The German Count Ludwig Weber came to Ecuador in the 1930s after building a fortune in his German shoemaking business. Two decades after arriving in Ecuador, the Count and his wife MarÌa Angélica Calero built a villa on a 1,600-hectare (about 4,000 acres) tract of land which became known as 'El Castillo' or 'The Castle.' Hacienda El Castillo is located outside of San Isidro, in the province of Guayaquil, Ecuador and was built for the Count's retirement. He and his family lived in the villa until his death in 1967, where shortly after, the villa was ransacked by locals and ultimately left in ruins after the family fortune vanished.
For 20 years, the estate laid in ruins and in the late 1980s the estate was purchased by its current owners who had big plans for the old Hacienda El Castillo. The estate was transformed into a small family business focusing on a mixture of sustainable agricultural, tourism, and chocolate fabrication which greatly helps to contribute to the local economy. The renovations have all been accomplished in while respecting the natural surroundings.
El Castillo's Cacao Plantation
The agriculture magic all begins at the greenhouse. First, the Don Homero coca plants are cultivated and the seeds of the very best are selected for sowing. After about two months, the Don Homero plant is ready to receive a graft from selected cacao plants. After the grafting process, the cacao will remain in the greenhouse for several months more until it is stable enough to plant outside. When ready to plant the cacao trees, the planting is done by first planting shade trees, such as plantain or banana. Then after about six months when the shade trees are large enough, the cacao is planted under the shade trees. Then about 18 months later when the cacao trees can provide their own shade, the plantain and banana trees are carefully removed.
Maintaining sound agricultural practices is key to producing superior cacao and maximizing yields. Pruning of the cacao trees is done on a regular basis as well as removing the scrub under the trees. The ground moisture is constantly maintained and irrigated with precision controls. The soil is carefully maintained with a strict fertilization plan along with adding natural elements like hummus. All of this careful attention creates a year-round yield with two pronounced high seasons.
Perhaps the most important process of all is the next step—the fermentation. It is through the fermentation process where the bean's flavor is developed. If cacao fermentation is not done correctly, the beans can easily develop sour or astringent flavors. In order to better control the temperature during the fermentation process, Hacienda El Castillo does a 12-hour pre-drying process to reduce the seed's excess pulp. During the fermentation process, the sugars from the pulp first turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide, then it becomes lactate acid and finally acetic acid, all the while generating a natural heat during this fermentation. When this chemical process completes, the bean has developed the flavor we recognize as cacao.
After the beans have gone through the transformational fermentation process, the beans are dried to 7% humidity taking between 5 and 7 days drying in the sun. If the beans are dried to a moisture content less than 7%, the beans will be too brittle and are subject to breaking and damaging oxidative processes will occur. If the beans' moisture content is over 7.5% the beans will be too moist and develop a mildew and a moldy flavor. After the beans have be properly dried, they are ready for export and making chocolate.
El Castillo's Mango Plantation
The restoration of the villa also includes a 12 hectares (25 acres) mango plantation. The mango trees blossom in late summer during July and August with the mangos being harvested at the end of the year during November and December. As the harvest ends, the plantation announces the coming of Christmas with striking rich colors, and beautiful fruits adorning the tree tops. After December when the mango plantation is at rest, comes the time for plantation maintenance. The new year begins with pruning, cutting and clearing scrub, maintaining irrigation systems, and pest control.
Hacienda El Castillo offers daily tours and has a dedicated tour guide. Upon reception, visitors enjoy a variety of local treats including cacao juice, fried plantains, and local cheeses. After the reception, the tour begins. Visitors can see the whole process of tree-to-bar chocolate—visitng the fields, seeing the fermentation and drying area as well as a visit chocolate manufacturing facilities where they can see and enjoy the delicious final products. After the tour, visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy a coastal tour and a traditional lunch offered at the Hacienda’s villa in the charming and peaceful atmosphere.
The hacienda has conference rooms and facilities with different environments for business and social events including lunches, coffees, and receptions. There is also a grand courtyard which is ideal for weddings, parties and all kinds of social events—catering is also available. Also available on the facilities is the chapel of the Sagrada family which is available for marriages ceremonies, communions, and baptisms.
You can visit their website at Hacienda El Castillo