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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2001

All for wine... and wine for all

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

From left, Lyle Fujioka, Chuck Furuya and Richard Field are three men who drive our local wine industry. They share with us a little about themselves, as well as their opinions about what foods go well with wine and about the wine industry.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"As the first entree was slow in coming, they sipped from time to time a mouthful of champagne and nibbled bits of crust.And the idea of love, entering into them, slowly intoxicated their souls, as the bright wine, rolling drop by drop down their throats, fired their blood and perturbed their minds."

— Guy de Maupassant

Wine definitely fans the flames of passion.

Many knowledgeable people, some of whom are named later in this piece, populate the world of wine in Hawai'i.

I wanted to write something non-technical about wine that laypersons would find interesting, deciding to save the technical stuff for The Advertiser's wine writers.

That said, let's take a journey into the personalities and lives of three men, grape nuts through and through, who drive our local wine industry: "The 3 F's," Richard Field, Lyle Fujioka and Chuck Furuya. I met with each separately; these are excerpts from our conversations.

What do you do?

Furuya: I work for a family-owned wine distributor (Fine Wine Imports, owned by my wife's family).I conduct staff training for restaurants and also help to develop their wine lists.I match foods with wines at various events. I sit on the board of advisers for the culinary program at Leeward Community College.I choose wines for Hawaiian Airlines first-class service between Hawai'i and the Mainland, and also for the TV cooking show "Hawai'i Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi."

Field: My business (R. Field Wine Company) started in 1977 purely with wine, and then in 1984, we started the R. Field concept, which took fine foods and combined that with the wines.About 3.5 years ago my business merged with Foodland, who agreed to help R. Field Wine Company grow and get more locations.

Basically, what I was lacking in my previous life (before the merger) as a small businessman was the capital and the systems to be able to duplicate a successful operation.The Foodland people are very progressive people who think outside the box. In exchange, I was asked to run the wine and spirits department for the entire chain of 27 stores ... and also create a new department called the natural and gourmet store.

Fujioka: I own and run Fujioka's Wine Merchant's.We're primarily a wine dedicated store, promoting all aspects of wine.We don't associate ourselves necessarily with the term "fine wines"; we are general wine merchants.We are also selling fine specialty foods such as cheeses, sauces, pastas, escargot, crab, and other items.We're addressing the needs and requirements of most wine consumers, who are foodies.

The development of the wine concept within our supermarket was in view of the changing demographics on the North Shore in the late '80s, where the boom of the real estate market was taking place all over the state.Residential development on the North Shore made it a requirement that we change the face of the store to, how do you say, accommodate the tastes of the growing real estate market with a higher income level.

Do you have a formal wine education?

Furuya: No, I am self-taught.

Field: I am proud to say, yes.

Fujioka: No, absolutely not. That's one thing we always emphasize.

Who are other knowledgeable wine people here in town?

Furuya: Two private collectors, both doctors — Gene Doo and Gene Wong know their stuff.Mark Shishido, manager at the Pineapple Room. I think he's the best wine taster in Hawai'i right now.

Field: I'm partial to my staff. I think we've got the best-trained staff in Hawai'i.

Fujioka: I have great respect for Alan Kam (of Vintage Wines), who I still consider the most influential person in the wine market. I've always had a lot of respect for Richard Field, who I believe has led the second wave of wine consumers in Hawai'i. And Richard Dean and Chuck Furuya, certainly.

What makes a great wine-taster?

Fujioka: A great wine taster's palate begins with passion, an advanced understanding of food, and the gift of a photographic palate memory.

Are great wines the result of the love put into them?

Field: Boy, I'll get in trouble for this one, but less and less so.

Fujioka: My own feelings about this are mixed, because the wine business is very hot right now. There's passion for the business, but with revenue in mind.

When was your first time tasting wine?

Furuya: Wine spritzers in Germany. Probably around 1968. Did you know the legal drinking age in Germany is 15?

Field: When my father brought home a bottle of Mogen David at Passover when we were kids; that was the only time in my family that wine was ever served. It was a weird taste. I really didn't like it.

Fujioka: I was about 12 years old at a dinner after a bon dance. I drank sake for the first time and thought it tasted good, but at about two o'clock in the morning I realized I didn't like sake.

As a wine expert, what do you think of wine coolers and similar products?

Furuya: Well, if it helps people get started in appreciating wine, then God bless 'em. We are not here to pass judgment.

Field: We make too much out of wine. It's a personal decision what people drink. There are no rules.

What about the pretentiousness and snobbiness in the wine industry?

Furuya: Well, you can say the same thing about foodies, stamp collectors, car people, and the whole gamut of aficionados.

Field: It was perpetuated by our industry and it was a self-serving thing. I think when someone really doesn't know a lot about a subject, they may feel inclined to put on airs, to be pretentious.

Fujioka: The wine service experience is presented in an almost religious way ... the formality ... wine is not that, not in my life, at least.

What's the difference between a $10 and a $30 bottle of wine?

Don't say $20.

