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Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, oldest in the country, celebrates its 34th year

By Staff | May 28, 2015

The Montage Kapalua Bay is the location for the Grand Tasting at the 34th Kapalua Wine & Food Festival on June 12. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KAPALUA WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL.

KAPALUA – The 34th annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival kicks off at The Ritz-Carlton and the Montage Kapalua Bay on June 12-14. Over the weekend, there will be six wine seminars, two cooking demonstrations, a golf tournament, the Grand Tasting, and the Seafood Festival featuring wines from all over the world, with food prepared by 21 of Maui’s best chefs, including “Top Chef” finalist Sheldon Simeon of Migrant Maui restaurant, Mark Ellman of Mala/Honu/Frida’s, Greg Harrison of Morimoto Maui and Gemsley Balagso of Star Noodle, to name a few.

Michael Jordan and Churk Furuya are the Master Sommeliers for this year’s festival. Jordan’s father was legendary restaurateur Matty “Matteo” Jordan, who opened Matteo’s in Waikiki in 1969.

“I grew up in Honolulu and started to work as a dishwasher and prep cook at 11, and worked my way up to chef of Matteo’s. Then went to Kapiolani Community College in the same food service management classes as Alan Wong in 1977,” he said.

His father was from Hoboken, N.J., and was best friends with Frank Sinatra from childhood. Old Blue Eyes’ put his father in all of his movies, and he served six U.S. presidents. Michael has served three.

Beginning in 1982, when Michael left for the Mainland, he opened four top Southern California restaurants. Then he went to work as the global manager of wine sales and standards and wine education for Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide. Currently, he is the director of global key accounts for Jackson Family Fine Wines. He is one of only 15 people in the world to hold a Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as a Certified Wine Educator diploma from the Society of Wine Educators.

Master Sommelier Michael Jordan is one of only 15 people in the world to hold a Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as a Certified Wine Educator diploma from the Society of Wine Educators. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KAPALUA WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL.

I asked him, besides great winemakers, what does he look for in the wine seminar leaders? “We want to bring really cool, very nice, engaging people who want to share their wines. We need to entertain our guests. We want people you want to hang out with. No snobs. I don’t want a 100-point winemaker who I don’t want to hang out with. We are looking for fun, funny, cool and engaging people who also make great wine. This festival is about making friends, drinking great wine and eating the best food,” he explained.

“I am an ambassador of flavor. It’s about the guests really meeting with the winemakers and chefs and making friends. It’s what is so special about this festival. It’s why it is the favorite of all the festivals I do.”

The most popular events are the Grand Tasting, which will again be held at the Montage Kapalua Bay on Friday, June 12, on the grounds of where it all began 34 years ago; and the Seafood Festival at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Sunday, June 14.

The cooking demonstrations are also very popular. On Saturday, Super Chef Charlie Palmer – whose Aureole Restaurant is one of New York’s best, and who recently took over the restaurant management of the newly reopened Knickerbocker Hotel at 42nd Street and Times Square – will lead a demonstration of his signature progressive American cooking that will be coupled with Groom Wines by Winemaker Daryl Grooms.

On Sunday, Celebrity Chef Michael Mina, who, with his partner, tennis great Andre Agassi, established 20 concept restaurants and received numerous awards, including being inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America” in 2013, will conduct a cooking demonstration. Rob Bigelow, Master Sommelier, and Dan Kosta, winemaker, who hand-selected pairings from Saint Michelle Wine Estates and Kosta Brown Winery, will join him.

The Seafood Festival on Sunday is the culmination of the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. where the food becomes edible art. PHOTO BY PAUL JANES-BROWN.

But the meat and potatoes of this festival, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor, are the wine seminars and tastings. This year, they start off with a bang! Along with the increase in health-conscious eating has come the rise of pinot noir, which goes with poultry and fish such as salmon and ahi.

In America, the premiere area for pinots is the Willamette Valley in Oregon. On Friday, there will be five valley wineries presenting some of the best pinots in America. Jordan waxed poetic about Eugenia Keegan’s Gran Moraine, saying, “The 2013 vintage is as close to a perfect wine as I have ever seen.”

The other Friday seminar is about great wines made by women. Jordan said, “This is the fourth women in wine panel honoring women winemakers. I want it to be an annual part of the festival. Women are some of the greatest winemakers I have ever met and make some of the best wines.”

Saturday’s first seminar will be on America’s oldest wine, zinfandel. Focusing on old vines and heritage grape selections, this seminar is for the lovers of this most American variety.

The afternoon seminar will focus on the young new winemakers who work in the hills and colder areas between Santa Barbara County and Anderson Valley. These so-called “young Turks” are forging a new era in winemaking, and four of the most adventurous will be present to titillate the palates of the attendees.

Sunday is when the guests can find out whether there is life after sports. Two athletes, former quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers Vince Ferragamo, and Rich Aurilia, who spent most of his baseball career with the San Francisco Giants and had a lifetime .275 batting average, hit 186 home runs and batted in 758 runs, have become winemakers and will host a seminar and tasting.

Jordan told me about a happening that isn’t on the schedule. After the Grand Tasting on Friday, in the Alaloa Lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, he and several of the winemakers – including Jeff Gargiulo, Fred Scherrer and Michael Eldred – will gather for a real kanikapila. He guarantees it will be a great time.

For more information, and to purchase tickets for any and all events, go to www.kapaluawineandfoodfestival.com.