A Winemakers Dinner In Po‘ipu

On Dec. 16, Jesse Schwartz of Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants and The Wine Shop invited legendary vintner Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard to a Winemakers Dinner. The four-course meal was paired with four Bonny Doon wines, served at Roy’s Po’ipu and prepared by newly hired executive chef Melanie Nowels.

In all of Roy’s empire, there are only two female executive chefs: Nowels and Jacqueline Lau, who oversees all 31 of the Roy’s restaurants.

In 2005, Nowels began her career at Roy’s on Maui, where she learned how to work with local produce, fish and meat. After working at both Maui locations, Nowels was offered a sous chef position on the Big Island, and this past July came to Kaua’i as an executive chef.

“His vintage 1984 wine Le Cigare Volant proved that it was possible to craft and sell great Rhône wine blends from California,” says the Vintner’s Hall of Fame website, which inducted

Grahm in 2010. “Grahm, a long-time proponent of biodynamic viticulture, down-sized his production in 2006 to focus on small estate wines.”

Lucky for us, the 2008 Le Cigare Volant – the whimsical name is the French term for “flying cigar,” meaning an alien space ship – is on the menu, but the evening begins with a cocktail made with fresh tarragon, white Koloa Rum and non-alcoholic Bonny Doon Verjus de Cigare. Verjus is made from wine grapes that are trimmed from the vines just after veraison, or color change.

We are seated in a cozy section of Roy’s, sipping our cocktails and talking animatedly, when The Wine Shop owner Dan O’Connell rings a spoon against his wineglass and introduces Grahm, who is seated next to his girlfriend and their 7-year-old daughter Amelie.

“Vin Gris de Cigare is made with minimum skin contact,” Grahm says of our first pairing. “As a result, the wine is paler in color, it’s higher in acid, and lower in alcohol, making it an elegant wine.”

Amelie swirls the rosy liquid in her mother’s glass, tucks her nose inside and pronounces, “It smells like cherries, lemons and macadamia nuts.”

It’s paired with a blushing beet panna cotta that’s garnished with golden roasted beets. A swipe of Kunana Dairy goat cheese sauce is alongside a spinach salad that’s garnished with crispy pancetta and toasted garlic chips.

Crispy black rice coats tender opakapaka, which sits in a swirl of buttery blue crab nage. Cubes of juicy daikon and bits of shiitake are scattered underneath the white fish that’s paired with the 2010 Le Cigare Blanc. Linda Sylvester, owner of Kaua’i-based Great Vacation Retreats, detects hints of lilikoi, and Grahm agrees.

Slow-cooked “Beef Stew” is flavored with a rich, earthy tomato sauce and hints of fresh thyme. Chunks of tender short ribs are placed on garlic mashed potatoes. Pearl onions, savory carrots and succulent cherry tomatoes dot the border. Amelie’s smelling notes of the red

2008 Le Cigare Volant evoke cherry, chocolate, almond and coconut.

For dessert, there’s a curd with Meyer lemons that Nowels harvested from her backyard. It’s folded into tender cocoa chiffon cake and topped with whipped cream and toasted macadamia nuts. As far as dessert wines go, the 2011 Vol de Anges is not too sweet and pairs well with the dessert.

The Wine Shop has been hosting wine dinners at various Kaua’i restaurants for five years. “People always want to buy the wine, so at the dinner we give everyone a wine order form with discounted prices.”

If you’d like to learn about the next wine dinner, or monthly wine tastings at The Wine Shop, visit The Wine Shop website and email them.

This month, Roy’s in Po’ipu will host another wine dinner with none other than Roy Yamaguchi. If you’d like to meet Hawaii’s celebrity chef and sample Nowels’ delicious food, email poipu@royshawaii.com or call the restaurant at 742-5000.

The Wine Shop 5470 Koloa Road, Koloa 742-7306 TheWineShopKauai.com

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.