By SOL VANZI
More and more Filipinos are ordering wine as their drink of choice before and during meals, breaking away from the traditional beer and hard drinks. This trend is evident in small but significant changes in the local restaurant scene. There’s a noticeable increase in the number of eateries and bars, even outside Manila, which have stocked up on wine and decent wine glasses. And more menus have started to include a page or two listing wines available by the glass or bottle.
Households are not far behind— sophisticated wine bottle openers, wine glasses, and wine buckets have become regular items in the dining room. Dinner guests now normally arrive with bottles of wine for the hosts, and it is no longer frowned upon for women to be drinking wine with the men even in conservative gatherings. And no office party is complete without wine for everybody.
One man to thank for this change in drinking habits is Vicente “Nonoy” Quimbo, avid wine drinker who held executive positions in two of the largest beverage companies worldwide in eight countries across five continents, who 20 years ago saw the great potential for a wine industry in the Philippines. When he founded Novellino Wines, even his close friends thought it was a crazy idea, and argued that Filipinos simply did not like wine. And most important, the Philippines does not grow grapes, the main ingredient for making wine. But Quimbo was not dissuaded.
“In the Philippines, we can’t grow grapes for winemaking so we import grape juice to make a wine that’s tailor fit for the profile of the Philippine palate; sweet, sparkling, lower in alcohol.”
To achieve the same quality as higher-priced brands, his company only purchases grape juice from wine producing countries: Argentina, Chile, Italy, and Spain.
Quimbo pursued his dream relentlessly and succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations.
“I saw that people want to drink wine in the Philippines but the taste of wine is very new to Filipinos. One of the main reasons why Filipinos don’t like drinking wine is that they don’t like the taste. It’s bitter. So we give people something that they want—a light, sweet wine.”
To counter the perception of unaffordability, Quimbo had to find a way to make wine affordable for the average Filipino.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Vicente Quimbo’s son Christopher now heads the largest wine production in the Philippines, maker of the popular Novellino Wines. Quick to defend Novellino from critics, he reveals that in order to capture the Filipino drinker, Novellino focused on creating a sweeter variant of wine, more than the usual sold by international brands.
“Our objective is to make the Philippines a wine-drinking culture, to fulfill the unfulfilled aspirations of the Filipino people. They want to drink wine, how do we do it? Do we offer a product they don’t like or do we give them something they want?” the young Quimbo argues.
“Wine-drinking has a perceived degree of sophistication, thus making it an aspirational product. Through the foray of Novellino Wines in the Philippines 20 years ago, we have helped build a wine-drinking culture among typical Filipino households,” Quimbo said. Novellino Wines goes to great lengths to promote wine consumption in the Philippines.
He considers the spreading of the wine gospel as missionary work, akin to how the apostles made disciples by spreading the good news. Novellino has helped grow the consumption per capita to 0.1 liters to 0.2 liters per year, still considered small when compared to the 40-liter wine consumption per capita of most European countries but is nonetheless a feat for the nation of beer drinkers.
“We have a long way to go, and a huge opportunity ahead of us. As we implement more initiatives to promote the wine-drinking culture in the Philippines, we believe that we will eventually grow the market further,” Nonoy said.
WINES ON TAP
As it celebrates its 20th year of being the market leader, Novellino vows to continue innovating. Part of its innovations is Novellino Wines on Tap, which are mobile kegs.
Novellino Wines on Tap gives consumers a chance to try Novellino Wines without buying a whole bottle. With this new innovation, relishing the Filipino-produced wine becomes much easier.
Today, Novellino Wines leads the winery industry in the Philippines, producing and selling millions of bottles of wine varietals per year through its state-of-the-art winery in Canlubang, Laguna. The plant is equipped with the latest Italian winemaking technology and is one of the largest wine production plants in Asia and the only winery of its scale in the Philippines.
Novellino Wines now produces millions of bottles of wine per year, having a presence where Filipinos are, such as the United States, the Middle East, and several Southeast Asian nations.
“We are exploring the possibility of producing products that have direct and indirect linkages to the wine business,” Nonoy said.
This is part of the overall vision of having Novellino become the universal brand name for wines.