sign.

My most unusual discovery of the evening, with the exception of the Hawaiian band playing Santana’s Black Magic Woman, was Oroya, a light blend of three Spanish varietals from Frexienet, designed to be the perfect accompaniment for sushi. Though the wine was unimpressive, the marketing behind it is a winner; the buzz of the evening may have been this bottle.

Kim Kessler, the director of public relations for the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, said “We were thrilled with the success of the Kapalua Food & Wine Festival this year, from the top chefs and sommeliers to the high volume of guests.”

As the sun set and the crowd let loose…the twinkling lights illuminated the swaying palms and the pathway to the pavilion became a dance floor for white-footed haoles in slippahs trying not to spill the last drops of their favorite juice while grooving to the Hawaiian cover of Jimmy Buffet’s It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere. Like I said,—it is Maui. Aloha, brah.

* * * *

About the Author:

Jen Reyneri is a photojournalist. View her portfolio and contact her at