Those of us fortunate to call Maui home are well acquainted with the island’s rich agricultural heritage that continues today. Visitors, on the other hand, see phrases like “farm to table” and “locally sourced” on restaurant menus, and many, I’m certain, would like an opportunity to see some of these farms up close and personal, but haven’t the foggiest where to begin. Enter Rick and Marilyn Jansen Lopes’s Maui Country Farm Tours.
My gal pal Janet is a huge fan of made on Maui products, so it was a no-brainer to invite her to accompany me on Rick and Marilyn’s Upcountry Farm & Photo Tour ($160 per person). It’s drizzling a bit as we board their little bus in front of Whole Foods at 8:45 a.m., but the gray clouds soon give way to dazzling sunshine and blue skies punctuated with brilliant rainbows.
As Rick drives, Marilyn welcomes us to the tour and gives us scoop on the day’s events. Marilyn’s effervescent personality makes her an enjoyable tour guide, and her enthusiasm is contagious. Local-boy Rick, who was born and raised in Hali‘imaile, peppers the tour with anecdotes from his small kid days.
Our first photo op stop is at Ho‘okipa, where it’s a fine day for windsurfing. Back aboard the bus, we head up Baldwin Avenue, then cut across Hali‘imaile Road to Kula Highway. Marilyn tells us our next destination is ‘Ulupalakua, and teaches us the English translation, which is “‘ulu (breadfruit) ripening on the back.” It refers to the days when runners brought ‘ulu to the kings via the King’s Trail, and the fruit would literally ripen on their backs as they traveled that unforgiving stretch of land.
Our group is greeted at Maui’s Winery (a.k.a. Tedeschi Vineyards) by tour guide Stephanie. She tells us the winery has been in the Erdman Family since 1964, and that the 23-acre vineyard was planted by noted winemaker Emil Tedeschi in 1974. “The winery is part of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch, a 20,000-acre working ranch where cattle, elk, deer, and wild goats and turkeys roam freely,” she says. While waiting for the newly planted grapes to mature, the winery folks decided to develop a sparkling wine made from Maui pineapples and the rest, as they say, is history. “It’s a challenge to grow grapes in this climate,” Stephanie says. “We have to trick our grapes into dormancy by pruning them severely and reducing water in the spring.” Carnelian, syrah, chenin blanc, chardonnay, malbec, and viognier grapes are harvested only during the months of September and October, but Hali‘imaile Pineapple Company’s juicy and sweet Maui Golds are available year round. The winery has its own juicing equipment, and leftover fruit pulp goes to the cattle. Total production is 25,000 to 30,000 cases of wine per year.
Stephanie shows us the wine barrels, which are stainless steel instead of traditional oak due to Maui’s climate and the abundance of wood-boring pests. The winery’s specialty is sparkling wines—Stephanie explains they cannot be called champagne since they don’t come from that region in France. Bottle labels all feature works by local Maui artists such as Randy Jay Braun. (Note: the private winery tour is available for groups of at least five; for groups of fewer than five guests, Marilyn conducts a tour of the winery’s grounds and history room, and the visit concludes in the tasting room.)
In the tasting room, we sample three popular wines—Hula O Maui, Maui Blanc, and ‘Ulupalakua Red—and peruse the gift shop. It’s stocked with all things wine, including gorgeous hand-painted glasses, tropical-themed stoppers, and Hawaiian print slipper coasters. Cute!
Picnic tables on the lovely grounds at Maui’s Winery make a perfect spot for lunch. Marilyn and Rick whip out brown and aqua floral print tablecloths, and lay out a veritable feast: enormous sammies on fresh-baked ciabatta bread from Whole Foods along with a variety of luscious fresh fruit. Fully sated, we waddle back to the bus and head to the next stop.
Kula Country Farms is a classy roadside stand on the killer bi-coastal view side of Kula Highway. The heady aroma of freshly cut tuberose envelops us as we enter the stand, which features myriad fruits and vegetables, as well as jams and jellies, seasoning mixes, and barbecue sauces. Adjacent to the stand is a large field where scrumptious red strawberries abound February through May. On this late summer day we see oodles of bright orange pumpkins growing in the rich and fertile volcanic soil. Farm owners Chauncey and Teena Monden open their pumpkin patch to delighted Maui families during September and October.
Rick turns onto the upper Kula Highway, then heads up Polipoli Rd., taking us to 4,000 ft. elevation and the Ali‘i Kula Lavender Farm (AKL). We’re welcomed by tour guide Harrison, who tells us there are 200 known varieties of lavender, 45 of which are found at the farm, primarily in the English, French, and Spanish categories. He explains AKL is a small, family-owned farm employing around 15 people. The property used to be an active protea farm, and Harrison says protea must face west in order to prosper. (I didn’t know that!)
“Lavender is a drought-tolerant crop,” Harrison says, “and it thrives on our steep slope where, because of the excellent drainage, there are no soggy roots. And because of the rich volcanic soil, no fertilizer is necessary.”
But lavender isn’t the only plant grown at AKL. There are numerous Tuscan olive trees planted around the perimeter of the farm and, according to Harrison, future plans are in the works to develop a line of lavender/olive oil skin care products.
As we mosey through the farm, Harrison uses his clippers to cut aromatic samples for us of various plants: lavender, scented geranium, rosemary, and citronella. He also show us how the different varieties of lavender have different bud formations (I didn’t know that, either!); for example, the French lavender bud is formed like a French braid. “English lavender is the variety with the highest essential oil content,” Harrison says.
No visit to AKL would be complete without a stop at the gift shop, where there are beautifully packaged lavender products galore, and the pleasingly pungent scent of lavender is in the air. Janet is addicted to the lavender gourmet shortbread cookies, and purchases a couple of boxes to stock her larder.
Our last stop is Surfing Goat Dairy, where award-winning goat cheeses are produced by Thomas and Eva Kafsack. Many of their cheeses play supporting roles in dishes found on Maui restaurant menus. Here at the dairy the stars of the show are the milking goats: a mixture of Swiss saanen goats (superior milk producers) and French alpine goats (known for their high-quality milk). Our guide, Anna, tell us that every year Thomas and Eva select 12 to 15 girls to be added to the milking herd, based on how good their mothers’ milk is and their overall health. Goats are milked twice per day with state-of-the-art equipment, and each produces approximately a gallon per day. “Everyone is fed vegetable rennet so vegetarians can also enjoy Surfing Goat Dairy’s cheeses,” she says.
Speaking of which, it’s time for a cheese flight! We have eight different cheeses to sample with crispy crackers. Janet and I particularly like the Ole—flavored with jalapenos, artichokes, cilantro, and lime juice—and the Ivory Coast—spiced with fresh cracked black pepper.
It’s been a wonderful and educational day, full of good company, good food and wine, and tons of aloha spirit. Bravo, Rick and Marilyn!
For more information, please visit the website at http://www.mauicountryfarmtours.com or call 283-9131.
— heidi pool