Thursday, April 23, 2009

VICENTE S. QUIMBO (NOVELLINO WINES)

Novellino Wines
Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat, Manila Bulletin

There is one thing that really breaks the heart of Vicente S. Quimbo, Founder and President of Bel Mondo Italia Corp. (BMIC), maker of Novellino wines: that any homegrown product is considered inferior.

The fact that Novellino wines have made waves here and abroad is testimony that Philippine-made products are also of quality and compete internationally.

Novellino is diminutive for Novello, a quaint little town in the Piedmont region of Italy, home of Novellino's winemakers.

The name also aptly describes the innovative nature (novel) of the wine as well as it's the Italian (-ino) character. Novello is also home to his Italian wine makers who come here three to four times a year.

Novellino is a licensee of a U.S. company. It is the first of its kind and the only one in Southeast Asia.

Although the wine market in the country is still relatively small and highly seasonal product, the country's imports of wine has been posting a double digit-growth.

"Wine is a highly seasonal product and that is during Christmas just like Queso de bola," Quimbo said.

Quimbo exactly knew his market, a non-traditional wine drinking country.

BMIC has chosen to specialize in the manufacture of red wines, which are sweeter than the dry wines of the traditional wine drinking countries are fond of.

Wine is also an aspirational product, a lifestyle product to most Filipinos unlike the Europeans who considered wine as a staple.

According to Quimbo, Novellino wines are especially concocted to suit the Filipino taste. Since Filipinos are not traditional wine drinkers, they are not accustomed to the bitter taste of dry wines.

Wine fermentation or turning sugar from grapes to alcohol must suit to the taste of the market. Normally, imported wines are fermented from 12 percent to a high of 14 percent alcohol content. But Quimbo has specified to his Italian winemakers to ferment only between 4.5 percent to 9.5 percent alcohol content for the Novellino wines.

The success of Novellino in the local market has made Quimbo more determined to bring his wines abroad. We have 11 varieties now from only 4 when they started.

Hopefully, Novellino would be able to attract other non-traditional wine drinking markets.

"We are now in the final stages of approval from the USFDA and in the next few months we will start to export to California to cater to the Filipino market," he said.

"There are about a million Filipinos in California who have been clamoring for this product and trying to bring home things so I thought of why not bring there Novellino wines," he said.

Quimbo even revealed plans of expanding manufacturing operation in Thailand if not export wines from the Philippines.

Quimbo attributed its success to having the right balance of product and knowing its market.

Filipinos appreciate us and our quality for over 5 years now and God forbid there is no quality issue against us. On the contrary we always get good feedback that our wines are well above our customers' expectations," he said.

They promote Novellino through sampling events. Its biggest promotion is supplying 20 sampling stations in supermarkets and malls nationwide.

"This way, we are able to bring in more people to drink wine," he said.

But it was difficult for Quimbo to accept that Filipinos associate locally made products with inferior quality.

He felt somehow insulted when people are surprised to know that Novellino is not imported.

"What's wrong with being a local produce when in reality it is just as good as any imported wine from the U.S. or Italy if not better," he said.

"We have winemakers that are as good as Italian enologist. Our winemakers come from the wine making industry of Italy, from a generation of wine makers," he stressed.

Their grape concentrate is also sourced from Italy because the local grapes cannot meet its quality requirement. There are not enough locally grown grapes too.

Since wines require a special kind of glass to protect its content, BMIC also imports bottles from Italy.

In terms of pricing, Novellino has comparable prices to the imported wines.

"Our prices are popular and the most popular are those about P200 a bottle and under. Our most expensive are the imported wines of P275," he said.

Novellino wines come in 11 distinct varieties, eight of which are bottled locally namely, Rosso (Red) Clasico and Bianco (White) Clasico, Rosso (Red) Tradizionale, and Rosso (Red) Vivace and Bianco (White) Vivace.

The company imports some dry wines because it cannot ignore the traditional wine market. The wines produced in Italy are 99 percent dry wine making them an expert in dry wine manufacturing technology.

"But we are developing a technology for sweet wine and we are perfecting the technology," he added.

Among the accolades and award that BMIC received, four are really outstanding.

It bagged the 2002 Year Ender Excellence Award: Top Wine Brand of the Year; 2003 Year Ender Excellence Award: Top specialty wine of the Year; 2003 Consumer's choice Dangal ng Pilipinas Annual Award's Most outstanding Social Wine; and major marketing award in 2004 honoring the company's adroitness in maximizing Novellino's exposure to Filipinos.

Quimbo said that his ultimate goal is for the Novellino brand not just to be marketed abroad but for it to gain a foothold as a global Filipino brand.

Before Coke there were only juice drinks and fresh juices, he noted.

"Coke does not have the same nutritional value as fruit juices but it's a lifestyle product so it become aspirational," he said.

"Who knows, one day Novellino will become a standard for sweet wine not just for Filipinos but for the world. I may not have enough time to fulfill that but at least I started it," he added.

He confided that from the very start he conceptualized Novellino, he had envisioned the company to go global.

Liberalization is not good for any business but it did not stop this wine manufacturing company from being successful because a business cannot just live on mere protection, but quality will.

Before, imported wines are slapped with 5 percent tariff but now the rates are at 7 percent. But 6 or 7 years ago, tariff for wines were at 50 percent.

A bottle is slapped a 7 percent tariff and grapes concentrate at 3 percent. This makes the net duty for locally-produced wine higher than imported wine which total tariff is only 7 percent.

"But I am always for market economy because we would be forced to compete on quality. We would never be able to tamper with market forces," Quimbo said.

"People buy us because we are quality," he said.

Quimbo said he came from a humble beginning but to a family with good values.

"My mother came from a humble barrio in Pangasinan and my father, a university professor," he said. He is the second of eight siblings, who are all successful in their own fields.

The values he learned from his parents are the same values he passed on to his children.

As a businessman, his objective is not making money but fulfilling the company's vision.

According to Quimbo if the objective becomes the money then the business is headed in the wrong direction because money is just a by-product of a successful business, not the product.

So, the goal is to fulfill whatever vision the company has. In the case of BMIC, the vision is to fulfill the people's aspiration in wine.

So, the goal is to fulfill whatever vision the company has. In the case of BMIC, the vision is to fulfill the people's aspiration in wine.

"The true measure of success is not the money you bring in but the fulfillment of a mission and when you have achieved that, then, you have attain the rewards and money is reward, a by-product," he explained.

Quimbo further believed that he is but just a steward in this world. He is active with the Christ Commission Fellowship.

"We are still governed by the Supreme Being and our achievements are not totally ours and the glory is not really ours but to the Supreme Being. So I always give credit to my creator," he said.

"I'm of the belief that we are just stewards of this world to glorify our creator, the enabling power. My orientation is what I have is not mine," he said.

Quimbo has only misgivings as to how the country has gotten a very poor image abroad.

"This the only country I know, perhaps there are others, that the aspiration is to leave the country when there is so much to do here," he said.

There are opportunities and nice things in the Philippines and the Filipinos are as good in whatever fields as any Americans or any other foreign worker. But Filipinos excel abroad because the aspiration is to leave the country," he said.

Quimbo is hoping that Novellino will become an international business for only then he could accomplish something for the Philippines.

For now, Quimbo was just thankful he was given the opportunity to serve.

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