Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vino De Coco Winery

Here goes the start of our exciting ‘Livelihood Tour’! First drop was at this winery in Marasbaras, Tacloban, not far from Robinson’s Place actually – right side of the Maharlika Highway if you were going towards Palo.

But let me qualify this ‘Livelihood Tour’ for those who might be getting interested. This was not just a so-so field trip. It was organized by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) just for my friend, her son and 2 of her trusted officers. How? She previously talked to DTI seeking help about learning those various livelihood opportunities – especially the many by-products of the coconut tree. All were pre-arranged by DTI with matching itinerary schedules per day (in a total of 3 days), descriptions of the products, a DTI officer and the persons to see! Whew! Am not sure what they call this activity since I did not look in those sheets of paper they had, so in my mind, I decided to call this a ‘Livelihood Tour’.

Anyway and so…

Enter us at the Vino De Coco compound. They were expecting us – well at least the DTI officer and my friend! Introductions introductions and we were ushered to a conference room where the husband and wife team (owners) eagerly told us their story, history and the whole gamut of producing Vino De Coco. Not without a sampling as each product was described. Meaning? Meaning we had to drink wine on empty stomachs as it was yet about an hour before lunch! Just sips btw, not swigs hehe!

So what did I learn? Many things! Like? Well, here we go…

George Vacal Paraliza (an engineer, the owner) told us he is a native of some town in Leyte but went to school in Cebu. He’s a jolly dude and I loved talking to him in a mix of Bisdak, Waray, Tagalog and English hehe. KAG, kabalo gali mag-Ilonggo ah! Long biography cut short, he migrated to the US and worked at the oil mills in Texas as a career until retirement. That’s where he met Tila (his wife) – an American who looks just like many of your ‘tisay’ moms. The diff is that her hair color is real hehe. She has no Pinay blood but I can sense she has become very ‘one of us’ in manners and decorum. I mean we have seen and we still see a lot of Pinays who just got hold of a blue passport and/or had been to the land of milk and honey, and they come proudly squeaking their gonna gonna gotta gotta. But this woman, Mana Tila, very down to earth amiably Pinay. Walang hangin!

Winemaking? Hobby of Mano George, even while he was still grueling it out in the oil fields of Texas. He all along wanted to come home for retirement, so here he is, near everything he loved as a child (Leyte and Cebu) and doing full-time what he loved doing for a past-time, winemaking! Hey, while they still go home to Texas every year esp for family affairs, Mana Tila tells she likes it in Tacloban and she lives a normal enterprising housewife life there – including going to the mercado and riding the trikes, even if alone! Ah, a wonderful story this man and woman are! I think I want to go back to this place one of these days and sit down with them (over coffee or Vino De Coco?) so I cold start writing ‘THE George & Tila Story – How To Retire Productively’. Inspiring, di ba?!

Oh Vino De Coco! Yes the Tuba hehe!

There are 3 variants (if I may call them that), Red, Dry and White Wine – all made from your lowly “lubi” of a miracle tree! How do they taste according to Me, Myself and I? I am no wine connoisseur but I do drink wine (when available or served at dinners), and I drink Tuba – especially during alumni homecomings where most of my ‘previously drunkard’ classmates would say ‘let’s go “organic” and Tuba is a healthy drink’!

Their Red Wine to me tastes like most wines. There’s a hint of sweetness and that kind of mouth-lingering ‘funny’ taste common to most wines we buy at any wine store. But, if you “listen” to your taste-buds well enough, this thing is still Tuba – only its not very dense to the mouth. Their Dry Wine is also red, and I like this one better. It is very smooth without the lingering taste. I think this is the one Warays call Bahalina. This Dry Red should go well with any slab of meat (I think) and probably go well with my classmates! Both Red and Dry get their color from the “barok” (tannin) that farmers put into the coconut sap during gathering.

Hey, talking to the owners and their staff, I enjoyed recalling some Waray words I have almost forgotten! “Sanggot” (verb) means to gather sap from the coconut tree. “Manangguite” – the one who does the “sanggot”. “Barok” – that material they use to color the sap red AND it is a ‘bark’ of a certain tree! “Lakub” – that bamboo node used to contain the sap as it drips from the tree. “Sumsuman” – pulutan in Tagalog, ah, how is that called in English? I forgot! More of those Tuba-related waray-waray terms in the next story.

