Words + Photos By Jessica Festa, Epicure & Culture Editor
Rum punch and Presidente beer likely come to mind before wine when considering the Dominican Republic’s drink scene. For me, Caribbean islands always invoke imagery of laying in hammocks sipping Cuba Libres and Piña Coladas.
Which is why I was surprised when exploring the country’s South Coast to discover an actual vineyard and winery. Even better: sunbathing is still part of the package as Ocoa Bay, touted as the Dominican Republic’s first major vineyard and winery, also features a gorgeous Infinity pool overlooking its namesake bay.
This is just one of many offerings at what is a larger luxury agricultural resort project — the “first preconceived 100% sustainable agro-tourism real estate development in the world,” according to Dr. Maria Claudia Mallarino, who manages the property with Dr. Guillermo Villalona and Dr. Steve Denstman.The #DominicanRepublic's first #vineyard is a must-visit! #winery Click To Tweet
Growing Wine Grapes
Funny enough, Ocoa Bay’s location between the beautiful Central Cordillera Mountains and the Caribbean Sea leads to a dry climate paired with cool maritime breezes.
Explains Dr. Mallarino, “This creates a unique dry tropical forest. With relatively low humidity and nutrient rich soils, the environment blends characteristics perfect for cultivating most crops — including vineyards.”
Entering the property myself, I’m immediately blown away by the way natural beauty blends with contemporary architecture for a “rustic modern” concept. The on-site clubhouse where a restaurant, bar and pool reside features columns and a large sloping roof meant to mirror the contour of the surrounding mountains.
Additionally, the structure is open on three sides — meaning that at all times both the mountains and sea are in view. For an eco twist, most of the ornamental wood and stone used in construction were found on the property.
Touring The Ocoa Bay Vineyard
Drs. Mallarino and Villalona take me for a tour around the humongous property, the golf cart bringing me higher and higher for a better view of the sea.
We stop the cart to take a walk through the vines, 27 acres of organic grapes including French Colombard (white), Tempranillo (red) and Muscat de Hamburg (rose). These grapes are grown with 100% sustainability in mind — no pesticides, insecticides or fungicides are used.
Wine With Conscious
This guiding eco principle goes for fruits and herbs grown on-site, too. One crop that stands out to me is the lemon verbena, which I’m told is donated to women in the community to empower them, as they use the ingredient to make soap and become self-sufficient.
This is just one of many endeavors offered in conjunction with local Women’s Association to help women start small businesses related to agriculture, cooking/baking and goods production.
This also shows Ocoa Bay’s socially-conscious philosophy. Another project: creating an alcoholic mango-passion fruit wine that utilizes local produce.
Since the region is the main mango-producing area in the country, and passion fruit is abundant, they experimented with this combination. The results were quite tasty. They call the beverage ‘KiBay” which means “essence of the earth” in Taino, the native Indian language.This #winery's socially-conscious philosophy gives back to the local community + environment! Click To Tweet
Finally, I love learning about Ocoa Bay’s mission to save and repopulate endemic endangered plant species — including replanting thousands of Guayacan trees on the mountainside.
Explains Maria, “We believe the most effective way to help a marginalized, impoverished community achieve long-term integration into a self-sustainable economic model is to start by producing the necessary education for the community, as well as the economic incentive to become engaged in specialized employment, with the goal of quickly improving the overall quality of life here.”
The Foundation For The Ocoa Bay
Their work began this mission to promote economic and social development by establishing the Foundation for the Ocoa Bay in 2009 — before even launching the Ocoa Bay resort project itself.
Today, as the resort continues to develop, the foundation’s scope does, too. For example, in recent years they’ve increased educational efforts and training in the Agricultural Sciences and created more agricultural jobs. Over the past six years Ocoa Bay has employed more than 60 local people, and are currently working to build their employees and their families sustainable housing.
This is in conjunction with offering free health and dental clinics twice per year, creating mentorship programs in specialized trades for young adults, forming an organic agricultural association, partnering with local schools to offer extracurricular classes, donating computers and tablets to youth education, and helping to develop community gardens (with excess produce sold at a future women’s exchange market).
Ocoa Bay has also started an internet cafe hosting theater, music, film screenings and other cultural events.
A Tasting With A View
After exploring the property at ground level, we head up to their rooftop tasting deck to try some of the fruits of their labor — literally.
First up, a creamy yet acidic white made with their French Colombard. The wine has a yellowish hue, with notes of pineapple, apricot, apple and lime that remind me I’m in the Caribbean.
There’s also the rosé, an easy-drinking low acidity wine offering scents of wild fruits and flavors of red berries.
The Tempranillo is a treat, a ruby-colored wine with a soft body and flavors of strawberry, cherry and hints of spice.
Beams Maria, “We have had well-known French and Spanish experts sample our wines with exceptional reviews. A bottle of our first-year production is at the national wine museum in Cangas Asturias, Spain.”
Below the tasting deck is the room where the magic happens, steel tanks fermenting fruit that will eventually be that deliciously dizzying liquid in your glass.
Not Just A Winery
Now, it’s important to note Ocoa Bay isn’t just a vineyard and winery. It’s an eco- and socially-conscious resort with an al-fresco restaurant serving nutritious meals; a gorgeous palm-lined infinity pool overlooking the bay (my favorite amenity); and — coming in the future — a sustainable accommodation. As the founders of Ocoa Bay are all physicians, there will be an emphasis on health and wellness when the boutique hotel and villas open.
As I sit down at a long table for lunch, a spice-laced watermelon juice paired with healthy bites like fresh mahi mahi ceviche, goat milk cheese infused with rosemary and honey, and tasty croquettes, I breathe in the fresh air. Truly fresh — as remember there are no pesticides here.Ocoa Bay is more than a winery - it's an eco- and socially-conscious #resort! #sustainabletravel Click To Tweet
Looking out over the water, I see a bay that’s not only beautiful, but being cared for with the help of Ocoa Bay, who are working with marine biologists to revitalize the reefs. I like to think the glasses of wine I’ve had today helped with that, even if just a little.
It’s a truly sustainable experience, both for the locals themselves and the visitors. Relax with a glass of wine and enjoy what may very well be the highlight of your vacation, while also supporting a project that’s changing lives.
Getting There: Ocoa Bay is located in the Azua Province. From Santo Domingo, take Highway #2 approximately 75 miles (120 km) and follow the signs through Azua to the Ocoa Bay project.
You can use the map on their contact page to get exact directions.
Tours: Vineyard tours & tastings are done three times per day at 11am, 3pm and 5pm. The cost is $30.
Pool: To use the pool, there is a minimum consumption fee of $20.
Day Trips: Looking to continue exploring nature? Parque Nacional Los Haitises is about 90 miles away and certainly worth the trip with 617 square miles of natural beauty.
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