In Hawaii: Expect Nothing. Be Ready for Anything.

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In Hawaii: Expect Nothing. Be Ready for Anything.

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Maui
Jul 07, 2010

Expect nothing. Be ready for everything.

Good advice for Hawaii, whether it be moving, researching a feature story or island-hopping.

My husband and I moved to Hawaii with 11 boxes, four suitcases and two dogs. People asked, “What will you do for jobs?” We said we were prepared to crew tour boats or check groceries at Foodland. “Where will you live?” they asked. A shack on the beach would do, we said. “What if it doesn’t work out?” they asked, and we explained the airplanes went both to Hawaii and from Hawaii.

We told our family and friends on the mainland that we’d be gone for a year. That was 10 years ago.

Now, we live on 1.677 acres in a home that my husband built, and I work a good gig for Outrigger Hotels & Resorts as the editor and writer of this website. During the decade that we have made Hawaii our home, I have earned my MFA in Creative Writing, I have paddled from Molokai to Oahu in a canoe, I have hiked the whole length of Kalalau Trail along Napali Coast, I have watched the full moon rise over the ocean and the green flash flare at sunset on the same night, and I have felt the heat of molten lava—and smelled its sulfuric scent—as it poured into the sea on Hawaii Island.

I could not have dreamed this life 10 years ago. Had I created a vision map in 1999, this is not what it would have looked like.

Expect nothing. Be ready for everything.

Years ago, when I freelanced for magazines, I received an assignment to write about the Hawaiian style of massage known as lomilomi. Now, if you know anything about me by reading this blog, you will know I use any excuse to travel. And here was my chance. I had heard one name associated with lomilomi instruction, and it was Auntie Margaret. She lived on Hawaii Island.

So, I set my sights on the largest island in the main Hawaiian Island chain. Only in the weeks leading up to my trip, no one ever answered the phone number that I called. I resorted to the island’s visitor’s bureau, and they called for me. Still, no answer.

The morning of my trip arrived, and I had no appointment with the matriarch and keeper of the knowledge of lomilomi. What to do? I debated canceling my trip, but for some reason, I did not. I boarded my plane and landed in the lava fields of Kona. I didn’t own a cell phone then, so I sought out a pay phone—and found one—and called the number again.

This time, someone answered. It was Auntie Margaret’s daughter, Nerita. It was the perfect time, she said, because six students from around the globe had just gathered for a lomilomi intensive at her parents’ family plantation home in Kealakekua. She gave me directions, and I spent the afternoon with her and her mother in the shade of the lanai of an old plantation home with a rusted tin roof and paint peeling off its siding. Auntie Margaret took my hands in hers and kissed each one, saying, “That’s the touch,” as we watched the ocean roll in.

Expect nothing. Be ready for everything.

You’d think I’d learn.

Last month, I flew to Maui for the here.) I arrived at the Saturday afternoon Kapalua Wine Tour at The Ritz-Carlton promptly at 12:45 p.m. I hauled my laptop, two cameras, digital voice recorder, phone, notepad and pens in my favorite traveling backpack—the Sherpani Tosca. That meant my hands were free for things like, oh, wine.

And, let me tell you, this event was all about the wine. Wine. Wine. Wine. But as I confessed in the aforementioned article, I am not a wine expert. I don’t speak wine. I don’t sniff, swirl and swish wine. I just drink it. I am, you could say, just a regular wine-drinking, middle-aged, American woman.

So, I didn’t quite fit in. Case in point: the bulging backpack strapped to my body. Even the other journalists there seemed to know this event was all about the wine, not chasing down some interview with pen, notebook and camera in hand.

I didn’t recognize the names of the Master Sommeliers in attendance. Names like Shayn Bjornholm, Jay Fletcher, Greg Harrington, Joe Spellman, Brian Cronin, Geoff Kruth, Emily Wines and Michael Jordan. Well, yes, I recognized that last name. But not for wine.