Their White Wine? Fantastic! This is actually still the same Tuba just without the color red. Farmers are told not to put the “barok” when gathering coco sap. And this thing tastes just like many of the whites we buy from SM or anywhere else. You don’t risk staining your white shirt with this one hehe, that is if you are like me, a very clumsy tuba drinker! Oh, I even brokered an idea to Mana Tila that they try making a variant on the ‘sparkling’ side. Y’know, just like champagne, for indeed their white wines taste like so, just lacking the sizzle. She said ‘that would be interestingly possible’. So, let’s wait and there might come a time the bottles we’d be popping during weddings or anniversaries would be Vino De Coco!

I mentioned “farmers” and “manangguite” above, so where do they farm to get loads of Tuba? Do they have a plantation with their own farmers? No. And this is where they have positively affected the lives of many a manangguite in Leyte. Vino De Coco gathers Tuba from trusted farmers who are now fortunate to have a constant buyer of their produce instead of just putting these in gallon bottles displayed by the front of their houses hoping someone would buy! Now they have Vino De Coco willing and ready to buy their Tuba, anytime!

Anytime? Yes, but not really! There are quality standards that farmers have to  observe so Vino De Coco will buy their Tuba. Like? Like it should be real fresh as in gathered “just this morning”! Am not joking, that’s how stringent the rule is. And, in fact the buying closes at exactly noontime. How does the company know or discern the freshness of the Tuba they’re buying? They have various technical scientific implements to do that AND there is always a “taster” on duty. Not just some dude but a real true blue “manginginom” and “ex-manangguite” hehehe! I joked with this manong that he must be drunk every noontime when the buying ends. He just nodded grinning but explained that sometimes, from experience, he can discern freshness just by looking at the liquid and/or smelling it.

Do they reject deliveries? Many, I was told. That is where DTI also helped – to educate farmers on the proper way of gathering and processing Tuba to ensure they deliver good quality and condition. I asked what farmers do if their deliveries are rejected. Well well well, I learned that if the rejected Tuba can’t be sold to other establishments (with less stringent quality control obviously), farmers make them into “suka” (vinegar)! Thus, they better make quality Tuba or they end up being competitor of Datu Puti hehe! Where are these farmers/suppliers from? The barrios and towns near Tacloban. Mano George told me they even now have farmers from Samar (across the San Juanico Bridge) that can deliver to their facility on time too.

And then what?

Ah, and then the containers are immediately emptied to a gigantic aluminum tank bigger than your backyard water-tank. And the meticulous Vino De Coco process starts. This tank is connected by big hoses to other even bigger aluminum and plastic tanks. How big? Ah just look at the pictures. Remove the top portions and those could become swimming pools each! I think they call those “aging vats” and each has a label with some kind of monitoring notes and other pertinent infos. A very simple but hard to replicate process. Mano George told me those giant plastic vats he even imported from the states as he can’t find one in this country!

I liked it at the ‘bottling room’. There is what looks like a vending machine with 4 nozzles spouting the wine unto 4 bottles in one go. Manual yes, but Mano George has already set a plan to phase-in an automated way at doing this – just like what we see at San Miguel breweries or Coke plants. Mind you, that ‘soon to be retired’ small dispenser thingy with four faucets also came from US of A! That’s why I said above “hard to replicate” since the gadgets and things they use are obviously not cheap. Oh hey, those bottles they use? Also imported by the ship load. Why? It is cheaper doing so than buying from anywhere in this country, so says Mano George. Where from? At first he was getting them from the states – and yes definitely cheaper than the “Made in the PI”. But now he found an even cheaper source – mainland China!

Also interesting to watch the labeling area. Yep, also a bit manual but soon to be automated. The place has to be a little bit dark where each bottle is placed front of an incandescent lamp where the processor aims then press the label sticker. He could of course also see if there is by any remote chance some foreign things or impurities inside the bottle. Or if the bottle itself may have cracks or deformities. Aliw thing to watch – the manong even has an assistant!

Ah so much for the process lest this story become a book hehe!

Why did I notice both husband and wife were talking about things “soon to be automated”? I asked that, and got a prompt reply – business is picking up, they have to make everything faster or they might not be able to cope with the demand – sa Pilipinas pa lang yan! They told us they have just recently inked an agreement with a well-established marketing guy who is well into the business of spreading things all over the islands. We’ll soon see those three bottles or more in many of the malls around – mark my word hehe! And there’s another bit of a more exciting development for these jolly retirees – they caught a market in mainland China eager to distribute their products. Gosh! Where the biggest population on earth can be found? Ah, Vino De Coco is really growing.

Let’s drink to that!

And you’ll hear more of Tuba in my next story. A different but similar enterprise, just the same lucrative while helping the farmers!

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

ISSN: 2516340.125-0518


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