Toast to Mango Wines

I love these “feel-good” stories on fruit wines. This one comes from the Philippines and written by Aissa dela Cruz. I know from experience that mango makes fabulous wines. Too bad I can’t find good tropical wines here in Canada.

WE MAY not grow the grapes ideal for wine-making but a tropical country like the Philippines has been producing fruit wines from bignay, duhat and carabao mango. Bignay is the Pinoy’s posh red wine. The bignay fruit trees that bear clusters of small red berries grow well in Mt. Banahaw in the provinces of Laguna and Quezon. With the abundance of coconut trees, we regularly have a supply of tuba, the popular coconut toddy that is distilled to produce lambanog or coconut vodka. Some allude to lambanog as the Philippine grappa.

This poor man’s liquor, which is produced in Quezon province, has become a part of its festive tradition called tagayan or wine drinking. The Ilocanos have their basi or sugarcane wine.

Thirty-seven-year-old wine enthusiast Conrad Montilla picked me up one afternoon to introduce me to his mango wine, which he produces in his home in Labangon. He struck me as someone with the demeanor and discipline of a naval officer. I learned that he left for the United States at age 10. He eventually joined the US Navy when he was 19 and embarked on a naval career that spanned 14 years. His post in Naples, Italy, where he was stationed for three years, gave him the opportunity to observe wine making. His Italian landlord produced homemade wines. He finally came home a few years ago filled with enthusiasm for his Cebuano roots.

Because I spend several months in a year in the US, Conrad and I easily found a common ground and conversation flowed easily. We share a number of sentiments about our country and the Filipinos. He sincerely wants to establish his local bearings and flow with the system—which, we both agreed, leaves much to be desired.

His Conrad’s Mango Wine embodies a strong sentiment for what he believes must be a part of the Cebuano culture and heritage. His product is still in the “pilot stage” and admitted that the price can be a bit prohibitive for the average Cebuano. He is aware of the odds he has to overcome given that imported wines are easily available and affordable. But his optimism for his mango wine is admirable.

He started making his mango wine in 2009 and bottled in May 2011. He uses Guadalupe mangoes, personally handpicked—just the ripe and firm (without bruises) ones. He said the mango fruits are mixed with sugar and water, and yeast is introduced to ferment the mixture. Primary fermentation takes in a month or two in big plastic containers, uncovered. The secondary fermentation in sealed containers lasts for five to six months. Unlike grape wines, Conrad’s Mango Wine bottles are stored in room temperature vis-à-vis the grape wines, which are kept in cellars with controlled cold temperature.

A dessert wine with 12 percent alcohol, Conrad’s Mango Wine is best enjoyed chilled with desserts. But he wants to promote his wine as a means to strengthen the Cebuano sentiment for a product truly their own. He envisions his mango wine to be a part of every Cebuano occasion: a simple gathering with family and friends or in big feasts like weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.

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