Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Pono WinesRestaurant Insider
August 1, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: TONY GRILLO
ANNE LEE speaks with Pono Wines president/CEO DAVID JOSEPH SEDENO
Local boy David Joseph Sedeno has been in the libations industry for nearly three decades. In that time, formerly as co-owner of The Firehouse Brewing Co. in California and later as part of a distribution company, he’s been able to work with some of the best and brightest winemakers. This week, we find out how a Native Hawaiian born and raised in Kalihi ended up in Napa Valley making wine.
AL: How did you get into the wine industry?
Born and raised on Oahu, I played football with the Noga brothers back in the day. I went to Farrington High School and transferred to Kaiser. Upon graduation, I headed to California and served at McClellan Air Force Base for 10 years as a firefighter, and then another 25 years for the city of Roseville, California.
In the mid-’80s, I went to Napa Valley for the very first time. Everything I saw blew my mind — the sights, sounds, smells of the wines and the food — I was hooked. Every time I made the trip, I learned more and more, and it got to the point where I wanted to be a part of the wine industry. I was a committed full-time firefighter and needed to provide for a young family, and didn’t know enough about the industry. I figured out that the only solution at the time was to get my wine broker’s license. In California, this is the person who represents multiple wineries and helps them sell to retail stores, restaurants and other locations. I started reaching out to the contacts that I made from my days in the beer truck and from there, the rest is history.
AL: When did you first open your doors?
DJS: Our first vintage release was in 2012, we only made 50 cases of Hoku, which is the first wine we ever made and 50 cases of Hapa, which is a red blend. With just my wife Carole (who is the CFO) and I, we are up to 1,000 cases now, in less than five years.
AL: How did you come up with the name Pono Wines?
DJS: Whenever my grandmother would see me, she would always ask, “Boy, you being pono?” I would always answer, “I’m trying grandma.” Back then, I attributed the meaning as being good, but it’s so much more than that. People tell me my wines are great and that I am the heart of Pono, and I always say that Pono is bigger than us — it’s bigger than anything we do and will go on forever. Before I truly dove into the name, my mother made sure that I understood what I was about to embrace. Carole and I went through the Hawaiian dictionary and realized that this is like taking an oath, not to be taken lightly. I truly feel that whoever that I talk to, whether from Hawaii or Wisconsin, I represent our brand, our wine and Hawaii.
AL: What kind of feedback did you get from the wine community?
DJS:When you see the brand, the bottles, the first thing they say is, “Wow, it’s so beautiful.” And, the wall comes down a bit. What I found is that regardless of where you are from, every ethnicity has some version of Pono. When you explain the core of Pono, leaving everything you touch better than you found it, it resonates across all borders. Upon that realization and when they taste the quality of the wine, people get it.
AL: Please tell me the varieties of wines you offer.
DJS: Pono’s current releases are a 2015 red blend, a 2015 cabernet sauvignon and a 2017 white blend. Each wine has a Hawaiian name.
The red blend is Hapa ($80, 14.7% alcohol by volume). It is 52% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc and 22% merlot from various Napa Valley benchlands vineyards.
The cabernet sauvignon is Mana ($110, 14.7% abv) and signifies character. People associate big Napa cabs as being powerful; but in my opinion, Mana is powerful, but balanced. This is 88% cabernet sauvignon and 12% petit verdot from vineyards on Spring Mountain, Atlas Peak and Diamond Mountain.
The white blend is Hoku ($50, 14.1% abv). It’s a bright, crisp blend of 68% sauvignon musqué and 32% sauvignon blanc from Towne Vineyard.
New to the Pono lineup are a just-bottled pinot noir, Aina, and a small production of sparkling wine, Alii.
AL: Tell me about the bottle designs.
DJS: On our Mana Cabernet Sauvignon bottle, the outer etching is the island of Oahu, which signifies the island where I grew up. The coordinates under the name — 21 degrees north, 157 degrees west — signifies the steps of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, where the ali’i lived and is a nod to my family history. Above Pono, is the golden fishhook, which signifies a universal sign in Polynesian cultures for “one that provides good fortune.” The compass is a nod to my great-great-great-greatgrandfather, captain John Meeks, who landed here in the early 1800s and was an adviser to the king.
AL: Anything else you want to share?
DJS: I would love people to know that if they plan on taking a trip to Napa Valley, send us an email as we do very cool private tasting experiences. We give you some options, we have a great pizza oven and we can pair food with the wines. Since we live on the Napa River, we had a boat built for tastings. Imagine rolling down the river, listening to IZ and drinking Pono.
We ship to every island in Hawaii and most of the mainland. We also have the Pono Wine Club — you will be notified when new releases are ready to go with a 15% discount (minimum three-bottle purchase). This wine club does not require a minimum purchase every month.