VOLCANO WINERY
David Jordan  /  AP
The entrance to the Volcano Winery next to Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park is shown Tuesday, April 5, 2005. Volcano Winery, the youngest and smallest in the state, is a cluster of wood buildings sitting at the 4,000-foot level on the slopes of the active Kilauea volcano.
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Serious wine connoisseurs may devote entire vacations to tasting tours of the Napa Valley vineyards or European enclaves, but wine-tasting in Hawaii is as laid back as a day at the beach.

It's not exactly a tour, but Maui and the Big Island both have wineries that welcome visitors -the Volcano Winery, which bills itself as the nation's southernmost winery, and Tedeschi Vineyards, which features a 130-year-old cottage once used by a Hawaiian king.

And you don't have to be a learned oenophile to enjoy your visit.

"A lot of people don't have any expectations. We can offer suggestions, but we don't want people to feel they have to know anything about wine. We want them to relax and have a good time," said Suzy Stout, marketing manager for Volcano Winery on the Big Island. "We really want our visitors to feel welcome and take home the aloha."

Running a vineyard in Hawaii poses some unique challenges, such as adapting cultivation techniques to the climate, higher costs for importing supplies from the mainland, and few workers with vineyard experience. But the setting has also inspired the winemakers to incorporate local ingredients not typically found in wines - like pineapple and macadamia nut honey - into some of their products.

Volcano Winery, which was founded 15 years ago, is adjacent to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and surrounded by the Volcano Golf Course. The cluster of wood buildings sits at the 4,000-foot (1,200-meter) level on the slopes of the active Kilauea volcano.

The main building, which looks out over the vines and onto the golf course, houses the gift shop and tasting counters.

Paintings, jewelry, hand-carved koa wood pieces and Kona coffee are offered along with a chance to taste the wines.

Slideshow: Polynesian paradise Four of the six have won awards. The Symphony Mele, a sweet white wine, beat out 3,000 others for the gold medal at the 2004 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition last year in New York.

More than 40,000 people visit the winery each year and many tell Stout they are repeat visitors or have been sent by friends.

Keeping it small and friendly is the key, Stout said. "That's part of the appeal. It's very yin-yang around here. This is something that couldn't happen on the mainland."

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Among the employees is Tim Kenny, a New Jersey native with a chemistry degree. In the cold, barn-like vat room, Kenny produces more than 70,000 bottles of wine, or 6,000 cases, each year. Much of the work is done by hand, from adding the ingredients to transferring the wines among the 500-gallon stainless steel vats.

The most high-tech piece of equipment is the labeling machine, which can take only six bottles at a time.

"Nothing is automated," Kenny said. "It keeps us really close to the product and it makes it most satisfying when I hear good comments."

On Maui, the Tedeschi Vineyards produce nearly 30,000 cases of wine, including several using Maui-grown pineapple. Tedeschi produces three sparkling wines and six still wines.

The winery is situated in Ulupalakua, at the base of Haleakala Volcano, on land previously used for growing sugar and later raising cattle.

The Kalakaua Cottage, built in 1874 for King Kalakaua, now is used as the tasting room and features an 18-foot-long (5.4-meter-long) bar crafted from a single mango tree.

Despite its idyllic surrounding, Tedeschi's president, Paula Hegele, said winemaking "isn't an easy industry here, but it gives us a chance to do some diversification and put our product in a bottle. It's certainly a lot more complicated."

For example, she said costs are higher for land, water, shipping and supplies. Also, few agriculture workers are experienced in caring for vineyards.

"It's like we're lone rangers out here," Hegele said. "We really are trailblazers. There's no history (of winemaking) here."

The process is almost backward, she said, starting with an idea for a wine and backtracking to find what works best with the Hawaii weather, insects and diseases.

Through experimentation, both wineries have refined their products and continue to develop new ones.

Tedeschi's 23 acres (9.2 hectares) are planted mostly with Carnelian grapes, although Hegele said other varieties have been introduced in the last six years.

At Volcano, attempts were made to produce wine with passion fruit, starfruit, honey and even the lehua blossom, but eventually the winery settled on the Symphony grape, a cross of Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria named for its harmonic overtones.

It is grown on several of the vineyard's 14 acres (5.6 hectares), although the winery imports a Symphony concentrate from California to supplement its own harvest.

"It's been very challenging, of course," Stout said.

Among Volcano's six wines are two all-grape versions and three fruit blends. The guava and jaboticaba, or Brazilian grape, are grown locally. For the macadamia nut honey wine, bees introduce the macadamia nut flavor from the orchards into the honey produced in the hives.

"Using local island fruits gives us a real different twist," Stout said.

Some 3,000 wineries are scattered across the country and just 50 produce the majority of wine. Hawaii's two vineyards, however, don't feel the need to tackle the national marketplace.

"People don't come here for the greatest wine they have ever tasted. It's just unique," Stout said. "So we don't need to compete with Napa Valley."

If You Go:

VOLCANO WINERY: Located on the Big Island near the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; http://www.volcanowinery.com/ or (808) 967-7772. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with free wine-tasting.

TEDESCHI VINEYARDS: Located on Maui about an hour's drive from the resort areas of Wailea and Ka'anapali; http://www.mauiwine.com/ or (877) 878-6058 if you are already in the United States or Canada. Kalakaua Cottage Tasting Room is open daily, except for major holidays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free tours of the grounds and winery operation are given at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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