TIPSY TOURIST: Sipping in Maui’s Upcountry

MauiWines HQ

Maui Wines is headquartered in a small bungalow once reserved for the Hawaiian King.


Ocean Vodka comes in a beautiful blue bottle that resembles glass finishing floats. This one at the distillery is dramatically lit for effect.

After a morning of incredible whale-watching with the Pacific Whale Foundation, (a trip I highly recommend) we were thirsty. And only an hour from Ocean Vodka. How did I know? I studied my map for a moment and there it was, right down the road–or actually up a winding road that really took some twists and turns.

I was familiar with the aqua blue round bottles that open on an angle—you can get Ocean Vodka in Baltimore—so I was interested in seeing the place where this vodka is made. The angle, BTW, was chosen because it represents the 23-degree angle of the earth’s axis. And the round bottles recall glass fishing floats.

Hawaii Sea Spirits Organic Farm and Distilling, Ocean’s home, rises high above Maui’s coast line. Its 40 acres are crowded with the organic sugar cane used in both its vodka (yes, sugar!) and its Kula rum (which is not yet available at home). After an amusing tour of the still and the bottling room — where we witnessed but couldn’t yet taste the very first bottling of their Kula dark rum — we got to taste the deep ocean water used for their spirits and half-ounce tastes of both the rum and vodka.


We saw the first bottles of dark Kula rum filled but alas we did not get to taste it.

The water comes from the melted glaciers of Greenland and Iceland that then sinks into a current that makes its way around the world and ends up in Hawaii. It is then sucked from deep in the ocean, purified and sent to the distillery in gigantic cardboard boxes. (I kid you not.)

The vodka has a slight vanilla nose and a silky feel. The rum has even more of that vanilla essence along with a delightful sweetness.

We capped our visit with a stop at the edge of their property to look at the view out to the ocean. Lovely.


When they say “Up country,” they mean it. It amazed me how many people found their way along narrow winding roads to the distillery and winery.

After a delightful sip of vodka and rum, we were ready for some wine. Hawaiian wine–I expected pineapple or coconut wine. And Maui Wines has pineapple wine–as well as the traditional varietals made from local or California grapes.

If the twisting road to Ocean Vodka was torturous, the path to Maui Wines took even more hairpin turns on a road that got increasingly narrow until we reached a sign that warned we were leaving the state road. Oh. And then you keep driving.


Some of Maui Wines are in fact made from tropical fruit, including Maui pineapple. Most are more traditional grape varietals and blends.

By then we were certain the winery would be deserted. Hah! We got the last parking spot. And the last spot at the second tasting room bar. The porch was crowded. Little kids were running around. The only thing not busy was the corn hole game.

We missed the tours–some require advance reservations—but we enjoyed our visit high above the ocean.

And the wines, surprisingly likable.

Maui offers three different tasting flights. Tropicals includes three pineapple wines, as well as a raspberry dessert wine and a slightly sweet white blend.

We skipped it for a Diverse flight with one pineapple wine (semi sweet although they call it semi dry), a rose, red and white blends and a Syrah. We could have gone with an estate-grown collection flight but I had to taste at least one pineapple wine.

It would have been delicious in a mai tai. Very pineapple-y.

What made this place extraordinary—and well worth the visit— was its location. This plantation was begun by a sea captain more than a century ago. The Tedeschi winery opened here in 1974 and became Maui Wine in 2015.

The tasting room was once the cottage of Hawaii’s King Kalakaua. When he visited the owners of the plantation here, he had his own digs. It’s really a cottage, not some palace with a humbler name. Well worth a visit. Well worth a taste.

Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman