Excitement is already bubbling over for the inaugural Wailea Wine & Food Festival to be uncorked Dec. 6 to 9 at Wailea resorts and restaurants.
From the "wine encounters" that are more like cocktail parties than educational seminars to the over-the-top winemaker dinners to the DaVine gala and the casual Grillin' 'n' Chillin barbecue, there should be something for everyone.
You may purchase tickets a la carte or in packages, and some resorts will offer special room rates for attendees. Here's a rundown of what's in store.
Grand Wailea’s Reflection Pool will set the stage for the gala Saturday, Dec. 8.
WAILEA RESORT ASSOCIATION photo
First two days explored
Those who buy the multi-day passes are invited to the VIP Opening Reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, under the stars at the Palm Court of the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui in Wailea.
"We've just uncrated 2,000 wine glasses and we're feeling the crunch now to put it all together," says Tylun Pang, executive chef of Fairmont, a mastermind at throwing these types of elaborate parties. "It's getting really exciting now."
Festival at a glance:
* Thursday, Dec. 6: VIP Opening Reception at Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui. Multi-day pass holders only.
* Friday, Dec. 7: Fairmont will also present the wine encounters Pinot Passion and What's New, Next and Trendy in California? and the Kistler Vineyards dinner. Longhi's Wailea will host Justin Wine dinner.
* Saturday, Dec. 8: Four Seasons Resort Maui will take over the day with Escape to Italy in Eight Glasses; and Three Decades of Cabernet Vertical Tasting. Grand Wailea will set the stage with DaVine Experience gala from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
* Sunday, Dec. 9: Wailea Beach Marriott will host Wine & Cheese the Perfect Pairing; and Grillin' 'n' Chillin'. That evening, Capische? and Nick's Fishmarket will do wine dinners.
* For tickets: Visit www.waileawineandfoodfestival.com.
Pang says they are expecting hundreds of wine lovers for the reception and will put chef and wine stations around the perimeter, under the swaying palm trees.
"It will be a walk-about affair with high tops," he says. "And, each restaurant will bring a server to pass around the food as an added touch, for those who prefer their food brought to them."
Six wine stations will be interspersed with eight food booths and so it will be easy to mingle with famous winemakers, master sommeliers and culinary artists as you sip and savor flavors.
Chat up festival artist Taryn Alessandro as she signs giveaway posters. Listen to the duo Kaniala Masoe and Steve Repollo. Sip wines. Dine on Fairmont award-winning cuisine from its K? restaurant, inspired by Maui's colorful plantation era.
"We'll feature ama ebi (sweet shrimp) from the channel waters between Maui and Molokai, served with Kula Ali'i Lavender Farm honey and candied macadamia nuts," says Pang.
Other participating restaurants will be DUO Steak & Seafood and Spago from Four Seasons Resort Maui; Longhi's Wailea of Shops at Wailea; Mala Wailea; Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa; Capische? from Hotel Wailea; and Nick's Fishmarket from Fairmont.
Menu highlights will be beef crudo with micro basil; lobster cannelloni; seafood sausage of lobster, tiger shrimp, scallops and more; spicy ahi tuna poke in sesame-miso cones; Surfing Goat Dairy cheese bruschetta on flax-seed toast; and beef carpaccio with fresh horseradish.
While the festival will move from hotel to hotel during its four fun-filled days and nights, the Fairmont will continue to stay in the spotlight through Friday, Dec. 7 with two wine encounters during the day and a gourmet dinner at night.
"Designed for the wine enthusiast, these encounters are seminar-style tastings that will ignite your imagination," says festival director Bud Pikrone, who also wears the hat of general manager for the Wailea Resort Association.
"But we'll do it differently, in that we'll set up tables in chevron half-circle seatings facing high tops, where the winemakers sit, and you can chat, like at a cocktail party. Sip and savor the varietals as you delve into the history, cultures and science behind the many flavors with visiting winemakers and sommeliers."
The first wine encounter will be Pinot Passion, "a dazzling display and tasting of the most passionate pinots today," says Pikrone. From 10:30 a.m. to noon, taste pinot noirs from Patz and Hall, Pisoni, Brewer Clifton, Foxen, Martinello Family, Kistler and Tyler Winery.
Also Dec. 7, "What's New, Next & Trendy in California Wine" will flow from 1:30 to 3 p.m. with insider tips on what is cutting edge in California. Enjoy listening to experts and tasting Gordian Knot, Palmina, Ryme Cellars, Shypoke, Wind Gap, Carlisle, Copaine Cellars and Ehlers Estate wines. Eight sommeliers will appear as panelists throughout the festival.
"A lot of the wines for the encounters are really unusual," says Geoff Kruth, master sommelier, festival consultant and cohost along with Master Sommelier Fred Dame. "The grape varieties are different from what is typical. You'll get to experience Nebioli, Mouvedre, Blaufrankisch and more."
