Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hato Landhuis vineyard will have
everything from rosés and reds to cacti and iguanas.
The island of Curaçao is one of the Caribbean's last
great secrets—a delicious melding of Spanish, European, and tropical
influences that boasts unparalleled natural and man-made beauty.
Located 40
miles off the coast of Venezuela, it's the C in the ABC islands, which also
include Aruba and Bonaire, and until 2010 was part of the Netherlands
Curaçao has a strong Dutch history, showcased through its colorful
architecture and historic capital, Willemstad, which was designated a UNESCO
world heritage city in 1997.
Since it exists outside the Hurricane Belt, Curaçao enjoys a relatively
mild year-round climate that's closer to Santa Fe than San Domingo; on a
recent trip we saw more cactus than palm trees and, when it rained, lizards
the size of small dinosaurs emerged from the roadside.
It's a tropical
paradise, to be sure, but not the sort of place you would imagine ideal for a
However, four years ago Roelof Visscher, of award-winning Dutch
vineyard Hof van Twente—the largest vineyard in the Netherlands—visited
Curaçao and saw an opportunity.
He, along with his sister Hermien and her
partner Marc Oldeman, began turning one of the island's oldest plantations,
the Hato Landhuis, into its first vineyard.
Courtesy of Chris O'Coin For centuries
Curaçao has been known primarily for its namesake liqueur—Blue Curaçao—a
bittersweet mixture made from the dried peels of the indigenous lahara
However, with the introduction of this new vineyard, that might soon
Currently there is just a smattering of vineyards across the
Caribbean, including Bodegas San Cristobal in Cuba and St.
John Winery in the
Virgin Islands.
But a growing international tourism sector with
cosmopolitan tastes, coupled with the introduction of a popular yearly food
and wine festival, have created a demand for the development of a homegrown
wine trade.
Luckily the mild climate, perennial sunshine, and rich volcanic
soil make it plausible, if not ideal, for grape growth.
This isn't the first time the Dutch have established a successful wine
industry in what was previously thought to be a harsh or inhospitable
After fears of scurvy along the spice route sparked panic in the
1600s, the Dutch East India Company established a series of grape fields in
South Africa that later attracted winemakers from Holland, Belgium, France,
and beyond.
These proto-vineyards still stand, and have thrived in locations
like Stellenbosch, Constantia, and Paarl. Today South Africa is considered a
power player in the global wine scene, commanding both respect and its own
aisle at the liquor store.
Courtesy of Chris O'Coin "The difference between growing
tropical grapes and European grapes is that here [on the island] there is all
this warm sun to help," says Hermien Visscher.
When we visited, she educated
us on the finer points of growing wine grapes, letting us know that Caribbean
grape vines are wider-spaced to allow for maximum vitamin D absorption.
of the fledgling plants is propped up by a bright blue barrier erected to
protect against marauding iguanas.
"They love to eat the grapes!" laughs
Though the winery uses European samples, the production process will be
unique to Curaçao.
"We can't use specifically Dutch techniques here because
it's totally different [to grow] in a tropical terrain," she
Starting with just 11 original plants, the team has now expanded to
over 2,000, and currently bottles an assortment of reds, whites, and rosés,
ranging from Syrah to Chardonnay.
They will also harvest a blend made from
local, wild grapes—hybrids that could potentially yield an entirely new
Courtesy of Chris
O'Coin The winery's 300-year-old plantation structure also
doubles as a luxury bed and breakfast, with several rustic country suites that
feature local textiles and furniture designs.
Guests can take their light
European breakfasts on the veranda, which overlooks both the fields and a hint
of the ocean.
In the afternoons, the vineyard hosts a happy hour featuring
wines imported from Visscher's Netherlands estate.
It's an easy 10-minute
drive from Hato Airport, and a stone's throw from the Hato Caves, whose
reserves provide fresh water for irrigation. Visiting Hato Landhuis, located
in one of the largest and oldest architectural structures on Curaçao, is like
stepping into the island's past—only with fully functioning
For history buffs, the nearby caves are also home to several
ancient indigenous Arawak drawings, which were found during excavation and
Courtesy of Chris
O'Coin Currently, the Hato Landhuis vineyard's official
visiting hours are every day from 10 a.m.
to 8 p.m., with tours on Wednesdays
and Saturdays—though private tours can be arranged. The Curaçao Winery also
hopes to launch educational and apprenticeship opportunities in the near
future. The winery will harvest its first crop this month, potentially
ushering in a groundbreaking era of winemaking on the island.
The Hato Landhuis vineyard is the first winery on the island
of Curaçao, and it opens this month.
Find out how it came about and when to

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