Blending wines the award-winning wayBy Jason A. Baguia |Inquirer Visayas
CEBU CITY—Manny Osmeña never had a liking for liquor or spirits; in fact, he is allergic to alcohol.
The businessman, however, developed the interest, which eventually led him to become a blender of inexpensive but award-winning wines.
Now, Manny O Wines has seven blends that have garnered 49 awards in wine competitions in France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, the United States and Hong Kong. In these events, consumers rated different wine vintages or brands through blind tasting.
“We are very successful and we are sold in six countries,” Osmeña says. He also owns the facilities under the management of Movenpick Resort and Spa Cebu Hotel in Lapu-Lapu City.
“But of course, going into a business that you have a passion for or you love is the best formula for success,” he adds.
The wines Osmeña imports from Europe and blends here are called Bibulus, Discipulus Syrah, Discipulus Blanc, Sumiller, Agapitos Branco, Agapitos Rose and Celebrus.
“I am the wine blender. There is a wine maker. So when I am blending or proffering a blend for a formulation, the wine maker basically just records what I do until I decide this is the blend that I want them to produce,” says Osmeña, who is not related to the influential political clan in Cebu.
Discipulus Syrah, an easygoing party wine made of French Mediterranean grapes is served on board Cathay Pacific. Together with the fragrant Discipulus Blanc, which tastes in part like toffee and butterscotch, the wines are also served on Philippine Airlines’ business class.
Osmeña says he expects a boom in wine consumption in the Philippines and across Asia in the near future. He is positioning his products to meet the demand.
He points out that China consumed almost two billion bottles, or one and a half bottles per capita of wine, in 2009. France consumes over 40 bottles per capita a year. In the United Kingdom, per capita consumption is about 30 bottles.
“Just imagine when China starts drinking 20 bottles per capita at 1.3 billion people. I don’t think the world’s vineyards can produce enough grapes to make wines for these people,” Osmeña says.
The businessman’s fascination for wine started in the late 1970s when he was into the furniture industry.
“I started as a hobbyist,” he says, referring to the days when he would collect wines of the sort that he tasted during business meetings.
Wine was always served whenever foreign clients or business partners met with him over a meal, especially if they were European.
Osmeña says he takes wine only in small portions because he is allergic to alcohol. He never drinks beer, making him the designated driver for friends on their way home from parties.
Still, he went beyond merely collecting wines and read volumes of literature about the drink.
In due time, friends recognized Osmeña as a meister who could do more than just educate people about wine. They urged him to venture into the wine business.
It was not to be a smooth start.
“I was disappointed with my blends of vintage 2004 and 2005. The first Manny O Wine that came to the market was vintage 2006 and that was the Discipulus Syrah,” Osmeña says.
He dubbed the first blend of wine that he was satisfied with “Discipulus” because it was the fruit of a novice wine blender’s experimentation.
“I was still a disciple,” he explains.
The blending of wines is a subtle art. Osmeña says it involves mixing single types of grapes aged or fermented in various ways.
Sumiller, the most famous Manny O Wine with 11 international accolades, is blended from pressed Monastrell grapes that are grown in the Spanish region of Yecla.
A percentage of the grapes that go into Sumiller are aged in oak barrels from different countries. Others are fermented in year-old oak.
“By those percentages, I will come up with the final or conclusive flavor that I want,” Osmeña says.
Art of wine making
“Making wine is partly science, partly art. As a blender, it is what we feel in our emotions and in our tastes that counts. A bigger percentage of us (blenders) is art and a lesser percentage is science. But for the wine maker, there is a bigger percentage of science in their work.”
Osmeña says a consumer can choose from his array of blends what he needs for particular occasions.
“Our Bibulus Meduc Cru Bourgeois gives you an emotion of being very upscale, very elegant,” he says. Sumiller “makes you feel macho and rugged.”
Agapitos Rose, produced in Portugal, “brings you to think of forests…the musky more elegant smell.”
“I blended Discipulos Syrah to make it a fun wine, easygoing. Anybody, whether you’re a new drinker, a novice, could have fun with it,” Osmeña says.
Discipulos Syrah is the favorite Manny O Wine of guests at the Movenpick resort, which used to be Hilton Hotel.
“The Bibulus, as much as it is the top of the line, is not as widely ordered for two reasons I think. Number one, as I said, it makes you feel very serious, you need to focus,” he says.
To maintain the surge in domestic wine consumption, Osmeña has kept his wine blends affordable.
Five of the blends, which he calls “standard brands” are sold on retail at P635 a bottle. In some supermarkets offering discounts, a bottle may be bought for less than P600.
The Celebrus, which is prepared in the same way as Champagne (going through at least two stages of fermentation), is sold at P900. By comparison, a vintage bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne sells for at least P3,000.
In the Philippines, total wine consumption as of 2009 was less than 20 million bottles, but it is growing from a smaller base, Osmeña said.
The Cebuano blender is doing his share to sustain that growth.
“I am democratizing wine. Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive. I want people to know that. I want to take the snub out of wine,” he says.