You don’t hear a lot about Puerto Rico wine, or about Caribbean wines in general. This is because wine grapes need a very specific climate: not too hot and not too cold. And the Caribbean islands are well out of those “Goldilocks” zones. But one part of Puerto Rico, Guanica, has a microclimate that is just perfect for wine grapes. Puerto Rico’s wines were actually on the rise until Hurricane Maria decimated the island. But you can still learn about these fantastic wines. And, with your help, Puerto Rico, and the Puerto Rico wine industry can get back on their feet.
Wine Growing Climates
Typically, the delicate combination that wine grapes need occurs between 30 and 50 degrees of latitude. There’s one band in the northern hemisphere, and another in the south. Each of these bands contains two specific wine growing climates, warm and cool. And each of these climates produces different kinds of wines.
Warm climate wines, like those from Southern France, California, Spain, Italy, and Australia, tend to be sweeter and less acidic. This is because these areas have more consistent temperatures during the growing season. The slow decrease in temperatures between summer and fall gives the grapes a chance to fully ripen and become sweet. As a result, wines from these regions tend to be fruitier.
Cool climate wines, like those from Northern France, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Oregon, and New Zealand, tend to be more acidic. These regions get just as hot as warm wine regions during the height of the season. However, the drop off in temperature between summer and fall is much steeper. This makes it difficult for grapes to ripen. As a result, wines from cool regions tend to have a sharper, more acidic taste.
Puerto Rico sits well outside of both the northern and southern bands that contain the leading wine growing regions. As a result, one wouldn’t expect Puerto Rico to have the kind of growing conditions that wine grapes need. But there is one part of the island that does.
The Puerto Rico Wine Growing Region
Guanica is a town, and a municipality, on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. The area sits at the mouth of a protected natural harbor. Along the coast, the temperature is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit year round. In addition, the soil is fertile and dry. These are ideal growing conditions for various Spanish varieties of grapes. And a few local producers were so successful that in 2016, U.S. News and World Report declared Guanica one of its top five can’t miss emerging wine regions.
Puerto Rico wine producers grew four varieties you might be familiar with: pinot noir, Tempranillo, Muscat, and Sangiovese. In addition, melon and verdejo grapes also grow there. One producer, Sole’, became known for their Tempranillo wines in particular.
The Phoenix: La Bodega Andreu Sole’
Any research into Puerto Rico wine will inevitably turn up the story of La Bodega Andreu Sole’. La Bodega Andreu Sole’ is a vineyard, winery, bar, and restaurant in Ensenada, near Guanica.
This enterprise was the brainchild of Juan Andreu Roig, a winemaker from Valencia, Spain. Roig was the one who hypothesized that the tropics might contain a suitable microclimate for wine growing. He found that microclimate in Guanica. In 1982, he planted 70 acres of grapes from California and other wine growing regions. After eight years, the enterprise started to show promise. Then the deadly floods of 1985 destroyed it all.
Ten years later, Roig’s son, Juan Ramon Andreu Sole’ started over. This time, in addition to wine, Sole’ produced sangrias and a line of handcrafted liquors. And in January 2009, Bodegas Andreu Sole’ opened their doors. Eventually “La Bodega” expanded to include a restaurant and bar. In addition to wines that were gaining international attention, the vineyard hosted tastings and tours. People could enjoy food, tapas, live music, and more. The La Bodega menu was filled with Spanish favorites like olives and manchego, breaded calamari, and peppers stuffed with crab meat.
And then, in 2017, Hurricane Maria took it all away again.
Hurricane Maria, La Bodega Andreu Sole’, and Puerto Rico Wine
On September 19, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. At this time, Puerto Rico was still reeling from Hurricane Irma, which had dissipated less than a week before. Maria, which lasted until October 2, 2017, was the worst natural disaster on record in Dominica and Puerto Rico. It destroyed 80 percent of all crops in Puerto Rico and nearly all of the buildings on Dominica. Some estimate the death toll in Puerto Rico alone to be between 500 and 1,000 people. It was also the third costliest hurricane on record and wreaked nearly 92 billion dollars damage. The storm destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid. The healthcare system, which was already in a state of crisis, crumbled. And as of this writing, tens of thousands of people are still living in temporary shelters, without basic necessities. And dozens of cities are still without running water or electricity.
La Bodega Andreu Sole’ remains closed. But will the Phoenix rise again? Possibly, with your help.
How You Can Help Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Wine Producers
Even before Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rico wine industry had not yet developed a system of exports. If you wanted to taste these revolutionary new wines, you had to travel to Puerto Rico to do it. And you still can. Puerto Rico is still recovering from the disastrous 2017 hurricane season. But the Puerto Rico Tourism Company has declared the island “open for business.”
In fact, although the country is still recovering, Puerto Rico tourism is booming. According to Carla Campos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, the tourism industry has improved at a pace three times faster than that of any other industry. The majority of hotels have rebuilt and reopened. This cruise season has already generated $250 million in business. And savvy Puerto Rico is quickly building a profitable “voluntourism” industry serving — and benefiting from — charitably minded tourists.
Want to be part of the relief effort — and have some fun as well? The luxurious Serafina Beach Hotel has its own voluntourism program. The Serafina is a stunning, brand new hotel that opened in 2018. Its “Relax and Rebuild” program pairs tourists with relief efforts on the island that match the tourists’ skills and interests. You can hand out supplies, work at local parks, or volunteer at a historical society — and more.
Even if you don’t volunteer to help with relief efforts, visiting the island and enjoying its hotels, restaurants, businesses, and sites will help the island to recover.
And then, perhaps the Phoenix that is the Puerto Rico wine industry, will rise again.