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Filipino-Made Fruit Wines Enter High-End Markets in US, Europe

Did you know that George Clooney has given Tom Cruise Filipino-made fruit wines as wedding gift?

This is a fact that Filipino wine makers should be proud of, for in spite of France, Italy, and Spain, the world’s top three wine exporters, Clooney has chosen the Mijiah Tropical Fruit Wines of Elbert Pigtain, a multi-awarded Filipino fruit wine exporter.

He started the Tropical Fruit Winery Corp. and Oriental Synergies Export Corp. in 2003. And even though the Philippines is not known as a wine producing country, he has been able to ship his bignay (wild berry) wine, duhat (plum) wine, guyabano (sour sop) wine, mango wine, as well as fruit preserves and syrups in high end-markets in U.S. and Europe.

His winery has shown its promise as early as 2003 when Mijiah Tropical Fruit Wines have won first place as the Trendiest Product in the International Food Exhibition (IFEX) Philippines. In 2004, Mijiah Duhat Wine was awarded 76.7% rating in the 11th Concors Mondial de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium, and that rating was already good enough for a new product. In the same year, Mijiah Mango Wine was served during the Gucci fashion show in Florence, Italy.

The following year, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) asked for samples of Mijiah wines. Pigtain thought that DTI was just sending them as gifts to foreign dignitaries. But to his surprise, DTI has sent them as entries to the APEC 2005 Traditional Wine and Liquor Contest Second Senior Officials’ Meeting in Jeju, Korea wherein the Mijiah Duhat Wine bagged the second place in the Special Wine Category.

What’s more is that the professional juriesof the National Food Week (World Foods) held in Utrecht, Netherlands have chosen the Mijiah Tropical Fruit Wines as the Philippines’ official entry and one of the 15 Best Products of the World.

“These are products produced out of social and environmental concerns. These are also versatile. Besides enjoying these as drinks, these could be used for cooking and can be blended with other healthy drinks such as coffee,” Pigtain said.

His success is indeed as sweet as his wines, but his climb to the top has not been as smooth as wine passing one’s throat.

“I know I was able to open doors for wine producers in the country to penetrate the international market, but the path that I took was difficult. Aside from competition, it was hard to secure a wine producer/exporter license as [wine] was considered as a ‘sin’ product. In the U.S., I had to spend a big amount for the license. These countries have also stiff tariffs because they protect their own [products],” he said.

IMPROVING LOCAL WINES
They say that judging color is the first step in tasting wine. Pigtain is one of those who do this. He commented however, that local fruit wines don’t taste good or have very artificial-looking colors.

“I don’t intend to offend, but I tried the local strawberry wine and I think we need a lot of improvement. The color is very artificial. We have to address the lack of standards and proper procedures in producing quality fruit wines,” he said during his lecture on the improvement of home-made fruit wine during the 10th Anniversary and Scientific Symposium of the Mycological Society of the Philippines in La Trinidad, Benguet.

Another glitch that he noticed is that local corks are very brittle and have leaks. “Now we had to do our corking in U.S., which is of high quality,” he said.

“Packaging counts a lot in selling wines,” he adds. “You don’t need to tie a ribbon on a sinamay cloth around the bottle [as it looks so messy],” he said, referring to the common practice of local producers in packaging wine.

As for his wines, well, their packaging has always been a winning edge besides the fact that these are comparable to grape wines. His bottles are made of stoneware with unique shapes and attractive colors-innovative pieces of art themselves!

That is why his advice and challenge to aspiring Filipino wine makers and exporters is this: “We have to be innovative. Our edge is our fruits and vegetables but we need to be more imaginative and inventive in processing and packaging them. Thailand is now dominating the oriental shops in Europe though we have almost the same products, if not better. But why can’t we do it?”