Vino Arsan finds gold in indigenous berries

Shining from a pool of 2,299 total entries worldwide, the prestigious WineMaker Magazine bestowed a gold medal to Filipino vintner Arturo “Art” Olarte and his son Joshua of Vino Arsan Enterprises during the 2018 WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition in San Diego, California, USA last April.

The annual competition regularly draws amateur winemakers who stack up the best wines in the world. It continues to be the single largest and most diverse collection of hobby wines assembled under one roof. And in this battle of the best wines, Vino Arsan’s winning entry — red wine made from an artistic mix of lipote and bignay indigenous berries — managed to impress the judges and secure a gold medal in the Berry Fruit Category.

Hobby turned passion

A mechanical engineer by profession in Diesel and Hydro Power Plants, Art began his passion for wine making in Saudi in 2008 when he experimented making sadiki, a type of homemade liquor. “I like doing something when I’m not doing anything. And of all my hobbies, this is my favorite love, my passion. I also had my share of failures because I lacked the proper knowledge, so I attended several winemaking classes in the US,” he recalls.

In 2016, after gaining enough knowledge, confidence and prodding from family and friends who enjoyed his sample works, the Pinoy vintner decided to join the 2016 WineMaker International Competition in Vermont, USA, and won two Silver medals and one Bronze medal out of 2,981 entries. This led them to formally establish Vino Arsan Enterprises — literally meaning “wine” made by ARt and his wife SuSAN. The venture started in their house garage before they moved to their compound in Parañaque.

Creating value from local berries

At his project site in Quezon Province, Art found an abundance of lipote and bignay berries in the Sierra Madre and eastern seaboard. These are small round fruits that appear like plump grapes. Noticing the uncanny resemblance of the berries to the grapes used for wine, he immediately thought of using it as a wine ingredient. He also found the potential of the more common bignay berries. But unlike other winemakers who have their own farms and vineyards, Vino Arsan relies on local sources for the berries.

Sensing an opportunity, the father and son duo struck a deal with local farmers who often overlooked the potential of the lipote and bignay trees. Many see these only as a source of firewood since the berries have no commercial value. “We approached farmers and told them that we’ll buy the fruits if they don’t cut the trees. We are hoping that the farmers and our supplier communities see the value in keeping the trees for a sustainable livelihood and as means to fight the effects of global warming and climate change,” adds Joshua.

Sharing the knowledge

As part of the advocacy of raising awareness on the unique qualities and health benefits of Philippine-made wine, Vino Arsan also conducts winemaking classes, mostly in farms and agri-based communities that have an abundance of fruits which can serve as raw materials. Here, participants the complete process with hands-on demo afterwards.

“Everybody can afford to drink wine. By teaching home-based brewers, we make local wine available more readily available for the market, and create livelihood opportunities for the community,” Art shares.

When Vino Arsan took home the gold medal, it validated the Filipino skill in winery. Even at this early stage, signs point that local berries and Pinoy talent can captivate the attention of the world. Soon, the country may be known as a source of top-notch, fine wine made from indigenous Philippine berries. It won’t be long now.