Where wine and re­li­gion meet

In the same year, David Yoshida earned his di­vin­ity de­gree and was cer­ti­fied a mas­ter som­me­lier

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - CRAVINGS - By Betty Shimabukuro bshimabukuro@starad­ver­tiser.com

To be­come a mas­ter som­me­lier is to make a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in time (many years of study) and money (to buy the wine needed to study). Most who achieve this ul­ti­mate recog­ni­tion of wine knowl­edge have jobs mak­ing, sell­ing or serv­ing wine.

David Yoshida, a newly minted mas­ter somm, min­is­ters to prison­ers, and not with wine. Yoshida, 34, a 2002 grad­u­ate of ‘Iolani School, passed the fi­nal level of the Court of Mas­ter Som­me­liers exam in 2017, the same year he earned his Mas­ter of Di­vin­ity de­gree from the Pa­cific School of Re­li­gion in Berke­ley, Calif. He was back in Hawaii for sev­eral weeks to visit his par­ents in Mililani and plans a per­ma­nent move home later this year. This would make him only the fourth home­grown mas­ter som­me­lier liv­ing and work­ing in the state, af­ter Chuck Fu­ruya, Roberto Viernes and Pa­trick Okubo.

His next step is to gain or­di­na­tion lo­cally in the United Church of Christ, and he hopes to con­tinue a pri­son min­istry be­gun last year in the Cal­i­for­nia cor­rec­tional sys­tem as a vol­un­teer with the Catholic chap­laincy.

“Then there’s the wine thing …”

YOSHIDA FIG­URES he’ll even­tu­ally have a sec­ond full-time job out­side the church, as he is also is a part­ner in Pol­lux, an on­line re­tailer that pro­motes small Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies. While he doesn’t plan to go into restau­rant work here, he does hope to teach through winere­lated events.

He says the worlds of wine and faith of­fer many points of con­ver­gence.

“First, the aes­thet­ics,” he said. “Beauty.” Then, not to put too mystical a point on it, Yoshida talks about com­plete­ness and pro­por­tion­al­ity as goals of spir­i­tual growth, but also as marks of good wine mak­ing. Some de­gree of faith is nec­es­sary to each, and com­ple­tion of­ten takes years, as a per­son ma­tures and a wine ages.

“Both can look at some­thing un­made and see some­thing beau­ti­ful in what is yet to come.” He also sees par­al­lels in the con­cept of recla­ma­tion. Wine grapes are of­ten grown in ar­eas un­suit­able for other types of farm­ing, he said, with marginal soil and ter­rain. These stress­ful growing con­di­tions, though, tend to pro­duce the best wine grapes, as yield is con­trolled so ripeness, fla­vor con­cen­tra­tion and acid­ity are op­ti­mum.

“It’s the story of use­less land be­ing re­claimed and made use­ful,” he said. Sub­sti­tute “per­son” for “land” and you’ve got re­li­gion, “to find value where it’s not likely to be found.” Yoshida grew up in a re­li­gious house­hold in Mililani, faith­fully at­tend­ing Kal­ihi Union Church. Af­ter high school he earned a de­gree in physics at Columbia Univer­sity in New York but then changed course, en­ter­ing Yale Univer­sity to pur­sue a mas­ter’s in di­vin­ity, work­ing nights as a hospice chap­lain.

In the midst of all this, he dis­cov­ered a love of wine, de­tour­ing to study, lead classes in wine ap­pre­ci­a­tion and work as a restau­rant som­me­lier. Even­tu­ally he took five years off to work as a harvest in­tern in vine­yards in France, Spain and Wash­ing­ton state.

As a re­sult, “it took me nine years to get a three-year de­gree.”

He cred­its his mom and dad with in­fi­nite pa­tience in their only child. “I had very un­der­stand­ing par­ents who didn’t ex­pect their son to be a suc­cess — yet.” In­stead they had a son who was ba­si­cally a farm la­borer at age 30, “with an Ivy League de­gree in physics.”

REG­GIE NARITO, a mas­ter som­me­lier who served as Yoshida’s men­tor for two years, said Yoshida was in the top five of the 53 can­di­dates he coached last year, and the only one who passed.

“When I first tasted with him I thought he was al­ready a mas­ter-level taster,” Narito said. That Yoshida was able to earn his di­vin­ity de­gree while jug­gling the de­mands of som­me­lier study is a trib­ute to his in­stincts, fo­cus and ded­i­ca­tion, Narito said.

Yoshida noted that his harvest in­tern­ships pro­vided an un­shak­able foun­da­tion. He learned ev­ery­thing from how to choose a harvest date — “the sin­gle most im­por­tant vine­yard de­ci­sion” — to juic­ing the grapes, fer­men­ta­tion and bar­rel­ing.

Mak­ing wine is an all-en­com­pass­ing pro­fes­sion, he said. “You have to know eco­nom­ics, his­tory, chem­istry, how to drive a trac­tor, how not to hurt your back; you have to know how to put on a nice shirt and sell your wine in a three-star restau­rant.”

As a mas­ter som­me­lier who also preaches and works in a pri­son, he might not find a use for all those skills, but Yoshida sees the value of know­ing them.

He’s the kind of guy who might ap­proach, say, pizza mak­ing by first learn­ing to grind wheat.

No, he said, “I would learn to grow the wheat.”


David Yoshida reaches for a bot­tle of 2014 Descen­di­entes de Jose Pala­cios “Pe­ta­los” Bierzo, a se­lec­tion he chose for a fundrais­ing event for the Moanalua High School or ches­tra held Jan. 20 at Moanalua Gar­dens.

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