Vineyard and Climate
Volcano Winery’s 4000 ft location, at the summit of Kilauea volcano, is unique for Hawaii in that all environmental conditions needed for successful and consistent grape growing exists here. Grapevines need dry, warm weather in the spring and summer to develop and ripen fruit, and cold winters to trigger and maintain dormancy. Vineyards also need rain, but not too much. The winery is in a transition zone between the wet, East side of the island and the dry. Ka’u desert just to the West.
The winery’s annual rainfall is 70” with most precipitation seen in the winter. 5 miles to the east in Volcano Village, the yearly rainfall is 120 “, too wet for growing grapes. 5 miles to the west, too dry.
At the vineyard’s high elevation, we see wintertime temperatures drop to around 38 degrees which is low enough to satisfy the grapes chill hour requirements of a cumulative 150 hours below 45 degrees F. In the summer, temperatures warm to the high 70’s, perfect for ripening our Pinot noir, Symphony, Syrah and Cayuga White grapes.
The vineyard was first planted in 1986 with 16 acres of Symphony vines. Symphony, a white grape cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris, was developed at UC Davis in 1946. These vines were planted on Harmony and Freedom root stalks and were used to create the Symphony Dry and Symphony Mele wines.
In the summer of 2000, a fire on the adjacent Volcanoes National Park property, spread to the winery and burned most of the Symphony vines. After the fire, the decision was made to not replant with Symphony, but to look towards other vines appropriate for our specific climate and growing conditions.
During the months after the fire, and while going through the vine selection process, the vineyard crew began reclaiming, and preparing the vineyard, for replanting. The pre plant work involved bringing in equipment to break through the hard lava rock to create planting trenches. Large scale composting to create planting media for trench backfill also started at this time, as did Vertical Shoot Position trellis construction.
The field prep and vine selection process ended up taking a couple of years, and at the end of 2002 the winery began planting Cayuga White, a quick ripening, cool climate hybrid grape developed at Cornell University,
Cayuga is popular in the upstate New York, Finger Lakes AVA, and is well suited for Volcano’s cooler growing season. Our Cayuga is not grafted but is grown on its own roots with 6’ x 8’ spacing. It makes a crisp, floral and vibrant wine that complements our line up of tropical fruit, and honey wines.
In late 2007 the winery decided to expand the vineyard further to include the vinifera vines Pinot noir and Syrah.
Pinot noir vineyard blocks were planted predominately with the Dijon clone 777, although clones 667 and 115 were also used. These clones were grafted to SO4, Freedom and Salt Creek Rootstocks, planted in regular 6’ x 8’, and high-density spacing configurations. The Pinot noir is a great fit for our cool climate growing conditions and produces well balanced, quality fruit.
Syrah is usually not seen in cool climate growing regions, but due to the varied terrain, and microclimates of our vineyard, we have found a suitable site for growing Syrah. The Syrah block, of clone 877 grafted to 5BB, is in a low, protected section of the property that is much warmer than the surrounding area and planted in 6’ x 8’ spacing. This warm microclimate, and Syrah’s wide range of expression results in a deep, robust wine.
Our estate wines are available yearly with limited releases in Spring and Fall. We are currently working on releasing the estate Syrah and will offer that wine as well when available.
In addition to growing grapes, the winery also grows tea.
In 2005, the winery began propagating tea from stem cuttings received from USDA, and University of Hawaii at Hilo tea fields.
The first young tea plants were out planted in 2006, and propagation and field planting continued until one acre of tea was planted in 2011.
The tea garden now yields high quality loose leaf black and white tea as well as the black tea needed for our tea wine, Infusion.
Our tea has the following caffeine levels (in milligrams) per 6oz cup: Silver Needle 5 to 10 mg, White 10 to 20 mg, Green 20 to 30 mg, Black about 50 mg. Coffee is about 130 mg/6oz cup.
In a 2015 competition open to all US tea growers, Volcano Winery placed 1st and 3rd in the commercial, White Tea category. The event attracted 78 entries from 10 states.