But Fairmont's piece de resistance will be its winemaker dinner, entitled simply, "Where East Meets West." The name is the only simple thing about it.
"The evening will begin at 7 p.m., Friday Dec. 7 with a Laurent-Perrier Champagne reception at the Palm Court fountain terrace," says Megan Haertling, Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui's director of public relations.
"Once seated under hanging lanterns, you may listen to local harpist, Kristine Snyder, play as winemakers from Kistler Vineyards, a small northern California family-run winery, will speak about the wine selections as they circulate around to the tables."
Chef Pang and his culinary team have created a six-course feast with items that include succulent meat from the huge Samoan crabs from the He'eia Fishpond on Oahu. Pang's nephew, Kealoha Domingo, helps out there in the foothills of the Koolau Mountains, perpetuating Hawaiian culture, and that's how he sourced the crab.
"The fishpond was recently restored and the crabs aren't even on the market yet," says Pang. "They are the perfect amuse bouche, because they not only amuse your palate, but they amuse you with their story.
"All of the food at the dinner will tie into the culture, just like it does at Ko. It will not only be good food, but it will tell a story, too."
The meat from the He'eia Samoan crab will be pulled from its shell and made into an amuse tasting dish with Hana ahi from the backside of Maui, served with hot black lava salt from Nancy Gomes on Molokai, and drizzled with yuzu, tobiko caviar and shiso shavings.
Other menu highlights are wok-seared Kona kampachi with Kula tomato, scallions and micro cilantro; Molokai ama ebi potsticker with upcountry spinach, garlic chip and ebi essence; Pulehu-style Maui Cattle Co. beef tenderloin with coconut sweet potato, ko choo jang vinaigrette and sesame choi sum. The intermezzo will be kalamansi granite and dessert will be hibiscus tea-poached Asian pear with candied ginger and honey ice cream.
"Everyone will receive a special gift to take home," says Haertling. "We are offering a winemaker dinner for two and one-bedroom suite packages at www.fairmont.com/kealani and click on 'Offers.' "
But for tickets to the rest of the fest, look at the box at right for details.
Longhi's Wailea in the Shops at Wailea will also host the Justin Wine Dinner at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, with five stellar courses, including chanterelle mushroom ravioli with Italian gorgonzola, grilled veal chop and more.
Weekend wine event lineup
On Saturday, Dec. 8, the wine encounters will move to the Four Seasons Resort Maui and the evening gala will kick off at the Grand Wailea.
Escape to Italy in Eight Glasses will be a lively affair held from 10:30 a.m. to noon; and Three Decades of Cabernet Vertical Tasting will be a rare, not-to-be-missed sampling from 1:30 to 3 p.m.
"For the Italian one, we'll feature Shelley Lindgren, who owns the hot A16 and SPQR restaurants in San Francisco," says Kruth. "For the vertical event, we'll bring in three very different, yet classic, Napa Valley producers Duckhorn, Charles Krug and Freemark Abbey."
DaVine Experience at Grand Wailea will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Reflection Pool, which Pikrone says "will be like a journey."
"Chef Bev Gannon will be featured at the top of the pools with Capische? Chef Brian Etheredge doing pupu. Then you stroll down to where two food booths are on either side of the pools with cuisine by Alan Wong's Amasia and Ko on one side and DUO and Nick's Fishmarket's cuisine on the other side. Desserts will be served all the way down at the adult swimming pool."
Saturday's music will be Slam with Jay Molina as well as Soul Congress with Clay Mortensen. Kruth adds that 75 wines will be poured.
On Sunday, Dec. 9, the Wailea Beach Marriott will take the helm with Wine & Cheese: The Perfect Pairing from 10:30 a.m. to noon; followed by the grand finale on the oceanfront lawn there of Grillin' 'n' Chillin,' Where There's Smoke, There's Wine from 1 to 4 p.m.
"Sunday is going to be great for kamaaina," Pikrone says. "All of the entertainment is local, such as Hi-Groove with Brado and Kawika Ortiz. It'll be upbeat, rockin', slippahs and shorts by the beach fun -where Saturday is more of a gala dress up kind of thing."
"Chill out under the shade trees with our sommeliers, settle down under an umbrella with the winemakers, take a break at one of our picnic tables and enjoy the aroma of what's cooking on our grills."
Monkeypod Kitchen will do bulgogi pork tacos; Capische?, Tuscan grilled hanger steak; Mulligan's, grilled Guinness-infused Irish sausage; Tommy Bahama, Caribbean-spiced grilled ahi; and Wailea Beach Marriott, mauka-makai beef and seafood sliders. Sunday evening wine dinners will be at Capische? and Nick's Fishmarket.