I didn’t know the festival host Fred Dame, a Master Sommelier himself and president of the Guild of Sommeliers.

I didn’t know the wild man of pinot noir Gary Pisoni or his maverick story of smuggling 500 buds from plants in France secreted in the special place all men covet and think no one will dare look.

I didn’t know Master Sommelier Michael Jordan was from Hawaii, a Kalani boy, no less, and fluent in pidgin.

All that changed, of course, when I found myself standing alone, tasting an unfiltered pinot noir by Foris. I was wondering again how one pinot noir could taste so different from another when I looked up at the same time as a man a few feet away happened to look my way. Our eyes caught, and it was one of those awkward moments when you either pretend you didn’t see him and look away, or you say something to alleviate the awkwardness of it all. So, I asked him the question swirling around in my head.

Dean Frampton and his wife own Sandwich Isles Cellars on Maui. When Dean heard I was a writer, he asked if I had spoken with Fred Dame. No. When I asked my question about the different-tasting pinot noirs, he asked if I had spoken to Gary Pisoni. No. Then, he pulled out his phone and called up Gary. Dean dragged me down to the pool under a hot Maui sky and introduced me, first, to Fred and, then, to Gary. I had to meet these two guys, he said, had to, they were two kings of the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, the grand slam of all wine interviews.

And I was totally unprepared. I didn’t have a single insightful question for these guys. I didn’t even have a paper and pen handy. I managed a back-bending, yoga move to get my writing gear out of my backpack, but I couldn’t reach my digital voice recorder. Oh, how I wish I had my digital voice recorder.

Especially for Gary Pisoni.

But, first, Fred Dame. My hand-scribbled notes leave almost every sentence unfinished, as I spent most of my time trying to think of the next question to ask. What I did manage to get down was this:

Fred Dame has two rules for every winemaker in attendance, or risk being uninvited the next year:

1. Show up with your “A” game; and this is really important,
2. If anyone stops you in the hallway, by the elevator or at the pool, talk to them as if they are a member of your family.

I asked if any of Fred’s winemakers had ever violated his two commandments. One. And the winemaker did not get invited back.

When I shook his hand, thanking him for his time, he leaned closer and lowered his voice, “This guy,” he said and tossed his thumb back in the direction of a middle-aged man with a paunch lounging on a pool chair in surf trunks, “is not acting. This is the real Gary Pisoni. He is not on stage.”

Gary tossed his tangle of salt-and-pepper, shoulder-length hair out of his eyes to kiss me on the cheek. At this rate, I thought, he would get invited back for the next 50 years.

I asked him my standard question—why does the same wine from the same grape from the same region taste so different from one winemaker to the next—and he answered my question about as directly as the switchback road that leads to the top of Haleakala. Trying to interview Gary Pisoni is like lobbing softballs for him to hit. Sometimes he swings for the fences; sometimes he advances the runner with a ground ball; other times he catches the ball and throws it back.

Here’s what I caught of our conversation in my notes. But be warned: It’s a mash-up of quotes. I’d be hard-pressed to make a cohesive story out of my notes, so I’ll just share them with you as snippets, a spattering of a conversation, which is nothing more than you can expect with Gary Pisoni. Especially after he’s been drinking pinot noir all day:

• God or nature makes it. Winemakers must just take care of it.
• I graduated from college in 1975 with a psychology degree. I used to say I talked to the grapes. Now, I say I listen to them. If you listen, they will tell you what they need.
• I’m Italian. My family makes wine in Italy. It’s in the blood. No, DNA.
• I started with 500 buds and turned that into 100,000 plants and the Pisoni clone.
• Destiny made this happen.
• It’s sexy. Elusive. It has curves rather than edges.
• A good winemaker amplifies the voice of the earth without disturbing it.

There were four stops on the Kapalua Wine Tour. I made it to two.

Expect nothing. Be ready for everything.

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