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Upcountry winery changes its name to MauiWine

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MauiWine President Paula Hegele, center, samples Syrah grapes with winemaker Brett Miller in Kula, Hawaii.

WAILUKU >> For 41 years, locals have known Upcountry’s winery as Tedeschi Vineyards or generically as "the Ulupalakua winery."

But now, it simply will be MauiWine, the Maui News reported.

"We’ve confused everybody," said MauiWine President Paula Hegele, chuckling.

Longtime residents and visitors to the island have referred to Maui’s only winery by different names. In 2000, Hegele decided to attach the tagline "Maui’s Winery" to some marketing and advertising pieces. In May, the transition to MauiWine began with an overhaul of the winery’s website. Signs at the winery later were changed.

Last week, the winery starting doing business under its new name, MauiWine.

Not only is the name changing, so is the logo. The MauiWine name appears with three leaf/flower petals and designs that represent the pineapple for the winery’s signature pineapple wines, Ulupalakua and its beauty and historical significance and the winery’s sustainable agriculture practices.

It will be at least a month before the new MauiWine logos and labels filter onto local supermarket shelves, Hegele said.

There are other changes. The winery is offering intimate tours of the vineyards — not the case in the beginning days of the winery — and upgrades to its historical Ulupalakua grounds as well as new varieties of its 100 percent Maui-made estate wines. The company also is putting a greater emphasis on its Maui clientele.

"Every raindrop, ray of light, wind and temperature change is imbedded into each wine grown here, wine is a reflection of place. The name MauiWine is honest, proud and exhilarating. It creates a deep connection to the land and people that craft our wines and the significance and beauty of Ulupalakua," Hegele said in a news release announcing the rebranding.

She told The Maui News that having the name "Maui" in the company’s name makes it easier to market around the world and on social media.

"What sells is Maui. This is Maui’s winery," Hegele said.

The company was established in 1974 as a partnership between C. Pardee Erdman, owner of Ulupalakua Ranch, and Emil Tedeschi, who came from a family of winemakers in Calistoga, Calif. In the late 1980s, Tedeschi left Maui to return to California, and the business was taken on by Hegele.

MauiWine grows its grapes on a 23-acre vineyard between the 1,650-foot and 1,900-foot elevation on Ulupalakua Ranch land. There are production and disgorging facilities and tasting rooms in historical buildings from the 1800s that once welcomed King David Kalakaua.

Its signature pineapple wines are made from 100 percent Maui Gold pineapples farmed by Haliimaile Pineapple Co. on old Maui Pine land.

The winery sees more than 100,000 visitors annually. Sometimes, 400 people would show up in the afternoons at the winery, as part of tours to and from Hana through the backside of Haleakala. The staff and the small, country destination could not handle the volume of visitors, who were not allowed enough time to enjoy the surroundings or do some wine tasting, Hegele said.

She felt the winery was failing to meet the expectations of its visitors. So, it recently changed its approach to guests. Currently, tours of more than 10 people may not stop at the winery without a reservation.

Hegele has spoken to the tour companies, which have been understanding and have talked about organizing more specialized tours with the winery. Visitors unable to stop on tours have shown up the next day with more time to enjoy the winery and its offerings, Hegele said. And the winery now can advertise its afternoon hours that the rush of tours had previously discouraged.

Visitors will also see another tasting room in the next couple of months. The current tasting room is in the King’s Cottage, the former retreat of King Kalakaua in the late 1800s.

The new tasting room is planned for the nearby building known as the Old Jail, also famous as the business office of Capt. James Makee, the former whaling captain in the mid-1800s who built Rose Ranch on which the buildings sit. The new tasting room will showcase the winery’s estate wines — the ones that are 100 percent made on Maui from grapes grown in Ulupalakua.

MauiWinery also is working to expand its offerings, giving customers the option to purchase by the glass or a food and wine pairing, Hegele said. Currently, the winery’s liquor license only gives it the option of wine sampling and selling bottles of wine but not serving wine to customers.

Overall, the pineapple wines are "by far" the best sellers, said Hegele. Some 250,000 bottles are produced annually. Hula o Maui, a sparkling pineapple wine which takes more effort to make, is very popular and in high demand.

"Pineapple wine (is) our reliable foundation," she said. "It’s shipped and sold around the world."

With grapes taking years to mature, the pineapple wines fill those voids because pineapples are always available, Hegele said. In fact, the pineapple wine, first released in 1977, originally was made as a bridge until the grapevines matured in the beginning of the vineyard and was considered a temporary operation.

There are three pineapple wines — the semi-dry Maui Blanc, the original pineapple wine; the sweet Maui Splash; and the sparkling Hula o Maui.

Last year, the winery used 800,000 pounds of Maui Gold pineapple, which staff members monitor in the fields. Sometimes, fruit that is not sellable can make good wine, Hegele said. The fruit is crushed and juiced at the winery.

In the Ulupalakua tasting room, the pineapple wines sell for $14 a bottle, with the sparkling version sold at $23 a bottle. The winery tries to keep the pineapple wine price reasonable to be able to market it around the world, Hegele said.

On the homefront, the winery is hoping to entice residents with its estate wines. The 100 percent Maui-made wines from Ulupalakua grapes stay on the island and may be purchased at the winery and at selected restaurants, Hegele said. The estate wines also have appeared at events, such as the Maui County Ag Festival, and at the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Maui Culinary Academy.

Prices of the estate wines, under the Ulupalakua Vineyards label, range from $20 to $40 a bottle at the winery.

Last year yielded a fine crop of grapes, from which several different estate wines have been produced, Hegele said. This year, the yield may not be as good. Tropical Storm Iselle in August toppled more than 100 trees that, in turn, damaged buildings, fences and water systems at Ulupalakua Ranch. The storm also damaged the grapevines.

While not releasing figures, Hegele said that profits have remained steady for the winery. A news release about MauiWine characterized it as a "multimillion-dollar company."

"We’ve always stayed pretty consistent," she said. "We sell everything we make. For us, it’s really been a matter how do you keep costs in line."

Annually, the winery produces around 24,000 cases, which contain 12 bottles of estate wine. The added variety of estate wines this year will help bring in additional revenues.

"As a winery, that’s a small number," Hegele said. MauiWine would be considered a "boutique winery."

"We will never be too much more than that," she added.

While the winery may tout its estate wines, it also offers blends, in which grapes from Maui and California are combined to produce wines unique to MauiWine.

The winery works with growers in California who process the grapes into an early stage of wine, Hegele said. That is then shipped to Maui, where Ulupalakua grapes are blended into the mix. Blending of wines is a not-so-uncommon practice of the industry, she said.

It is not true MauiWine is made off-island with Maui labels stuck on the bottles, Hegele said. The wines are made on Maui.

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