They make wine at home,By Betty Shimabukuro
and they're good at it, too
Imagine, if you will, a wine connoisseur. Pull up every preconceived notion, every stereotype stored in your brain, and draw a mental picture. What did you get? Probably a resemblance of the well-dressed individual who poured the wine last time you visited a fine-dining establishment.
Now throw out that thought. Imagine, instead, Frank Pawlowski, a broad-shouldered weightlifter who repairs auto bodies and shaves his head for special occasions real or imagined, sometimes just to mystify his wife.
Pawlowski is perhaps the islands' finest maker of wines in the flavors of starfruit, lilikoi, strawberry guava, mango and other tropical fruits. As president of the Hawaiian Wine Circle, he leads a surge in the making of homemade wines. A surge in the sense that, while home winemakers remain a small group, the quality of their wines is remarkable.
And you don't have to take their word for it.
The wine circle's spiritual advisor is Chuck Furuya, Hawaii's only master sommelier, a man with an impeccable palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of the craft. For several years he has judged the group's annual winemaking contest.
"I thought most of the wines were fabulous," Furuya said after this year's judging, held last week. "I loved all of the different fruit. I loved the handcraftedness of the wines. I love the passion of the group. ... It's remarkable, the awareness of quality now."
Grand-prize winner was Pawlowski, for a semi-dry strawberry-guava wine. He also took top prize in the sweet category for a starfruit wine.
Comments from the judge on the starfruit: "It represents the greatest feat of winemaking because of how effortlessly it holds its sweetness. That effortlessness -- it's magical to me."
That said, understand you can't buy these wines. The law prohibits that. The only way to taste them is to attend a meeting of the wine circle or perhaps receive a bottle as a gift.
Pawlowski made 150 gallons last year and gave most of it away or poured it at club functions.
"When something comes out good and you share it with people -- you really really feel good when they tell you, 'Wow, that was nice.' "
This hobby is a lifestyle focus for Pawlowski. He also gardens (to grow fruit for his wine) and hikes (to pick fruit for his wines). He owns an extra freezer (to keep fruits for wine-making in the off-season).
By extension, this pursuit has crept into the life of his wife, Roseann, who doesn't make wine but serves as secretary of the club and, as she puts it, "fruit-cutter and bottle-washer" for the home enterprise.
The two got into this eight years ago while trying to find a use for the mangoes from three prolific trees in their Mililani back yard. Up until then, Pawlowski was a beer drinker.
His first batch was 10 gallons of mango wine. "It was wine, nothing fantastic. The main thing is, I made it myself."
An obsession was born.
Winemaking is relatively easy and relatively cheap, Pawlowski says. "Unlike brewing beer, if you can pick the fruit or know someone who can give it to you, you don't have to spend the money to buy the ingredients."
In fact, one convert is Mark Scheitlin of Oahu Homebrew Supply, a beer brewer who took up wine-making when he realized it wasn't as complicated as he'd imagined.
"I had the impression that you had to get good grapes and live in California," Scheitlin says. "Once I saw how easy it was, I decided to give it a shot."
Scheitlin, by the way, can outfit a beginning wine-maker in all the equipment -- buckets, corks, spigots, hydrometer for measuring alcohol content, etc. -- for a little more than $100.
It's using kits to make grape wines, rather than picking your own fruit, that grows expensive. Kits sell for $45 to $75 each.
Tropical fruit wines generally run sweet; even the "dry" types are on the sweet side, but when made well they are balanced and smooth, not sugary. They run from white to rose and come in the flavors of mountain apple, gooseberry, lychee, Java plum, soursop, banana, Surinam cherry, even chile pepper, tomato and ginger.
Pawlowski says his best wine so far was of panini, or Hawaiian cactus, made with 100 pounds of fruit carried back from Maui. "It was a fantastic wine. The color -- it was, like, glowing."
To get the fruit, though, was a painstaking -- and painful -- process of negotiating the long needles of the plant and the splinter-like bristles of the fruit. "You wear rubber gloves, tape up your long sleeves and you have to wear goggles to protect your eyes. If it's windy you don't even try."
But he and his son did the deed, for the wine. "I spend the whole night with tweezers picking little needles out of him and my son," Roseann Pawlowski remembers.
Procuring and preparing fruit is perhaps the one labor-intensive thing about home winemaking. It takes about 3 pounds per gallon. But once you've got it mixed with the yeast, sugar and other ingredients, the science of fermentation does the rest.
As the solids settle, the liquid is siphoned out, or "racked" several times until a clear wine remains. Then comes bottling and aging. The process takes five or six months, longer with some fruits.
Eno Plumley, past president ("many times") of the wine circle, says the important thing is to go at this without fear. "What it if doesn't come out? So what? If it's good, you know you have 5 gallons of good wine." If it's bad, it cost you the time spent preparing the fruit that hopefully you got for free, Plumley says. And you move on to the next batch.
His wife, Helen, who won two prizes in this year's competition, says there aren't a lot of ways to go wrong, except that you don't make wine from papaya (she tried).
In the powerless week after Hurricane Iwa in 1982, she made a wine with all the thawing fruit in her freezer: banana, mango, lilikoi and more. Called it Hurricane Wine. "We just put them all together because it wouldn't keep. It was delicious."
Join the club: The Hawaiian Wine Circle meets the first Saturday of each month at various locations. Call Frank Pawlowski, 625-4827.
Take a class: 11 a.m. Saturday, Oahu Homebrew Supply, 856 Ilaniwai St., Kakaako. Call 596-BREW. Classes taught by Ray Mitrulevich of the wine circle through the year, more frequently during summer fruit season.
Winners of the Hawaiian Wine Circle's annual competition:
DRY1st: Lilikoi, Bob Cramer
2nd: Soursop, Bob Cramer
3rd: Sweetsop, Bob Cramer
SEMI-DRY1st: Strawberry guava, Frank Pawlowski
2nd: Surinam cherry, Ray Mitrulevich
3rd: Gooseberry, Ray Mitrulevich
SWEET1st: Starfruit, Frank Pawlowski
2nd: Mango-banana, Helen Plumley
3rd: Mango, Helen Plumley
Click for online
calendars and events.