Businessman wants Pinoys to taste his sweet wine
Noah, a man of the soil,
proceeded to plant a vineyard.
GENESIS 9, VERSE 20
Would you believe this was one of the first tasks the famous ark builder performed after landing on dry ground after 40 days and 40 nights adrift in God’s great deluge. Then, he went on to partake of the wine, get roaring drunk, before falling into senseless stupor.
Vicente “Nonoy” Quimbo may not exactly subscribe to old Noah’s method of de-stressing through the grape – perhaps being cooped up for so long had its effects – but that hasn’t deterred him from staying faithful to a unique life mission. He’s eager to open the world of wine consumption to Filipinos, and if along the way, his sweet wine, Novellino, piques international interest, that reward will be sure testimony to hard work, perseverance and consistent high standards.
Camelray 1 Industrial Estate, accessed through the Silang Exit, off SLEX, is one of those generic factory and plant complexes with wide boulevards and tidy layouts that populate much of the south of Metro Manila these days. One tenant, however, Novellino Wines, has taken the extra effort at landscaping, even creating a charming Grecian style gazebo under aged trees adorned with capiz lanterns. Together, with the sprawling lawns and well placed shrubbery, the effect is infinitely refreshing, especially after the scrum of the urban sprawl that we just emerged from.
For Quimbo, founder and CEO of Novellino Wines, who has invited Boardroom Watch to experience how his libation is manufactured, Novelino Wines represents one of a raft of business concepts he developed when his multi-faceted career in the food and beverage industry, connected with giant establishments such as Pepsi Cola and Novartis, reached a crossroads and the urge to “do something on my own” beckoned.
Quimbo, the second child of two public school teachers, claims entrepreneurship is an intrinsic part of his DNA, certainly inherited from his mother Juanita, who augmented her husband’s humble salary selling assorted goods from a blanket in Baclaran – the faster to flee marauding law enforcers – until she earned enough to set up a permanent stall in the Dapitan neighborhood. Her mini-me earned pocket money, renting out comic books, sold salty duhat snacks and served in the parish as altar boy (35 centavos per mass) and baptismal register clerk (10 pesos).
He graduated from the University of the Philippines in October 1969, completing a BS Business Administration Major in Marketing in just three and a half years at 18. “That’s how much in a hurry I was to enter the business world,” Quimbo chuckles. His establishment of choice? Proctor and Gamble.
The behemouth manufacturer accepted Quimbo after two applications as his initial effort was stymied by a health issue, which he overcame. He was 19, and started with the grand position of Consumer Research Manager In-Training. At 24, he moved with his boss to Pepsi Cola, handling Mirinda, which gained tremendous market share under his watch and creative campaigns such as the “Avalanche (where hundreds of oranges are seen cascading down a flight of stone stairs)” and the controversial “Mirinda Blind-Taste Challenge” which pitted his beverage against the competitor of the day, with you guessed it coming out as the preferred drink. As expected, furor ensued and the ad was criticized, but not without having made an impression on consumers.
Thanks to Pepsi and future employer Novartis, Quimbo chalked up the enviable experience of living in eight countries, including the Philippines, such as Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Australia, England, Switzerland and the US. He decided to settle down in Minnesota with his wife Myla so his two sons Carlos and Chris “could have roots.” Their neighborhood of Idina is reportedly one of the most affluent enclaves in the city. Mrs. Quimbo ran a thriving café-bakery, which enjoyed brisk custom from the mall and medical center in the area.
Quimbo never lost that entrepreneurial spirit, which he found revived after his stint with Novartis drew to a close.
He proposed the idea of tapping the unexplored market of sweet wine consumers to Manny Pangilinan’s First Pacific Company, which snapped up the business plan and invested in the necessary top-of-the-line wine processing equipment, making it part of its food division, which also consisted of Wilkin’s distilled water. But given the vagaries of corporate cycles, the unexpected happened, and Wilkins was sold to another company, leaving the future of the wine project in jeopardy.
“I really believed in the concept,” Quimbo stressed. “I knew it could work in the long run.” He acted swiftly and inquired from the First Pacific honchos whether he could buy the company – which was his brainchild in the first place – off them. His timing was perfect. “They were disgengaging themselves from it anyway. I got a good deal.”
Novellino Wines does not grow its own grapes nor does it own its own vineyards. That traditional “Chateau” structure is dying out and giving way to the farmer-winemaker-blender-distributor chain. Novellino Wines uses 100 percent Vitis vinifera grapes harvested from selected vineyards in Chile, Spain and Italy among others. Its winemaker Francesco Nosenzo, who has been with the company from from the very start, hails from Novello, Italy, which gave Quimbo the idea for his sweet wine’s brand name.
From Quimbo, we learn that it is trickier to produce sweet wine than regular dry wine. “It’s not an easy process,” he says.
Novellino Wine’s goal is best explained in its website: “Yeast is what gets the fermentation process going. Yeast interacts with the sugars from the grape juice and converts the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. With the passage of time, more and more of the sugar is stirred into the alcohol. If all of the sugar is converted into alcohol, the wine is deemed “dry.”
“At Novellino, we don’t make our wine dry.
We keep a close eye on the alcohol level because we want to retain some of the natural sugars present in the grape juice to make our wine sweet. Depending on how sweet we want our wine to be, we stop or “arrest” the fermentation at a specific point.
The sooner the fermentation is stopped, the sweeter the taste of the wine. And sweet is what we want most of the time.
“All this goes on in our three double jacketed stainless steel temperature controlled fermentation tanks imported from Italy.”
The plant is so high-tech, only six people are needed to run its daily operations, which turns out million bottles a year. The latest machine to join the already state-of-the-art assembly line is a crate packer that needs no human hands to place the six bottles in each box.
Few wine drinkers
Compared with other wine-drinking nations, the Philippines would just be a blip on the map. According to studies, Quimbo’s second son Chris Quimbo, who’s company president and general manager, has read up on, France consumes about a bottle a week per capita; Australia consumes about two bottles a month per capita; the US, about one bottle a month per capita and the Philippines, about a take-out coffee cup a year per capita.
The Quimbos believe the outstanding factors of taste, price and familiarity are still hurdles they have to manage in order to get Filipino consumers to even approach a bottle of wine. However, through consistent nationwide sampling in supermarkets and malls, they have been making breakthoughs, and as per the findings of market research group Euromonitor, they have captured 34 percent of the market.
Chris Quimbo, 30, was a rising executive in Minnesota’s Target Corporation when his father lured him home “with an offer he couldn’t refuse.” His first year in a country unfamiliar to him turned into an enduring love affair with the challenges of a new culture and a new job.
“Dad was 24 when he had big responsibilities. I was 25 when I took over Novellino Wines, which was my baptism by fire. But Dad let me make mistakes and learn from them.” His older brother Carlo, an investment banker, has not quite joined the family firm, but with partners is involved in wine projects. His doting father remains hopeful that his first born will add his name to the plantilla in the near future.
Nonoy Quimbo observes that there is no wine brand that dominates the wine market in the way a Pepsi or Coke or Mcdonald’s rules their respective fields. So why not Novellino Wines? “It could happen, perhaps not in my lifetime…”
For now, he just wants Filipinos to savor the sweetness of a Novellino Rosso Classico.