Saying goodbye to San Francisco also meant saying goodbye to a lot of great natural wine opportunities. The question at that point was: is there any natural wine in Hawaii?
The answer was - yes, there is. There is something more than a restaurant serving natural wine and something less than a winery on a hill. Something in between - a winery without a vineyard, but with a tasting room. This is OENO Winemaking.
Located in Kailua, a town on the eastern coast of Oahu and not far from Honolulu, OENO Winemaking isn’t an exclusive place surrounded by nature as opposed to a standard winery, but it does exactly what it says on the tin: taste the wine, buy the wine, make your own wine, that’s about it. No frills, but commitment and passion for wine.
How does a winery like this work? Wine travels and to be honest this may also be why I love wine so much. Wine is not afraid to get on a plane and make itself known in different parts of the world. OENO worked out that maybe grape juice also likes travelling, before transforming into the alcoholic liquid that then gets to jet set around the world. So they solved part of the problem here - they made the must travel to them, in order for local wine enthusiasts to experience the joy of winemaking and then be able to take a bottle of wine home directly from the lab. OENO mainly works with cooperatives and makes sure to import must that comes from sustainable vineyards, to then produce low intervention wines, which is always a plus from a natural wine lover’s point of view.
When we entered the industrial space through a door marked “OENO Winemaking” we landed in the most scenic part of the tasting room / wine lab. Artistically decorated, lots of glass jars and vats, bottles here and there, a few tables for tasting and very friendly staff who made us feel at home. The tasting was very well structured and entertaining, we got to sample a variety of their naturally produced wines made from grapes coming from different parts of the world, some of which were unique blends.
From left to right: Sauvignon Blanc based coconut "sangria" (surprising but delicate), "Mystification" (very pale, floral, complex blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc), red wine from Nebbiolo grapes (still achieving a light floral and tar aroma, very easy drinking). Overall, all wines tasted really fresh and vibrant while easy drinking. Still, not for the faint-hearted-wine-snob! If you open your mind and heart, you will enjoy what OENO has to offer.
They also make their own “chilli water”, which we had the pleasure to taste and set our mouths on fire for around 10 minutes. It’s like a chilli vinegar that you can use as a condiment. I personally loved it and would recommend it to anyone who likes spicy food.
What most impressed me about this wine lab is the passion that was put in it and the willingness to make dreams come true. The winemaking scene is very limited in Hawaii, with vineyards mainly concentrated on the volcanic mountains for elevation. So what if someone local loved wine and wanted to make their own? Would they have to fly to and from California back and forth? The response from OENO is: “no, they can make it right here”. OENO Winemaking pursued a passion and made something incredible happen. I raise my glass to that.