Wine master Chuck Furuya uncorks his next chapter

By Betty Shimabukuro

Chuck Furuya is no longer working the floor in a restaurant dining room, but he’s still talking wine.

After nearly 20 years as a partner in the DK Restaurant Group — most visibly pouring wine at Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar — Furuya has transitioned from daily operations to more of a consulting role.

Given the ongoing havoc in the restaurant industry, he said, stepping away from nightly service will allow him to explore new projects as the situtation changes, and to spend more time with his family.

To both those ends, he is partnering with his son, Kale, on a video podcast, “Chuck Furuya Uncorked,” featuring father, son and guests tasting, talking and teaching about wine. The podcast debuted this week.

This new phase is not retirement. “He’s thinking he’s 66 years old, but I’m thinking he’s 66 years young,” said D.K. Koda­ma, owner of the restaurant group that includes Vino, Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar and d.k Steak House.

Furuya will host wine tastings and pairing dinners four times a month at Vino, beginning in August. “Our restaurants are at his disposal, basically, I told him,” Kodama said.

His change in status came in early June, when the restaurant’s federal subsidy ended and just as Vino was reopening for sit-down dining. “This is his house; this is his restaurant,” Kodama said. “It’s sad not to see him here every day.”

Furuya is Hawaii’s first master sommelier, passing the rigorous exam in 1989, when there were only 10 in the U.S.

Through the ’90s he served as consultant to Fine Wine Imports, but he has a long history of restaurant service, starting as a bus boy at Bobby McGee’s in 1975.

Two years later, armed with a growing interest in wine, he joined Alioto’s, Honolulu outpost of the iconic San Francisco restaurant, as a waiter. Owner Nunzio Alioto was championing wines from California at a time when the industry was Europe-centric; he became Furuya’s mentor and one of his closest friends.

Furuya served as manager in storied dining rooms such as La Mer, Bagwell’s 2424 and Parc Terrace, and cellarmaster at the old Kahala Hilton. He also handles first-class wine service for Hawaiian Airlines and is an occasional contributor to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

This history is what Kale Furuya draws upon in the new podcasts, as he seeks to make the world of wine less intimidating, more inclusive, to a new audience — even as he embarks on his own journey in wine appreciation.

“Once you go down this path, I would say it’s a fascinating world, would you say that?” the father asks in the first podcast.

“A thousand percent,” says the son.

New episodes of the video podcast “Chuck Furuya Uncorked” are posted on Mondays. Find them on YouTube and soon through Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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