Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tubahalina: By EF Winery

We’re still on the Tuba topic, and from Vino De Coco compound, we proceeded to this little house in Palo where many reputed personalities in the region buy their tuba by ‘containerfuls’ when they have celebrations or just about anything in their lives that require them to drink and serve tuba – which is actually ‘just about anytime, right?! But even the way going there was exciting enough for me. Look at the map and zoom it, this is the government center area with touristic sights.

We passed by the Philippine Science High School (Eastern Visayas Campus), veering left amidst national government offices, on to the famous MacArthur Park and turned right towards The Oriental Hotel (previously The MacArthur Park Beach Resort). Then… we asked around as to where is Barangay San Fernando, only to be told were were already in it hehe. But we easily found EF Winery as they are very well-known in this neighborhood. They were also expecting us! Yep, the DTI has previously arranged all our visits.

The “winery”, the “office” is the residence. A normal size residential house amidst a normal size rural neighborhood, you’d never think there is such a big business here. Exciting! And they talked about details, processes, procedures, etc., while I busied myself with looking around. Looking at a plaque on the wall (beside their “business permit”), I learned that they won 1st prize in a local business & entrepreneurship contest. But as if to correct the impression already forming in my head, an older man stood beside me saying something like “that was in 2011 but we also won first prize last year”. I realized he was/is the ‘cause’ of all these, Edmundo Fabi – owner of EF Winery.

He was/is not even a “manangguite”, he just loves drinking tuba. He says there is really no need for technology or hi-tech gadgets in this kind of business. It is just the knowledge on how to properly age tuba – which he says, just what he was doing for personal consumption, but it was noticed by co-workers and friends. Then the word spread like a very hot chika, that Mano Edmundo made the best tuba in town. That started it all! He mentioned “husgado” more than twice during our conversation, so am guessing he probably worked at a court of justice before retiring. Not sure if he was a ‘judge’ or ‘justice’ (whatever those are called now) but he did mention that many of his lawyer friends only buy tuba from him.

Then Edmil (a son, the operations manager) and the whole of my friend's group came joining in the conversation. Edmil educated us that it is really just keeping the wine properly and long enough. ‘Properly’ there is tricky, it is actually tedious and requires you to really love doing this job. It was probably his segue as next he asked everyone of us to follow him a small block away to their bodega. That is where my chinky eyes grew big again and my ears started flapping. Whoa! And we all went, leaving his parents in their house.

Walking to that bodega, I asked Edmil some questions like how they run the business, how they monitor earnings versus expenditures and so on. He told me he is now trying to manage the ”back-office” like a real corporate entity complete with monitoring reports, statistics, etc. And, before I could even ask the next question, I got the exact answer = “he went to a local business school and is at present still gainfully employed at Coca Cola”. So he has some kind of a benchmark in doing the business side of managing EF Winery. Nice!

And we reached the ‘bodega’. Well, it’s a building! Can easily pass as a 3-level structure but there are only 2 floors. Not habited by any of them, but totally just as he describes it, a bodega. At entrance alone, we were all overwhelmed at the sight of thousands of containers of different kinds! He told me some of the big blue drums are “aging” drums and many of the empty black or gray smaller containers are of their suppliers who will get those the next time they come to deliver. The glass bottles and gallons are in their final aging stage, can be sold as is or can still be decanted and re-bottled.

“Proper quality from the source (the farmers), fermentation and aging are always the key”, so they started discussing again – as I slowly inched around taking a peek at everything (but within hearing distance of all of them). And OMG what a bodega! In a darker portion of ground floor (which is most of it anyway) are rows and rows of shelves with hundred or thousands of bottles of tuba just sitting there like books in a library. And all the shelves have labels like that one in the picture – that says 98 individual gallons in this shelf that is about a year old (started aging on September 2012).

