Pono is a Hawaiian word with many meanings, vintner Dave Sedeno explained.
“It almost takes up a whole page in a dictionary. It means balance, connection to the land, leaving it better than you found it, understanding that a rising tide lifts all ships.”
When Sedeno, a native of Hawaii, decided to make wine, he said one of the first things winemaker Grant Long Jr. said to him was, “You have to have to come up with a name and a story.”
“So I had to think: Who am I? Where have I been? What am I about?” Sedeno said. “Then it hit me — pono.”
Sedeno did have a story, beginning with his ancestor, his great-great-great-great grandfather, John Meek, Sr., a mariner from New England, who came to Hawaii in the 18th century and became a trusted adviser to Hawaiian monarchs beginning with King Kamehameha I.
“He knew the country before the missionaries arrived,” Sedeno said. “He had a deep affection for the native people and the Islands.” Meek is credited with introducing a number of items to Hawaii, including and not limited to mangoes, turkeys, cattle, and tortoises.
Meek married a Hawaiian woman. Their son Eli’s wife, Kahanu’ulanio’keahi “Kuku” “Amoy” Meek, served as lady-in-waiting to Hawaii’s last Queen Lili’uokalani.
Sedeno, born and raised on the island of Oahu, remembers going to the market with his grandmother whose recurrent question when shopping was “Is this pono?”
He joined the Air Force where he worked in crash rescue. After this, he went on to another rescue career as a firefighter, based in Marysville, California. This is where he began to develop an interest in wine.
“You have a flexible schedule as a firefighter,” he said. During his time off, he explored the local wine scene. He got a broker’s license and began to know Northern California producers including those in Napa Valley.
As he approached retirement after 25 years fighting fires, Sedeno considered his next step. “I had to decide how to fill the void. You can only fish and golf so much.”
He had met Grant Long, Jr., a consulting winemaker and founder owner of Aonair Winery on Howell Mountain. Together they began working on a plan to produce small lot wines with grapes from Napa and Sonoma and inspiration from Hawaiian — wines as Sedeno terms it “with a sense of adventure.”
Sedeno hired a designer from Green Bay, Wisconsin to create the bottle. In an interesting serendipity, he noted, they first talked about ideas by Skype in November when it was snowing outside the woman’s window. “But I saw as she had an image of a beach as a screen saver. It was the beach where I grew up.”
He was not surprised, therefore, that her first design “hit it out of the park.”
“There are beautiful beaches all over the world,” Sedeno said, “but there is no place like Hawaii.”
The etched outline on the bottle is the island of Oahu. The coordinates beneath the name, 21 degrees north/157 degrees west, bring a traveler to the steps of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, the residence of the Hawaiian monarchs. Above the letters spelling out “Pono” is a golden fish hook. “This is ‘makua’” Sedeno said. “It is the universal sign in Polynesia for ‘one that provides’ — good fortune.”
Their first vintage was 2012. Pono’s current releases are a 2015 red blend, a 205 cabernet sauvignon, and a 2017 white blend.
Each wine has a Hawaiian name. The red blend is Hapa, Hawaiian for “mixed” or “blend.” It is 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot from various Napa Valley Benchlands Vineyards (2015 14.7% alcohol, $80).
His Cabernet Sauvignon is “Mana,” which means, “strength,” most appropriate for this 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Petit Verdot from vineyards on Spring Mountain, Atlas Peak and Diamond Mountain (2015, 14.7 % alcohol, $110).
The white blend is “Hoku,” star or shining bright, indeed a bright, crisp blend of 68% Sauvignon Musqué, 32% Sauvignon Blanc from Towne Vineyard grapes (2017 14.1% alcohol, $50).
New to the Pono lineup are a just bottled pinot noir and a small production of sparkling wine. The sparkling wine, A’li’i, means “royalty.” “A good name for bubbles,” Sedeno said. The pinot noir, is “Aina,” “from the land.”
For distribution, “we are grass-rooting it,” said Sedeno, who now lives in Sonoma with his wife Carole. The wines are available through the website, ponowines.com, and can be tasted at Goose and Gander in St. Helena.
“I wanted to continue the story of ‘pono’,” Sedeno reflected. “It was either this or be the guy at the door at Costco. This is living ‘pono’”