Furuya: What's the difference between a Volkswagen and a BMW? I mean, I think it's in the eye of the beholder. Great wines are made in the field by correct and passionate farming and are available at all price levels.

Field: The cost of wines is determined by marketing departments, efficiency of the distribution and many other factors. Demand also determines price. The guy who's spending $30 a bottle for wine won't continue to do so if he's unhappy with the wine.

Fujioka: Often there's no difference.

What do you do when you get a bad wine?

Field: My wife gets really angry with me because no matter how offensive it is, I never return wine ... I'll just order another bottle.

Fujioka: On a personal basis, I would expect a full refund or an exchange for a new bottle.

Are wine prices artificially inflated (by growers, etc)?

Furuya: I think it's a case-by-case situation. Labor costs and land costs are important factors.Yield also plays a role in a wine's pricing, as does supply and demand.

Field: The most expensive wines in the world, I can't imagine, don't cost more than twenty or thirty bucks a bottle to make.But many of these wines are released for $900 a bottle. But the point is, though, if that wine delivers, it can maintain that price.

Fujioka: We're probably all guilty of it ... let's say there's a hot wine, and the Wine Spectator (magazine) touts it, well, that wine could have been $30 to start with, but guess what, because that wine was anointed with such high marks, the public will probably end up paying $100 for it.

Where do you eat?

Furuya: Well, the most important thing is that the food is done well. I enjoy L'Uraku, Kaimuki Saimin, Leong's, Alan Wong's, Helen's, Roy's, oxtail soup at Kam Bowl, Padovani's, Chef's Table, Side Street Inn.

Field: Depends on the mood ... really depends on how I feel.McDonalds, Zippy's ... L'Uraku ... But when it comes to just the old standards in fine dining, nobody does it better than Roy (Yamaguchi).

Fujioka: Zippy's, on the way home ... 3660 (On the Rise) because we love Russell (Siu, the chef/owner), Ferno, Mai Lan for great Vietnamese food.

What's best to drink with sushi?

Field: It'd have to be something very bright, very light ... that would be bordering on tart ... that could be a Pinot Grigio, a Trebbiano ... something like that.

What wine goes best with Asian food?

Fujioka: I like bubbles with Asian food.A personal love right now is one particular wine; it's a Soave Classico from Gini, goes great with Asian food.

What wine is good with Oreo cookies?

Field: Something from Bonny Doon, which is kind of a specialized wine, but it's his version of an ice wine, is vin de glaciere.

Fujioka: I'd probably go with a Banyuls (a fortified wine from the south of France, made from red grenache grapes), a dessert wine that most people would call a chocolate wine.

What words do you like best for wine descriptions?

Furuya: "Elegance" and "pedigree" are two words I use a lot.

Field: I try not to use wine lingo (although he did use "light" and "bright" several times during the interview).When dealing with the public, I find that most of those words are useless.

Fujioka: Using sexy words is popular in the very sexy wine industry.Personally, though, I like the words "supple" and "easy to drink."

What's the most expensive wine you've tasted?

Furuya: I tasted an 1870 Chateau Lafitte, which was easily several thousand dollars.That was a great experience.

Field: I tasted, for example, some champagnes from the turn of the century, but I don't know what the price was. I have tasted Petrus 1947, which I believe is priceless today.

What wine smells like sex?

Furuya: (laughter) Pinot Noir.

Field: (laughter) If this gets printed, my wife will get a lot of telephone calls. Let's see, I don't know what wine smells like sex, but I do know what wines lead to having more children : champagne.

Fujioka: (laughter) What part of sex?Before, during or after?

For what in life do you feel most thankful?

Furuya: Living in Hawai'i. My two healthy children.

Field: I've really, really, really come to realize it's all about my family, my wife, my kids, my mother, brothers and closest friends.

Fujioka: The people around me, and my friendships.

I drink to your charm,
your beauty and your brains,
which gives you a rough idea of how hard up I am for a drink.

—Groucho Marx

Chuck Furuya

Age 47

Married to Mahealani (nickname Mani), with a daughter, Whitney, 13, and son, Kale, 8. Furuya's father was in the military, but he has lived in Hawai'i since his senior year in high school.Furuya is sansei (the third generation of Japanese Americans living in America).He is one of only two master sommeliers in Hawai'i (Richard Dean is the other).

Richard Field

Age 46

Married to Emily for 11 years.Their children: Jayson, 18, Ryan, 17, Jason, 17, and Michael, 11.Field was born on Okinawa and moved to Hawai'i when he was 5 years old. He went to Kaimuki High School and attended the University of Hawai'i in pursuit of a doctorate in psychology.

Lyle Fujioka

Age 49

Married to Sue for 14 years.Born and raised in Hale'iwa. Went to school in Los Angeles, spent 13 years after graduation in L.A. working as a banker.Returned to Hawai'i to take over the three-generation family retail supermarket business.Then, 10 years ago, he got into the wine business for economic reasons.

Matthew Gray, The Advertiser's restaurant critic, may be reached at ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com.