Monday, September 21, 2015

Growing up with Basi Wine (San Vicente, Ilocos Sur)

Dr Abe V Rotor
 Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, [] 8-9 evening class Monday to Friday
Product quality meets European Standards for Port
and Sherry as evaluated by Food Development Center
and the Department of Science and Technology.

Glazed earthen jars are thoroughly washed and sterilized
before filling them with sugarcane juice and botanical
ingredients which will be brewed and aged for two or more years.

Each bottle has a label depicting a significant
event or place about the Ilocos Region, basi
being indigenous to the region.

I grew up with an age old local industry – basi wine making. At home there are still 18th century jars which I use to make basi in the same way my ancestors made this unique table wine for generations.

I remember Lolo Cilling (Marcelino) made basi in the cellar at the lower part of the house made of thick brick wall.  Dad took over and increased the number of jars to a hundred or so. He was one of the principal brewers in town in post Commonwealth era - and probably after the infamous Basi Revolt in 1807 when the Ilocanos took arms but lost to the Spanish government who declared monopoly over the industry. Many were killed in that short-lived revolt along the Bantaoay River, a walking distance away from home where my brother Eugene and I used to catchpurong(mullet) with hook and line in summer in our boyhood days.

As a farmhand even before I went to school, father always warned me not to be an aliwegweg (curious at doing a sort of things), the experimenter that I was. One morning as dad went on his routine, first to hear mass in our parish church just across our residential farm, I went to the cellar with a sumpit (small bamboo tube) to take a sip of the sweet day-old fermenting sugarcane juice. I didn't know that with a sip too many one can get get drunk. 

And that was precisely what made me feel sick but of course, I did'nt tell dad. He called a doctor to find out what was the matter with me. When the doctor arrived he found me normal. What with the distance from Vigan to San Vicente - on a caleza (horse-drawn carriage)? It would take about a couple of hours.  But the doctor was whispering something to dad.

Then it happened. Dad had left for the church, so I thought. I went to the cellar and as soon as I probed the sumpit into a newly fermenting jar and took a sip, someone tapped my shoulder in the dark. lt was dad!

Imagine the expression of his face as I saw it in the dark. I sobbed with embarrassment while he took a deep sigh of relief. Since then the doctor never came again. And I never tasted my “beverage" again.

Years passed. I left home for my studies in Manila. So with my brother and sister. Dad continued the industry until he became very old. By then the demand for the local drink declined as beer and all kinds of wine and liquor began flooding the market. It was requiem to a sunset industry. In 1981, dad died, so with our home industry.

After I retired from government service, I tried to find out if I inherited the "green thumb in wine making." Sure enough after a few years of experimentation I was able to improve the product and even tap the market, catering mainly to tourists and Ilocano balikbayan. Whenever I open a jar and harvest the golden wine, I remember dad standing nearby. This time he is telling me, "Keep it up, son." ~

Back Label: Philippine History – The Basi Revolt of 1807
The revolt erupted 400 km north of Manila, where Diego and Gabriela Silang fought heroically against Spanish rule 50 years earlier. The cause: Declaration of Wine Monopoly by the Spanish government virtually taking from the hands of local brewers an industry the Ilocos region had long enjoyed even before Spain colonized the islands. For centuries basi was an important item of commerce among Asian neighbors, and later with the Galleon Trade (1565-1815) plying Ciudad Fernandina (now Vigan City) and Europe via Acapulco, Mexico. The final battle took place along Bantaoay River with scores of Spanish soldiers and natives killed. On September 29, 1807 the captured rebels were executed. Artist Don Esteban Villanueva, an eyewitness recorded the historic event in 14 big paintings, now seen at the Vigan Ayala Museum at the original residence of priest martyr, Fr. Jose Burgos. This bottle is a tribute to the heroes of the Basi Revolt and their descendants. Today basi stands among the finest wines of the world. 

Product Guarantee
: Basi is brewed and aged in glazed jars (burnay. It is made from sugarcane, rice, and botanical ingredients - Pithecolobium dulce, Macaranga tanariusandSyzigium cumini. No flavoring and coloring added; no filter and plastic container used. This product meets the European Standard for Champagne, Port and Sherry. (Reference: PFDCS 2498 & PFDCS 9429, Food Development Center, National Food Authority.) Approximately 21 proof. (Ref: 01-00-0CL-0017, ITDI, Department of Science and Technology.) A product of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. Content: 750 ml/375 ml.

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