I’m a big fan of natural wine. I was first introduced to it several years ago at restaurants in the US and Europe, where different varieties — skin-contact (aka orange wine, where white grapes are macerated on their skins for long periods) especially — are often used for pairings at multi-course tasting menus, or to accompany small plates. I learned more about it in 2017 when I traveled to Georgia (the country), the birthplace of an 8,000-year-old wine culture — presumed to be oldest in the world — where wines are still made with qvervi (claypot vessels) buried underground.
What is natural wine?
“What is natural wine?” you may ask. Isn’t wine just fermented grapes? Unfortunately, most commercial wines aren’t derived from just grapes. The grapes of most wines are often grown with synthetic fertilizers and later in the process are treated with additives, fining agents and stabilizers. Natural wine is made with minimal human intervention, both in the vineyard and cellar, thus it is often referred to as “low-intervention wine.”
Broadly defined, natural wines are produced from grapes farmed without synthetic pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, and are hand-harvested; only native yeasts (found on the skin of the grapes) are used; no additives are added to alter the body, aroma, color or flavor of the wine; there is no fining or filtration, hence they occasionally have naturally occurring sediments and can be cloudier than commercial wine; there are minimal to no added sulfites (a chemical compound often added at the time of bottling to stabilize it, but which also sometimes contributes to headaches when drinking certain wines). These commitments allow natural wines to express themselves and their sense of place.
Natural wine in Manila
One of my biggest laments in the last few years was that natural wines were not easy to come by in Manila. (Origine Philippines, the retail arm of Sommelier Selection, run by Jerome Philippon and Zeus Grageda, has Arianna Occhipinti and her uncle Giusto Occhipinti’s COS wines in their portfolio — both of which are also on Toyo Eatery’s wine list.)
Enter Bombvinos, a company founded earlier this year by third cousins Joey Osmeña and Paolo Monasterio, which imports and distributes natural wines exclusively.
The two bonded on Instagram in 2017 as they discovered the extent of their shared passion for natural wines, often “geeking out” over the wines each tried. At the time, Joey was taking his MBA at Columbia Business School in New York, and Paolo was working at a startup in San Francisco, freshly armed with a master’s degree from Hult International Business School.
As the two began to discover their shared affinity, it wasn’t long before they began toying with the idea of starting a natural wine business.
“What made it real for us was when I attended Raw Wine (a natural wine convention) in New York last November 2019,” shares Joey. “I made the connections with winemakers, who were among the first we reached out to work with. I never felt like such a phony sampling wines next to pioneers like Zev Rovine, and Jenny and François, as people would ask me what I do and I would try to say with a straight face, ‘Oh, I distribute in the Philippines.’ But if there’s one thing business school taught me, it’s that confidence can take you further than you ever thought you could go.”
Natty wines and Pinoy food
“Moving back to the Philippines made us realize there was limited access to these wines,” Paolo explains. “We decided to solve that problem and at the same time, we wanted to share the experiences we had with natural wine to our community.”
Bombvinos is a combination of the ’90s-generation term of “bomb,” meaning “excellent” or “the best,” and vinos, the Italian word for wine. It also alludes to “bambino,” (“baby” or “young child”), which is what they consider themselves to be in the wine business.
“I think natural wines, especially orange wines, rosé and pét-nats (pétillant naturel, or sparkling wine) just go so well with the Filipino climate, tropical lifestyle and food,” adds Joey. “The tart, savory freshness goes well with our salty food. I’ve enjoyed pét-nats with fried adobo (the asim of the pét-nat is a perfect foil to the salty fattiness), and orange wines with chicken inasal (with extra suka in my sarsa).”
While their clientele started out with family and friends, word got around and they have been receiving a lot of interest from foodies.
For those who are interested in trying natural wines for the first time and aren’t sure where to start, Paolo and Joey recommend their starter kit, priced at P4,350 for three bottles — a mix of orange (Doccia Freda by Controvento), red (Saramat by Al di là del Fiume) and a pét-nat rosé (O-X by Costadila) — plus, a free wine pump and two stoppers.
For by-the-bottle options, they’ve created a quiz on their website (www.bombvinos.com) with questions like, “How adventurous are you?” to “How do you like your sinigang (light and easy vs. asim kilig)?” with suggestions on what wines one might like based on his/ her palate. Bottles range from P1,350 to P2,250.
As for their personal favorites, while it depends on their current moods, Paolo is “fine with not sharing” Swick Wines’ Only Zuul, Powicana Farms’ pét-nat, and Costadilà’s Moz. As for Joey, it’s Tout Terriblement Maceration by Domaine Brand & Fils.
Orders are handled via their website, and for any questions, Joey and Paolo encourage customers to message them on Instagram (@bombvinos).
“Our plans for now are to mainly grow our online store given the current state of the world,” shares Paolo. We want to be agile enough to survive this pandemic. You could expect pop-up online events, virtual wine tastings, food pairings and collaborations with restaurants, chefs and local brands. We’ve also been discussing launching a wine subscription so stay tuned for that!” There are also plans of opening up a retail space, and possibly a natural wine bar. “In the distant future we will be welcoming everyone to the Bombvinos winery!”
For more information on Bombvinos, visit their website at www.bombvinos.com or on their Instagram at www.instagram.com/bombvinos
*This article was originally published in The Philippine Star