Grind Time: Hanaiali’i debuts new wine

Dec. 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

PHOTOS BY DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COMAmy Hanaiali'i Gilliom poses with a bottle of her new Hanaiali'i Napa Valley Merlot at Times Beretania on Wednesday.


Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom poses with a bottle of her new Hanaiali’i Napa Valley Merlot at Times Beretania on Wednesday.


Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom is finishing the year strong, with an eye towards even greater success in 2015.

In case you were living under a rock, the 24-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award winning recording artist just released “Reunion” with Willie K. The new album comes a decade after the duo’s last concert tour and 15 years since their last studio recording. She continues to tour internationally as well, entertaining thousands while at the same time perpetuating the Hawaiian culture for generations to come.

And while the vast majority of us don’t have the vocal talent to sing like Amy, those of legal age can now drink like her, thanks to the new Hanaiali’i Napa Valley Merlot. The inaugural 2013 vintage was the result of a fair amount of wining and dining on the part of California-based JW Thomas Group while the singer was on tour there last year.

The design used on the labels of Hanaiali'i are based off a tattoo the recording artist has on her left forearm..

The design used on the labels of Hanaiali’i are based off a tattoo the recording artist has on her left forearm..

“I was doing a concert in Napa at the Lincoln Performing Arts Center,” Gilliom said Wednesday during an interview at Times Beretania. “One of the gentlemen from Peju Winery was there since they were sponsoring the concert. Of course, we kanikapila’d until five in the morning with the band, drinking the best wines.

“(Ian White, JW Thomas Group co-founder) was there … (and) he knew I loved merlot. He kept following me around, giving me pieces of dark chocolate, giving me prosciutto, giving me fruit. I was like, ‘Who is this?’

“So I come to realize, he was Ian! … (He) and John Truchard had formed JW Thomas and they asked me if I wanted to do a celebrity wine. So I’ve been fully involved on the whole branding of this.”

Gilliom characterized her new merlot as “how us local girls like to drink wine,” with bold, rich fruit and chocolate flavors. It was created in an effort to “impress the most experienced oenophile and suit the palate of the casual wine drinker.”

The bottles themselves, designed by Jim Langford, incorporate a very personal connection Gilliom has with her family and Hawaiian roots on the island of Moloka’i. The main logo is a reproduction of a tattoo she sports on her left forearm that pays tribute to her family lineage, including her father and 8-year-old daughter.

“The tattoo is very special,” she said. “I wanted to have something on my arm, like a jewelry piece, that represented where I am now. This is a growth tattoo. Samson Harp from Pacific Rootz Tattoo in Kihei, a very dear friend of mine, designed it for me.

“We weren’t too sure at first about putting that on (the bottles). But when I saw it, I loved it. It’s so significant as to who I am. People ask questions: ‘What is this? Is it a tattoo? Is it a flower?’

“There’s a story behind the bottle. This is a lot of my genealogy.”

With decades of marketing and promotional experience under her belt, it should come as no surprise how savvy an entrepreneur Gilliom has become. Once the opportunity presented itself, she quickly realized how to utilize her existing framework of contacts to expand the Hanaiali’i brand.

“Hawaiian music is struggling in Hawaii,” she said. “Most of us Hawaiian artists are selling our products while we’re on tour. So if I can find other ways for us to expand the Hawaiian music scene in general, I want to show it can work.

“I’m always trying to find ways to educate people on Hawaiian music. It just seems like a perfect fit. Everybody likes to drink wine. Everybody loves dark chocolate. Everybody loves music. So why not just put all that together?”

Her distribution partnership with Young’s Market Company of Hawaii resulted in 600 cases sold — the entire first production run — almost immediately after it was made available. That’s good news for both last-minute Christmas shoppers and those going out for a fancy dinner this month; Hanaiali’i is currently available for about $25 at all Times Supermarkets, Don Quijote, Tamura’s and Whole Foods locations on Oahu, and is being served at Hoku’s at Kahala Resort, BLT at the Trump International Waikiki and Il Lupino at Royal Hawaiian Center.

It’s also good news for Gilliom herself, who said the “unheard of” sales numbers had her investors and vineyard partners “so excited” they proceeded to purchase another 6,000 acres of land to grow additional grapes for the Hanaiali’i brand.

“So now we’re coming out with a sparkling wine for Valentine’s Day and a pinot and chardonay to follow,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Fans will have three opportunities this weekend to meet and greet with Gilliom. She’ll be at Times Beretania from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by an appearance at Times Kahala from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, she’ll be at Don Quijote Kaheka from noon to 2 p.m.

In addition to the wine, Gilliom said she’ll have copies of “Reunion” available for purchase as well.
“Grind Time” is always looking for the latest places to get your grub on. Email Jason Genegabus with restaurant, bar or any other food/drink-related item at and follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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