You’re not dreaming. The Dominican Republic has indeed put its name on the list of wine producing countries in the world! Only recently, it is now possible to taste the production of Ocoa Bay, the one and only vineyard in the Caribbean. Overview of an exceptional wine estate, which looks like a postecard.
Did you know the Dominican Republic was most probably the first vineyard in the Americas, before Mexico, when in 1506 Hernán Cortés landed on the continent and planted vines for the wine of mass(1) ? It was with this anecdote that we were welcomed by Maria and Guillermo, the founders of Ocoa Bay estate, a lovely couple in their fifties with overflowing energy. Decidedly, we learn every day.
In 2005, Maria and Guillermo came on vacation to this part of the Dominican Republic for the first time. A small and lost corner of paradise, 120 kilometers west of Santo Domingo. At the time, it was by boat that they discovered the region, because of a non-existent road infrastructure.
The region being in the poorest part of the country. The couple immediately fell in love with the place and its landscape, virgin and wild : a dense and green forest, nestled between a pebble beach and the mountains. They then began to dream about creating a hotel project and a restaurant there, where everything would be produced locally, from A to Z.
Quickly, they noticed the presence of wild vines in the region, planted in the gardens of the surrounding houses ; true remnant of the Spanish colonial era. And the idea came to them: what if it was possible to make a wine in the Caribbean? After all, this wild vine could have been a sign of fate! Maria and Guillermo then decided to embark on a crazy adventure, to become wine growers.
In 2010, they planted eight hectares of Colombard, Hamburg Muscat and Tempranillo. They also did some tests with Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Montepulciano, for the moment less conclusive. At the same time, they traveled around the world to meet winemakers and learn a new job. 2014 will be the official year of their first vintage. According to Guillermo, "a production of the most artisanal and for their personal consumption". Whatever. The die was cast.
Maria, who was born in Colombia, is a doctor in physiology. Her favorite hobby is to improve people's quality of life. Guillermo is a Dominican. Also a doctor, he has been passionate about nature since childhood. The couple lived 30 in the United States for 30 years.
If they visited the Dominican Republic – their heartland for many years – it was above all to get involved in social projects. Thus, they provide work to all the villages around. They also built roads, helped to develop the village, provided schooling for children and brought telecommunication networks.
In short, Maria and Guillermo do not do things by half measures. Moreover, the way they explained all this to us, with stars in their eyes, was very touching. "The community is the most important thing. We learn from locals as much as we teach them, and we grow together", they said in unison.
The Ocoa Bay project, built with their heart, was therefore destined to succeed. Its goal is to recreate a self-sustaining local ecosystem that allows villagers to have a job and to improve the land surrounding them, both for the development of the restaurant menu and for their daily personal needs.
For example, Maria and Guillermo started raising goats, for their cheese and meat. They also grow many varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Like for example the hectares of figs and passion fruit in which we walked with delight. Some fruit were ripe. Directly picked from the trees, they were a real treat for our taste buds.
One of my biggest surprises was to realize how the Ocoa Bay vineyard was ecological driven, which, let's not forget, is in a tropical zone. Manual weeding and organic compost, that's how they treat the vine. "We want to make the wines as pure as possible and register the estate in a responsible environmental approach", said Guillermo. A technical feat made possible by the microclimate of the region.
Indeed, the bay of Ocoa is naturally protected by the surrounding mountains. "On the other side of the mountains is the wettest part of the country. Here, it is the driest, with barely 600 millimeters of rain per year“.
And although the vine is put under stress with its two vegetative cycles a year – one in June-July during the dry season and the other in December-January, during the rainy season – the fact that vines are not grafted seems to help the robustness and longevity of the plant. Because here, there is no phylloxera!
In addition, the dry wind from the ocean greatly reduces the risk of diseases for the plant. For the anecdote, Guillermo told us that the bay, with its particular half-moon shape, also stops tornadoes coming from the ocean, since they come to run out of steam.
Thus, the bay is a well-known refuge for many ships during storms. Add to that the sun shines all year long and thus consequent photosynthesis, and you have a nice land to grow grapes ! "As a result, Colombart, Muscat and Tempranillo varieties produce respectively fresh and delicious white, rosé and red wine", Mauricio Navarra, the winemaker, originating from Chile, explained.
Ocoa Bay even produces a wine of mango and passion fruit! A delicious dry white wine, created at the base to help the Dominican Republic to regulate its overproduction of fruit. A beautiful idea.
OcoaBay is not just a vineyard of character with indisputable charm. It's also one of the most interesting projects we've ever encountered on our road. To date, the estate consists of "only" an open-air restaurant, with intimate tables in the shade of trees and an infinity pool, where you can sip a glass of estate wine, from one of the many sun loungers, with a breathtaking view of the sea.
But the ultimate dream of Maria and Guillermo, is to be able to offer their guests to extend the experience by staying on site several nights. The couple unveiled their plans of a grandiose, 100% ecological and self-sufficient touristic and viticultural complex project that would be based on the site's 62 hectares, to us. A hotel, a spa, a wellness center, a wine village and intimate residences, which would be fully integrated into the environment.
It only remains to find investors for the realization of this project. If you’re interested, do not hesitate.
We concluded our stay at Ocoa Bay Estate with a delicious traditional lunch, a chivo guisado al coco. A marinated goat meat with spices and coconut milk, cooked over low heat for hours, accompanied by rice and avocado. On the palate, a texture of Bœuf-bourguignon and delicious exotic perfums. A pure delight!
Thank you to the entire Ocoa Bay team for their warm welcome during our stay.
(1) Hernán Cortés, whose real name was Fernando Cortés of Monroy Pizarro Altaminaro, was a Spanish conquistador and marked a fundamental stage in the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 16th century. He stayed seven years in the Dominican Republic, before joining Mexico, and planted there the first vines of the continent.