A winery on the Equator? Yes! (and a coffee plantation too)

Written by Ken Wornick

Backed by 20+ vintages and many dozens of wines produced, Ken is a Sonoma-based wine consultant and founder of Hydeout Sonoma and Dysfunctional Family Winery.

April 22, 2018


Go back to the blog

On our motorcycle tour through the central Andes of Columbia, we discovered this winery, the Marques de Villa De Leyva…

This is the road with a first glimpse of grapevines as we approached the ranch. Could be anywhere in wine country, right? And yet here we are on the Equator.

This is the guard shack entrance, but it was quiet and closed that day.

Page one of two explaining the origins of the winery. The founder, Mr. Pablo Toro, studied enology at UC Davis, yet was spellbound by the vineyards of Israel, and so he named his project “Viñedo Ain Karim” meaning “No tears” in Hebrew. And he named the winery, Marques Villa De Leyva, after the close-by ancient town famous for the largest cobblestone square in Colombia.

Page two

The nearby town of Villa De Leyva, a wonderful artist-focussed village about 4 hours from Bogota. Located away from major trade routes in a high altitude valley of semi-desert terrain, and with no mineral deposits nearby to exploit, the town has undergone little development in the last 400 years. As a consequence, it is one of the few towns in Colombia to have preserved much of its original colonial style and architecture: the streets and large central plaza are still paved with cobblestones, and many buildings date from the sixteenth century.

High quality steel tanks filled the modern 5,000 case capacity fermentation room.

Incredibly, they dug a basement during construction and formed a traditional cave and barrel room.

They offered a wide range of wines that were surprisingly delicious.

But it was the French varieties with traditional canopies and training methods that really surprised.

Even though the vineyard is at an elevation of 7,000 feet, it is often hot and definitely humid most of the year. So every pruning wound must be sealed to prevent disease. And, at the equator, there is essentially 12 hours of day and night all year, with no temperature variation. So they must ‘induce’ the seasons – fall leaf drop, winter dormancy, and spring bud break? How do they do that? Simply put, they ‘force’ the seasons onto the vines.

Their vineyard signage indicates they are farming according to the standard Mediterranean seasonal changes…

The tasting experience was also pretty traditional. The grounds were beautiful and the staff was great, just like in Sonoma.

After the tour, we road back into town and found some traditional Colombian coffee – always light in color, low in caffeine, but very aromatic. That is how they drink it all day long. You can hardly find an espresso anywhere…

Them we loaded up again and got ready to ride into the eastern Andes of Colombia.

Our next stop was the 12-day long “Running of the Fish” festival, the Subienda, in the town of Honda. Honda takes its name from the Ondaimas, the indigenous people that inhabited the banks of the Magdalena river and the region where the city lies today. Honda is called “the City of Bridges” with more than 40 of them on the rivers Magdalena, Gualí, Guarinó, and Quebrada Seca. It is also called the “City of Peace” as it escaped most of the violence of the 1950s. The local outdoor food and music was a ton of fun.

The following day, we visited the El Ocaso coffee farm, or plantation known as a Finca. These are raw green coffee beans not yet ready for harvest.

The red ones here are ready to be picked. Just like grapes, some such as these are carefully picked by hand, and make better coffee, whereas other farms use mechanical harvesting to supply the world with it’s endless demand for coffee.

Here again, a good sign explains the season of the coffee bean.

The hand-operated coffee bean crusher, just like the ones for grapes back in the 1940’s.

Finished beans in various forms. The big surprise? Colombians like to drink coffee all day, and they drink it very light and mild with low levels of caffeine.

A fun sign at the Finca indicating how far we were from San Francisco! And other places around the world.

And this photo? It is the entrance to famed cocaine narco-trafficer Pablo Escobar’s ranch, and the original airplane that flew into Texas. The place is now an animal amusement park. But that didn’t;’t stop us form shooting this photo. Colombianos are anxious to move past these old days.

Thanks for reading. Next post in a couple of weeks. Ken

You May Also Like…


  1. Bobby Locke

    Great post Ken! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gail

    Wow!! Great blog and the trip of a lifetime!!! You guys rock!!

  3. Joanna

    Gracias Ken! Que interesante! Cuando les vemos, quisiera saber más. xo Joanna

  4. Susan Campbell

    What an amazing trip! Thanks for the photos and great stories!


  5. Orene

    You were on such an interesting trip!




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *