Music and wine have long had an affinity for each other. I dare say that they also have many parallels as an art form and their ability to evoke emotion in the listener and taster alike. So it was natural that one of Hawai’i’s most talented and lauded musical artists would not only love wine but also create her own.
Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom is just now releasing her 17th album. She has more than 20 Na Hoku Hanohano awards to her credit and has been nominated for a Grammy Award five times over. And yet, she is one of the most down to earth and sincere artists I have had the pleasure to spend time with. She grew up on Maui and can trace her lineage back 200 years to the island of Moloka’i. She is deeply rooted and exudes the spirit of aloha and Hawai’i. Listening to her latest release, Remembering Napua, which is a tribute to her grandmother, Napua Wood, the beautiful traditional songs cradle my senses in airy hula refrains. She did not want to make a cult wine but to make it accessible. Her idea is for all people in Hawai’i to be able to enjoy her wine.
“I love wine!” she tells me. “I love Merlot – a lot!” The wine was a result of the meeting at a gig in Napa Valley between John Anthony Truchard, Ian White, James Langford and Amy. Hanaiali’i recalls the exact night when this idea sprang into being. “We had kanikapila (Hawaiian for “jam session”) until 5 a.m.” She agreed to make a “celebrity” wine but only if she was in it all the way.”Hanaiali’i knows what she likes. She doesn’t use the “wine-speak”vocabulary, but is clear when she says she likes the wine to be “fat,” “rich”and have “no bite.”
Amy is involved in every aspect of the wine and winemaking. She has the final say in the grapes, grape sourcing and the final blend. She points out that she knows when the blend is perfect “when it makes me cry.” I share this love of emotion in both music and wine with her. It is something almost ineffable but when you sense it, there is a movement in your heart that is no longer physical, it is emotional, maybe even perhaps spiritual in a way. “Take a sip of the wine, close your eyes, chill out and enjoy it.”And that’s exactly what I did.
I started with the 2015 Hanaiali‘i Chardonnay from Napa Valley, which is her first release of Chardonnay. It is sourced from pedigreed vineyards in Carneros. It has an intense and verbose aroma, wafting butterscotch, poached apples and pears, vanilla and clove spices with a round, fatty, buttery mouthfeel. It coats the palate with flavors and a long finish. If you like well-rounded and impactful Napa Valley Chardonnay (who doesn’t?), you must try this. Next came the 2014 Hanaiali‘i Napa Valley Merlot. This now her third vintage. “This fruit is a balance of our own farmed fruit from Davidson Ranch in St. Helena and Beckstoffer Grapes that we bought from two vineyards in Napa Valley that we love,” she says. “It’s a big, bold, Mab drinker’s Merlot.” And I would agree. It has dark and deep aromatics hinting at dark chocolate, vanilla and sandalwood spices along with dry plums and figs. It is well-structured for Merlot. This is not wimpy wine and definitely has the weight of Cabernet. Did I mention that the 2013 vintage received a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator and won Double Gold + Best in Class at East Meets West Wine Awards? Most impressive. I immediately thought of food when I tasted the Merlot—something grilled like a pulehu steak in the back yard with Amy’s musicplaying in the background. And watch out for Hanaiali‘i sparkling wine, which is set to be released before the end of this year.
Hanaiali‘i is serious about her music and her wine. She recently played to a crowd of more than 100,000 in Japan. The wine production has gone from 300 cases to more than 3,000 over three years. But she is always rooted in the spirit of Hawai‘i. The art on the label is a depiction of her wrist tattoo; a “growth” tattoo honoring both Hawaiian and Maori ancestral knowledge and wisdom. Once again for Hanaiali‘i, art and wine collide and luckily for us, that it is so accessible and that she makes it for everyone to share and enjoy.
by Roberto Viernes, Master Sommelier
photos courtesy JW Thomas Wines
photo courtesy Bob McClenahan, Visit Napa Valley