Source: Zorzal Cacao
Country: Dominican Republic
Source Type: Bird sanctuary, farm, and fermentary
Beans: Grown on reserve and neighboring farms, purchased wet
Fermentation Style: Linear boxes
Tasting Notes: Walnut, caramel and brandied cherry
From a distance, Zorzal Cacao looks like a straightforward operation—an expansive bird sanctuary peppered with hectares of cacao trees. Step a bit closer, though, and you’ll see a thousand moving pieces all cinched together by one mission: to connect cacao producers with chocolate makers through conservation.
Our relationship with Reserva Zorzal has been evolving slowly over the past three years. The reserve recently finished building out fermentation boxes and drying tunnels uniquely suited to the geography of the region, which means in 2016, we got to buy beans for the first time that were fully processed on the reserve. The reserve is much more than a cacao farm and fermentary though. Co-founded by Dr. Charles Kerchner, Ph.D, Reserva Zorzal is a 1,019 acre bird privately owned sanctuary for the Bicknell’s Thrush, a rare migratory bird that travels between the northeastern U.S. and the Dominican Republic every year. The sanctuary serves as a protected haven where Bicknell’s Thrush can safely winter.
Seventy percent of the land is sanctioned to be “forever wild,” and about thirty percent is set aside for growing cacao that is eventually harvested, fermented, dried, and sold to small chocolate makers in the northern hemisphere. Born from Dr. Kerchner’s research exploring alternative funding models for conservation, Reserva Zorzal serves to prove that commerce and conservation can in fact intersect, and the private sector has a unique opportunity to participate in saving the planet and its disappearing species. In the past, government funding has only provided about 25% of the funds needed to finance protected areas in Latin America, and as the Dominican Republic’s first private bird reserve, Reserva Zorzal is a pioneer. Producers working on the sanctuary graft cacao varietals—all selected for fine flavor—onto healthy rootstock before planting them with organic fertilizer under shade trees like bananas and native woods. This healthy, diversified, shady agroforestry system is excellent habitat for both cacao and wildlife, and serves as a cacao demonstration farm for producers in the community who seek to gain access to the global market.
Reserva Zorzal also facilitates reforestation through a partnership with twelve local landowners for a carbon offset project listed under an international standard called Plan Vivo. It works like this: every chocolate maker who buys from Zorzal Cacao pays an extra $200 per tonne of cacao which directly finances tree planting that expands biodiversity as well as habitat for Bicknell’s Thrush. Beyond working to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, the program serves to connect cacao farmers with chocolate makers through a common mission to restore and reforest the land. In the end, a model like this serves to boost incomes in the Dominican Republic by creating jobs in wildlife monitoring, gaining higher prices for cacao, and offering cultivation education services on a demonstration farm.