As the sun gently faded out over the 3 hectares farmland of the Cruz family in Sibunag, Guimaras, retired couple Jose and Precy Cruz examined the potential for grape production.
“Both of us loves the farm life,” expressed the couple, “and so we searched for crops that will be suitable and adaptive on the fertile soil of the island; something that will make the Guimarasnon equally proud with its renowned mangoes.”
“We were convinced to try our hand on grapes after discussing its potential with a consultant after the Manggahan Festival in 2017,” revealed by the couple.
The Cruz patriarch right away conducted research on grapes production and examined the physical layout, environment condition, and soil quality of the farmland in Brgy. Dasal.
Born in Bulacan and educated on agriculture, Jose Cruz is no stranger to farming practices. He served 44 years in government bureaucracy, more than half of which he spent as director of the Philippine Coconut Authority in Region VI.
“My assessment from my research likewise convinced me to go for grapes production,” he stressed, “so we right away ordered cuttings.” By July (2017), the couple together with three of their four children, were already building a nursery and started transferring the cuttings into Polybags in preparation for planting.”
Precy, the matriarch of the family who hailed from Bohol, lamented that they have doubts if the venture will have a positive outcome. “Similar to many first times, there was a lot of uncertainty because we have not done grape production before despite our familiarity with farming,” she said.
“But when grapefruits had started forming along trellises, we were becoming excited and our children started to snap photos and shared it with their sibling who was working abroad and among relatives and family friends,” recalled Precy enthusiastically.
“Sooner than expected visitors started dropping by at the vineyard to buy grapes and have a photo for their social media postings,” shared Precy Cruz.
Grapes blossom even on tropical weather
In April this year, the Cruz Vineyard opened to the public so that visitors can witness the harvest season and learn about grapes production.
They were receiving around 200 visitors during the weekdays and up to an estimated 500 Agri-tourists during weekends on the road to the highlight of the 25th Manggahan Festival.
“By receiving visitors and tourists, we realized that many people have a preconceived notion that grapes could only grow in countries with cool temperature, said Jose and Precy’s son Niel.
“We explained to them that there are particular varieties of grapes that prefer tropical weather, Niel emphasized.
Growing grapes, in fact, requires exposure to sunlight, good air circulation, and irrigation. It is also best to plant grapes on a gently rolling surface to avert soil erosion.
The Cruz Vineyard has propagated the green colored varieties suited for the local climate like Green Malaga, White Malaga, and Golden Muscat – table type grapes good for eating.
“I have learned from my travels abroad that the green grape variety is pricey yet of high demand. We, Filipinos, however, are fond of the violet varieties,” said the Cruz family patriarch.
The Cruz Vineyard also cultivated Red Cardinal, Concord, and Catawba varieties – types of grape that are also used for wine production.
Nevertheless, “producing grapes could be short and sweet for starters,” said Precy Cruz, “because it could be harvested in 120 to 125 days after pruning.”
The sweet reason
“The taste of the grapes produced by the Cruz Vineyard offered an exceptional sweetness,” described Jose Cruz. “It has a sweet aftertaste similar when we eat Guiimaras mangoes,” he said.
The Cruz couple believes that the unique sweetness of the grapes might be derived from the distinct soil quality of Guimaras.
While low soil acidity is mainly helpful for almost all types of crops, high soil acidity is favorable for the grapes. “I believe this is one of the major factors that contributed to the distinct sweetness of grapes from our vineyard,” asserted Cruz.
“Our family is proud of Guimaras and its sweetest mangoes. Although Precy and I are not ‘natives’ of Guimaras, we have found a home on its peaceful and fertile land. So, I usually tell people and friends that I am a Bulaqueño by birth, a Cebuano by heart, an Ilonggo by profession, and a Guimarasnon by choice,” Jose Cruz expressed wittingly.
“It is our hope that the Cruz Vineyard will be instrumental in producing the sweetest grapes that Guimarasnons can also be proud of,” said the couple.
*The feature article was first published in May 2018 at the online page of Tahum Western Visayas of the Dept. of Tourism-VI.