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20 years of making wine specifically for the Filipino palate

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NOVELLINO co-founder and CEO Vicente Quimbo and his son, Christopher Quimbo, who is the president and general manager, check out a bottle at the bottling line.

TWENTY years ago, Vicente “Nonoy” S. Quimbo, decided that it was time Filipinos had a wine of their own and he came up with Novellino, a brand of wines created especially for the Filipino palate.

“Around the world, many countries are known for their wines: France, Italy, etc., and so I thought, why not create a wine for Filipinos?” Mr. Quimbo, CEO and founder of Novellino wines, told the media during a plant tour on May 28 in Laguna.

Mr. Quimbo, who spent more than two decades working as a beverage company executive and had been to five continents of the seven continents, told a friend of his idea to manufacture Filipino wines — the friend said he was crazy.

But that didn’t stop him as he made it a mission “to build a wine drinking culture among typical Filipino households,” he was quoted as saying in a press release.

He admitted that it wasn’t easy because very few locations in the Philippines where grapes can be grown — grapes typically grow in temperate climates and can’t handle the country’s often humid weather — so they had to import grapes from other countries.

Another challenge was to create wines that Filipinos would like drinking (he noted that his countrymen like sweet wines better than dry wines) — so they manufacture their wines by arresting fermentation, which means many of Novalino’s wines have low alcohol content; the Rosso Classico blend, for example, is only 4.5% compared to the average of 11% ABV (“alcohol by volume,” meaning the volume percent of milliliters of pure ethanol present in 100 ml of the drink).




“We are a high intervention winery,” Mr. Quimbo said before explaining that because they do partial fermentation, they needed to invest a lot in the technology that would allow them to do so.

Grape juice is fermented in 13 fermentation tanks, each with a capacity of 30,000 liters. After partial fermentation, the liquid is brought to a centrifuge to separate solids from the liquids. The solids are then squeezed to get as much juice out before being brought to a wastewater treatment facility which uses coco coir. The solids and coco coir are eventually turned into fertilizer (“We’re very, very green that way,” Mr. Quimbo said).

The liquids then undergo other sifting methods to ensure that no impurities or solids are left behind. The processes use egg whites (“it helps sediments settle to the bottom”) and 24 layers of differently textured diatomaceous earth — from coarse to very fine — which traps remaining solids.

The company also injects carbon dioxide to some of the wines to make them “sparkling.”

“The entire process [from wine making to bottling] can take four-and-a-half weeks, while other varieties can take up to nine-and-a-half weeks,” Mr. Quimbo said.

“Everything is standardized here [so] we always have consistent years,” he said, before adding half-jokingly that with all the processes involved to turn the juice to wine, people who prefer sweet wine have “more sophisticated palates.”

And because wines are often “aspirational” and are only drunk on special occasions, it is very price-sensitive so the company takes measures to offer affordable wines: Rosso Classico (750 ml), for example, has a suggested retail price of P242.

The company currently produces 12 wine varieties including flavored wines (strawberry, blackberry, and peach), sangrias, and “light” varieties (less calories) with prices ranging from P242 to P297. They also import Italian wines — Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Rosso Del Azienda — for P440 for 750 ml.

“Novellino has helped grow the consumption per capita [of wine] from 0.1 liters to 0.2 liters per year,” said a company press release. This might be a considerable increase, but they believe that there is still a long way to go considering European countries consume “40 liters a year per capita.”

Mr. Quimbo said that he considers his wine career as “missionary work” as he tries to “spread the gospel of drinking wine” to the Filipino populace.

Novellino currently has a 1.3-hectare winemaking plant though only a portion is currently being used because they are “future-proofing” and anticipating a growing demand of wines in the country.

“At maximum capacity we can produce 20 million bottles per year. Currently, we produce less than 4 million a year. Maybe in five years [we’ll be at full capacity],” said Mr. Quimbo, though he acknowledged that many people think that P250 per wine bottle is still expensive so “there are limits to growth.”

Now that they are 20 years old, they are starting to look outside the Philippines, considering exporting to countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and possibly encourage them to franchise Novellino in their own countries and produce their own wines. — Zsarlene B. Chua