There was some talk by Edmil about how tuba becomes tastier and more in demand the older it has been in stock, just like in all the wineries of Europe and elsewhere. The advantage of “aging” tuba in this country is that there is no need to control the temperature like wine at cellars in other countries. He says (and the DTI guy chimes in) all that is needed to keep this wine is normal room temperature of a residence without (take note, without) fans or air-conditioning! And, they were actually following me as Edwin toured the group around the many shelves, stacks and rows of containers and bottles.

The ‘expected’ happened, as he was showing everyone different ages of different groups of containers in this bodega, he picked a 1-liter Coke bottle (the glass type) dusted it with a nearby ‘trapo’, reached for a glass, opened and poured to let everyone taste tuba. I did take a sip for the opportunity to taste what was being discussed. Everyone said it was real good! Then he flipped to show us the label on the rack. That innocent bottle had been sitting there like that for 7 years (yes, seven years). Good that he picked just a 1-liter bottle! Why? Because, he said, the liquid is not anymore air-tight, so and if not drank within 2 days, will become sour. And he gave it to the group (just like that) where Roy, our driver, accepted it with a wide grin!

I asked how much would that liter have been sold. He casually said “5 years old, 1 liter, about a hundred pesos”. I corrected him saying it was 7 years old. He smiled informing the group of another '”trade secret that is no secret at all” – they pass their tuba by labeling them younger than its actual age. Thus, when compared by the curious outsiders, theirs always emerge as the best. To highlight that, he told us that they’ll never sell anything younger than 1 year old, and they only call it “new”. And the DTI guy adds, “while other suppliers call their tuba 1 year old even if just a few months old, that’s why they don’t get the public’s patronage”. All I could say was “bright”!

Still on that topic as the group was going upstairs, Edmil told us there are stocks that they do not sell to the public ‘at large’. Of course we got curious why. And he openly told us that they have a very wide market of “public figures” who demand to only get the best tuba from EF Winery. The Fabi family also knows that these people (mostly politicians) serve this drink to mostly their visitors and esteemed guests usually announcing they have the best tasting best quality tuba. Thus, EF Winery reserves the best they have, if only to keep the good name of tuba from Palo, Leyte or even the entire region. I found it interestingly fun that the family knows and keeps track of festival dates, fiestas and even birthdays of these public figures! MGA SUKI!

Can you believe, in the course of this conversation, I even caught that this is actually where two of my friends (politicians) buy their tuba?! And they live far!

Hey, upstairs were hundreds more of containers aging or empty. I like looking at that regiment of little half-gallon bottles all in the waiting for their right (or ripe) age to be sold. Cute! Edmil tells us that when the liquid is already in small containers like gallons, half-gallons or liters. they’re surely already “bahalina”. And he explained to the group what the differences are. “Bahal” is a year old, “bahalina” is two or more years old and anything less than a year is called “buraghak” (I hope, I listened well hehe). Oh, when they have to transfer tuba from the gigantic containers to the smaller ones, that is called “basya”. That practice is also removing the “lagud” (residue) so it is not anymore included in the final product. Though, he says, some customers prefer those that still has “lagud” as that is proof of the wine’s age!

One more tip: in this “air-tight” business, it is always best to use containers that do not allow air when capped or sealed. Examples are those colored blue and white where the caps a depressed deep under the rim level. The way the caps are placed in those containers is like driving a screw down – which even ensures a little bit of spillage, but that assures you you’re keeping the tuba in an airtight situation so it won’t oxidize and become sour. Plus, he told us that is also some kind of a security precaution. Look at those, it’s not really easy to open any one of them, right?!

Whew! Will we ever learn about these things at graduate school? Never!

For a chronology of stories on this trip, please click the following:
01  02  03  04  05  06  07  08  09  10  11  12
13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24


  1. Hii. do you have a contact number for them? thanks in advance

  2. contact person/ numbers for : 09277193189/09186499552 (Edmil Fabi)

  3. I like Mano Edmundo's tuba,its the best wine in town.They located in San Fernando Palo,Leyte.

  4. won as "Best Bahalina" in the region!! during the "6th OKTUBAFeast 2014"- October 30,2014