Valdemar Knudsen’s Waiawa Vineyard

Kauai sugar pioneer and rancher Valdemar Knudsen (1819–1898) once held a 30-year lease on Hawaiian Crown Lands encompassing over 100,000 acres, which stretched westward from the Waimea River, across the plains of Kekaha and Mana, beyond Polihale as far as Nualolo Valley along Napali Coast, and inland from the sea into the mountains of Kokee, all of which was home to several hundred Hawaiians.

Knudsen was also a longtime friend of King David Kalakaua, who as a dying man stopped at Waiawa — Knudsen’s homestead west of Kekaha near the mouth of Hoea Valley — before going on to pray at the heiau of his Hawaiian gods at Mana and Polihale.

At Waiawa Knudsen grew mango, coconut, taro and banana, and as stated in an article in the May 14, 1859 edition of the Polynesian newspaper, he also planted a vineyard at Waiawa that produced excellent wine.

In that year, Knudsen first bottled wine from the fruit of grapevines he’d planted on a small plot at Waiawa three years earlier.

He’d propagated these grapevines from a wild vine he’d found growing in the highlands above Kekaha that had probably originated from a cutting taken from the Waimea vineyard of missionary the Rev. Samuel Whitney some 30 years earlier.

Whitney’s “Waimea Wine” had been famed throughout Hawaii for the excellence of its flavor, while Knudsen’s wine was described as being rich and clear in color, resembling a brown sherry, with a delicious aroma, and a mild taste resembling Muscat.

The Polynesian also noted that Knudsen planned to plant several acres of grapes, but nothing became of this.

By the way, the Spaniard Don Francisco de Paula Marín (1774-1837) established Hawaii’s first vineyard in Honolulu in 1815, produced its first wine and brandy, and made rum and beer.

Marín was also a hotelier, a storekeeper and a horticulturist who introduced many plants to Hawaii, including the olive, peach and grape, and Hawaii’s first pineapples, cotton and mangoes were grown by him.

Honolulu’s Vineyard Street and Vineyard Boulevard are named for Marín’s vineyard.
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Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at hssgms@gmail.com

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