Every wine has a story behind it, but not every story features a deadly snake.
Richard and Leslie Mansfield were on a kayaking venture in Thailand when, as part of their provisions, they bought fresh pineapple juice from a street vendor. Paddling off, they paused for a break on a remote beach, but then discovered they weren’t alone. Their visitor was a Malayan pit viper, “one of the deadliest snakes in the world,” explained Leslie who had lived and worked in Asia.
The Mansfields escaped, slithering away as silently as snakes themselves, and made a dash for their kayak. It wasn’t till the next day, when they woke up in their hammocks, that they remembered and tasted their pineapple juice. It was still delicious, but different: It had begun to ferment.
From this experience, however, came the inspiration for a new line of tropical fruit wines, Tradewinds, which Mansfield, a veteran Napa Valley winemaker, is producing and which are raising a storm of interest in Asia and Hawaii, as well as closer to home.
Mansfield, who trained as a winemaker in Germany, makes his own high-end label, Mansfield Wines and is the North American winemaker for Novato-based Winery Exchange, a large producer of private label wines. He and Leslie Mansfield own the historic Franco-Swiss Winery in Conn Valley, one of the last unrestored ghost wineries in the Napa Valley and are currently raising funds to restore it.
“I’ve been producing wine for 36 years,” said Mansfield, who after completing his journeyman’s training in Germany was accepted as the only American at the prestigious German University of Viticulture and Enology in Geisenheim where he received double masters in both those disciplines.
“Wine has been my life, my passion, my vocation and my avocation,” he said. “I love to travel the world with my wife, Leslie, and during those travels we love to search out indigenous alcohols in order to get a better understanding of the various cultures we visit.”
These, he noted, included “our share of unusual beverages, from sacramental wine produced from sticky rice in a Neolithic Karen village in the mountains of eastern Burma, to fizzy cups of just-fermented toddy in Southern Thailand, to one dreadful experience with warm Mekong whiskey and Coca-Cola, in the sweltering heat of the pre-monsoon season in Mandalay … we have managed to enjoy what the locals enjoy.
But shortly after their trip to Thailand, they went to Hawaii where Leslie was researching a cookbook on macadamia nuts.
“We purchased a bottle of the locally-produced pineapple wine and I was appalled,” Mansfield said. “I couldn’t even finish one glass … I vowed to make a wine out of pineapples that was delicious and was a crisp, refreshing and enjoyable taste of the tropics.
Returning home, he test-fermented a number of different recipes during one cold winter in Saint Helena. When he had perfected a wine, he went back to Hawaii to show it to distributors. “Each of them wanted the wine. And we selected Southern Wine and Spirits where it became an amazing success, and where we are now in the top 20 percent of all wines sold by them.”
Since then, he’s gone to develop a wine from hand-harvested passion fruit, from a grower?s collective in Ecuador. Last summer, he released a wine fermented from pure coconut water. “It has the most delectable and delicate aromas of fresh coconuts.”
He makes the wines at Carneros Vintners’ custom winery. “I make these wines like I do a fine riesling — I cold ferment and sterile bottle without any artificial preservatives,” Mansfield said. “Our wines are 100 percent pure and natural with 100 percent of the fruit listed on the label.”
After proving a hit in Hawaii, the Mansfields have introduced them in Asia where, Leslie Mansfield recounts, a security guard had to be called in to restore order when they first poured the wines at a trade show in China.
The wines provide a good match for many Asian, Caribbean and Latin American foods, and they’re also excellent for in mixed drinks.
“We serve the wines with Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, and all other cuisines that have vibrant and spicy flavors. Leslie has written 18 cookbooks, including a nine-part series on pairing wine with food. We approached this project from the beginning with an eye to the wines’ suitability with cuisine. Of course, they are also simply delicious served chilled by themselves in the afternoon with good friends.
“We often mix passion fruit wines with Prosecco for a tropical mimosa,” he said.
The Mansfields have also been working with Chef Almir de Fonseca at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. “He has completely embraced these wines and has even taken them with him to world culinary conferences in Brazil to show them off as new avenues of flavor expression,” Mansfield said.
“All over the world, the fruits of the harvest are fermented into beverages that bring happiness into the hearts of mankind,” Mansfield said. “It is only in the narrow latitudes where the wine grape grows that the culture of Bacchus has evolved around the production and consumption of the fermented juice of Vitis vinifera.”
“In other parts of the world other fruits are mashed, fermented and cherry wine, and other stone and pip fruit wines of Central Europe, not to mention the wonderful distillates that are produced from these wines, the French Eaux de Vie, the Geists and Wassers of Germany, and yes, even the non-fruit distillates from potatoes, corn, barley, and wheat.”
Next up? Perhaps guava and mango wines. “The Chinese have asked me to come up with a red wine,” Mansfield said, with a speculative grin.
In the U.S., Tradewinds wines are sold at the Fresh & Easy neighborhood markets and Total Wines and More throughout the United States. Tradewinds wine are also popular at Hispanic markets like Azteca in St. Helena. The suggested retail price is $9.99.
If you look closely, there’s a tiny hammock on the label. But no snake.
Wine editor Sasha Paulsen contributed to this story.
Tradewinds Pineapple Wine Sangria
Feel free to change the fruits to suit the season. This recipe easily doubles and quadruples, and is beautiful served in a punchbowl.
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple
1 cup cubed fresh mango or cantaloupe
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 orange, quartered and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. Triple Sec or other orange flavored liqueur (optional)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 750-ml bottle of Tradewinds Pineapple Wine
1 12-ounce bottle of 7-Up or ginger ale, chilled
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
In a large pitcher, combine the pineapple, mango, strawberries, orange, Triple Sec, sugar, and Tradewinds Pineapple Wine. Stir gently to mix. Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to serve, stir in the 7-Up. Divide the fruit into six tall glasses along with one or two ice cubes. Pour in the Tradewinds Pineapple Sangria and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Tradewinds Passion Fruit Kalbi
3/4 cup Tradewinds Passion Fruit Wine
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
4 pounds Korean-style beef short ribs
In a large bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Put short ribs in a large sealable freezer bag. Pour marinade into bag and turn bag over several times to ensure all meat pieces are covered. Refrigerate overnight.
Grill over a medium-hot grill until done, 6 to 8 minutes. Serves 6