The Maui Wine and Food Festival bills itself as the longest continuous Food and Wine Festival in the country (first started in 1981). The Kapalua Wine Society, a non-profit, founded the festival to educate and foster an appreciation of Hawaii’s products, chefs, and resorts. People flock to the festival hosted by the Montage Kapalua Bay and Ritz Carlton to attend seminars on fine wine, cooking demonstrations and for a chance to peruse the tasting tent featuring the best chefs on Maui.
The year I attended, I was fortunate enough to be there during the fortieth anniversary of the Paris Blind Tasting of 1976. Master Sommeliers Michael Jordan and Rob Bigelow gathered some of the original competitors from that competition to present. In the competition, Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey, and Marcus Notaro of Stag’s Leap were among those vineyards.
Even though the seminar’s topic was to be a ten-year retrospective with young wines compared to vintage, the discussion did momentarily sidetrack to the anniversary of the Paris blind tasting. It was such a critical point in wine history that it still affects how American wine is viewed today. Fred Scherrer of Scherrer Vineyards gave a great talk on the complexities, care, and artistry he and others put into their work. I have to admit that Fred’s Cab was some of the best served that day.
The Grand Food Tasting featured eleven local chefs such as Mark Ellman (Fridas, Honu, Malo), Greg Harrison (Morimoto), Jin Hosono (Japengo), Cameron Lewark (Spago Maui), and Bret Pafford (Gannon’s). The event was dominated by fresh local seafood, though it’s worth mentioning that Hawaii has worked very hard at becoming food independently in the last few decades. The variety of these foods includes produce and fruit and sustainable fish and shellfish such as shrimp, oysters, abalone, Kampachi (Yellowtail), and Tilapia.
I went to the Surfing Goat Dairy and the Maui Chocolate Farm in Haiku, which also grows its own vanilla beans, during my visit. Gone are the days when hotel and resort chefs had to wait for shipments from the east to fill their pantries. Some of the items offered during the Grand Tasting were:
Japengo’s Seared Kampachi
Burger Shack’s Pulled Pork Triple Cream Brie Sliders with thinly sliced jalapeños and celery root slaw.
Spago’s Ahi Tuna Cones and Lobster and Corn Agnolotti
Cane and Canoe’s Opakapaka Ceviche (Maui Gold Pineapple, papaya puree, local avocado, Molokai potato chip)
Ora King’s Salmon Tataki with apple-kiwi chutney and mint-cucumber puree
Sushi Bar’s Maguro (Bluefin Tuna) Sushi
Plantation House Seared Shrimp Gumbo
Oceanside’s Seared Scallop with Hineksa’ Aga’ga’
While informative and beautifully done, the Maui Wine and Food Festival is priced for the upper echelon of food festival travel. If you can afford it, staying at the Montage or the Ritz is a wonderful experience. The golf course (and conjunctive festival golf tournament), home of the PGA Tournament of Champions, is spectacular. The amenities offered by either of these world-class resorts are impressive. However, you can minimize the expense and still enjoy the show by being smart about housing and food. Instead of staying at the resorts themselves, look into renting a private condo at the Montage thorough VRBO. There are dozens of privately owned condos within or nearby the resorts that are very reasonably priced.
Pick the classes and seminars you most want to see. A VIP pass is great, but some topics and discussions are geared more for industry insiders and not necessarily the casual festival-goer.
Hitting up the Maui Costco in Kahului near the airport can help with staples such as eggs, milk, cereal, and even 4-5 flavors of poke for the gaps before and in-between wine and food tastings. There are great coffee shops on the resort grounds, but try The Coffee Store in Napili if you would like a more local flair. Several local coffees are available to try, and the pastries and healthy breakfasts are some of the best I had during my stay. This festival may not exactly be for the budget-minded, but with a little effort, you can enjoy your stay without burning up your bank account.