'It's easier to grow grapes in PH than in US, Europe'

By Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at May 15 2013 11:04 AM | Updated as of May 15 2013 07:18 PM

MANILA, Philippines – While most Filipinos think that it is impossible to grow grapes in the Philippines because of its warm weather, an expert in viticulture stressed that the country is a better place for the fruit than the United States and Europe -- two places where most of the world’s wines are produced.

Unknown to many, the Philippines has been home to several vineyards, said Avelino Lomboy, who has been growing grapes in the country for more than four decades.

He said some of these are located in La Union, Cebu, Cotabato, Iloilo, Masbate and Nueva Ecija.

“In the Philippines, we have the best climate for grapes, which is 25 to 34 degrees Centigrade,” Lomboy explained. “And the temperatures the whole year round stay that way until winter. In Europe, you only grow [grapes] once a year. Here, you can grow [grapes] the whole year.”

“Grapes grow based on summer, so we have the whole year. Heat is not a problem,” he added, referring to the misconception that grapes need cold weather to grow.

Asked if Baguio is a suitable environment for grapes, Lomboy said: “No, because it’s gloomy. The grapes need sunlight. ‘Yung grapes sa Baguio are coming from La Union. Probably coming from me.”

Lomboy has been tapped to help put up the first vineyard in Tagaytay, a picturesque city that is about two hours away from Manila. The 10-hectare vineyard will be part of Twin Lakes, a real estate project of Global Estate Resorts Inc. The company is a subsidiary of the Andrew Tan-led Alliance Global Inc. which also operates Megaworld, among others.

For the vineyard, Lomboy will be working with local brandy maker Emperador and Spanish brandy house San Bruno, which are both owned by Alliance Global.

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A 10-hectare vineyard will be put up in this area. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

“We’re also building a chateau, which means we’ll have our own winery,” explained Harold Geronimo, Megaworld’s director for strategic marketing and communications. “We’ll be storing the grapes and we’ll age them. The company of Mr. Tan will be handling the production of the wines.”

Soil not a problem

Lomboy also reacted to questions about the Philippine soil, one of the most important things to consider when planting grapes.

“There’s no problem with the soil quality here,” he said, adding, “[and even if there is] you can condition the soil, or even replace it.”

The primary concern of viticulturists like him, Lomboy said, is the weather. This, according to him, is what gives the Philippines the edge over countries with cooler temperatures.

“In the Philippines, from planting to first harvest, it’s below one year. In America, it will take you three years. Why? Because of autumn and winter, stop ang growth. Pero ang Pilipinas, tuluy-tuloy ang growth because of the sunlight. Mas madaling mag-grow ng grapes sa Pilipinas,” he said.

First fine wines in PH?

With the project, the Andrew Tan-owned company is expected to produce the country’s first fine wines, said Geronimo, who cited the expertise of Lomboy and their Spanish partners.

“So it’s the best of both worlds, Europe and the Philippines. The Philippines with Mr. Lomboy’s expertise for more than four decades in growing grapes, plus the expertise of those growing grapes in Spain. Bring them together to produce the finest wines in the Philippines, the first finest Philippine wines,” he said.

The products of the planned vineyard – mostly wine and brandy – will be sold by Emperador.

But they are not going to do all the work: Alliance Global is also considering to sell lands to those who might want to plant their own grapes.

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The light green area in this model is where The Vineyard, which includes the 10-hectare vineyard, will be built. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

“We are eyeing certain lots within the area which can be used as a vineyard as well by other interested growers,” said Erwin Francis Go, Megaworld’s vice president for sales and marketing.

“So we’re not just confined to our own vineyard – we’re offering it already to others who might want to build their own vineyard here. We have pockets of available land for them to grow their own vineyard,” he added.

As for the taste of local wines, Lomboy said these are generally sweeter than the ones sold in the United States and Europe, and is expected to be a hit among Filipinos.

“Iba ang napro-produce ng tropical countries because of the heat,” he explained. “Mataas ang sugar content kaysa asim. Kaya iba ito sa Europe.”

Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay

The vineyard will be situated within a 177-hectare mixed use area, which is aptly called The Vineyard. The property will feature a low-rise hotel and three towers of condominiums labeled Merlot, Chardonnay and Shiraz -- just like the grape varieties.

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A look at one of the condominium units in The Vineyard. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

The one- and two-bedroom units are priced between P7 million and P12 million each, depending on the size of the balcony, and will be ready by 2017.

Other establishments are also set to occupy the 1,149-hectare Twin Lakes, from shopping areas and restaurants to retirement homes, schools and nature parks.