Tasting Notes: Nougat, Mandarin, Coffee
THE ORIGINAL SANTA MARIA ESTATE comprised approximately 280 acres, situated in the lovely rolling hills of the Gran Couva region of Trinidad. It was established as an active cocoa estate by the Spanish in the 1800s and the original estate house was built in the 1920s. It is not known precisely when it passed into the hands of French Creole owners (the Selliers), but what is known is that the estate was eventually bought from the Selliers by an Englishman (Bennett). Bennett’s son inherited the estate, but became disenchanted with the many house repairs needed after Hurricane Flora slammed Trinidad in 1963 and eventually put it up for sale.
Eugene and Myrtle Ward bought the property in 1976 upon their move to Trinidad from Jamaica where Eugene was a professor of physiology at the Mona Campus. The move to Trinidad was out of sheer love for the country and a desire to create a long-term homebase there. One day, Eugene suggested that he and his wife take a drive out into the countryside. Myrtle never knew why or how her husband came to know of the Santa Maria estate, but he clearly had been doing some searching. The minute she saw how beautifully landscaped the estate was, with its lovely expansive view of the Gulf of Paria from the house verandah, she immediately fell in love with it. Eugene, on seeing her facial expression, coyly asked if she liked it. "It is gorgeous!" she replied. He then promptly informed her that they were going to buy it. They had no clue how they were going to pay for it, no game plan for what they would do with it, but they knew that it had to become theirs. Within 3 months they owned the estate. The rest, one could say, became family history.
A great deal of family time was spent on the estate with their 3 daughters, other family members and friends. Many parties were held there over the years, and one of Myrtle's daughters was later to have her beautiful wedding reception there. Apart from the cocoa grown on the estate, the Wards kept 2 horses in stables down the hill and raised ducks, chickens and pigs and grew other small crops. Eugene put his scientific expertise to work and successfully introduced 6 black belly sheep for the first time ever in Trinidad. Through his careful attention to breeding details, he was able to multiply the sheep flock to 500 over the years.
Unfortunately, the early 1990s took a sad turn: the coup d'état in 1990 brought with it a terrible series of events on the estate in which most of the animals were stolen and/or slaughtered. This devastated the Wards, and was only the beginning of the decline, as sadly, Eugene fell ill soon after and died within a few years. Myrtle was left with enormous debts to repay and so had to make the sad but necessary decision to sell off parts of the estate. Today, she has retained 13 acres of the original cocoa estate, with the estate house included.
Over the years, Myrtle has ever so quietly tried to maintain the estate and keep Eugene's dream alive in some small way, and 2016 proved to be a critical turning point in Santa Maria's history. She began crucial renovation work on the estate house, and the cocoa trees on this parcel of land, despite their age, have been given renewed reason for production through better crop maintenance. Most of the cocoa trees on this estate carry strong old cocoa genetics (i.e. a very pronounced basal cocoa flavour). There is a small portion of trees however that clearly have strong Criollo ancestry, and she has done a good job of keeping these trees alive and actively producing. For now, the estate produces just over a ton of wet cocoa for the main crop season. This harvest season 2016/2017 has already shown itself to be quite a sizeable harvest in a short period of time. With much effort and a steep but exciting learning curve, her fermented and dried bean quality keeps getting better with every batch harvested and prepared. The near-future looks very exciting indeed and I am sure that Eugene is looking on and smiling with pride at how much fun she is finally having, and how much success is starting to come her way. Santa Maria is well on its way to crafting a delightful little niche for itself, and writing a whole new chapter to the story that began so many years ago.