Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Basi Wine Sparked a Local Revolution in 1807

Basi Wine Sparked a Local Revolution in 1807 
Dedicated to the Filipino heroes of the Basi Revolt of 1807 (209th Anniversary on September 20, 2016)  

Dr Abe V Rotor

Basi sparked one of the major revolts against Spanish rule by the natives when wine monopoly was declared by the government. This meant virtually taking the industry from the hands of the natives. The short-lived uprising took place in Ilocos, with the final battle fought on both sides of the Bantaoay River which runs through the towns of San Vicente up to San Ildefonso, which are today the major suppliers of Basi principally to tourists in Vigan, UNESCO's world heritage city, and one of the cultural wonders of the world.

Part 1: Growing up with Basi

grew up with an old local industry – basi wine making. Today there are still 18th century jars, which I use in the way my ancestors made the wine for generations.
Basi Table Wine - Pride of the Ilocos Region 
I remember Lolo Celing (Marcelino) made basi in the cellar, the ground floor of our house made of thick brick wall. In dad's time we had around 500 jars. He was one of the biggest 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 Spaniards who took monopoly over the industry. Many were killed in that short-lived revolt along the Bantaoay River, a river where my brother Eugene and I used to fish purong (mullet) in summer.

Getting drunk at an early ageI was already a farmhand before I was of school age, but dad always warned me not to be an aliwegweg (curious at doing 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 down 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 drunk. And that was precisely what made me feel sick, but 1 did not 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)? . 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. It was dad!

Imagine the expression of his face (and mine, too) in the dark. I sobbed with embarrassment while he took a deep sigh of relief. Since then the doctor never came again. And I promised dad never to taste my “beverage" again.

Sunset and revival of the basi industry

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, local and imported, began flooding the market. It was requiem to a sunset industry. In 1981, dad died, so with our home industry.

Even after finishing agriculture I did not go back to the farm. So with my brother who also became an agriculturist. Not when you are young and thinking of adventure and opportunities. I pursued advanced studies in biological science. Eugene went back to the farm later, so with our sister, Veny, who joined the Divine Word College of Vigan faculty. But the thought of reviving basi was never in our mind.

For how can a local product sell in a highly competitive market? Foreign products have been flooding the market under the import liberalization program of the government. Other questions propped up, but all boiled down to one possible solution - business viability.

As a researcher I studied the indigenous process of basi making. After I had sufficient materials about the subject I made it into a paper which I read in an ASEAN-New Zealand symposium upon the recommendation of Dr. Romualdo del Rosario, a fellow professor at the UST Graduate School. But the native product needed improvement. It was at first a losing proposition, and I realized I was blazing a lost path. But I did not give up.
 When I opted for an early retirement from government service in 1989 I found more time with my experiments. The improved product was analyzed by the Food Development Center, a government agency that collaborates with the US Food and Drug Administration. Surprisingly the new basi product passed the European standard for champagne, sherry and port.

But it was no guarantee that it is acceptable in the market. It means that if the product is really that good, it can command a premium price. I began to standardize the product. Soon I was able to establish a consistent level of strength (proof), desired range of acidity, and crystal clear color and clarity. There was improvement in aroma, bouquet, sweetness, aftertaste, among other criteria, which constitute international standards for wine. All these were done in various experiments, often in trial and error method, in others through intricate laboratory procedures. Still in others, only after a yearlong aging of the wine.

Lastly, I began working on product presentation. The labels I developed are a series of color photographs of historical places of the Ilocos Region, and the story of the Basi Revolt of 1807.

A breakthrough came after receiving the Business Idea for Development and Achievement (BIDA) Award, and a favorable product endorsement by the Department of Agriculture (MARID). Other than the Ilocano balikbayan, the market expanded to include tourist shops, wine connoisseurs, and even church groups.

I am sure Dad must be smiling up there. Here is a toast for you, Dad. ~

Basi is ideally 2 to 5 years in earthen jar sealed hermetically with clay.

Author shows golden leaves of samat (Macranga tenarius), and bubod  (local yeast complex culture), which are principal ingredients in basi making.

Part 2 Basi Revolt of 1807 in Paintings - Bantaoay River Ilocos Sur (San Vicente IS Series)

Basi Revolt 1807 - Paintings by Esteban Villanueva
The revolt took place 400 km north of Manila where Diego and Gabriela Silang heroically fought Spanish rule 50 years before. It was precipitated by the declaration of Wine Monopoly by the local Spanish government that virtually took from the hands of small cottage brewers an industry the Ilocos region enjoyed long before Spain colonized the islands. Basi was carried by the Galleon trade plying Ciudad Fernandina (now Vigan City) and Europe via Acapulco, Mexico (1565-1815). 

The final battle took place along the Bantaoay River that runs through the town of San Vicente, some 4 km from the capital where the industry flourished. Scores of Spanish soldiers and natives were killed. Although the revolt spread to as far as Ilocos Norte, and Pangasinan to the south, it culminated on September 29, 1907 with the public execution of the captured rebels. 

Fourteen big oil paintings depicting the Basi Revolt, also known as Ambaristo Revolt (named after its leader) can be seen today at the Vigan Ayala Museum, which is housed in the original residence of Filipino priest martyr, Fr. Jose Burgos. The painter, Don Esteban Villanueva was an eyewitness of this historic event. 

Today, the Basi Revolt lives on with the fine taste and tradition of this unique product standing among the best wines of the world. Nine of the paintings are posted here.  

Basi is the flagship of wine products of San Vicente Ilocos Sur which include fruit wine from chico, pineapple, dragon fruit, guava, and the like, and the popular sukang Iloko (Ilocos Vinegar).
Rotor Basi won the distinct BIDA award in 2000. It sparked the revival of a sunset industry in the Ilocos Region. Top photo, the late former administrator Jesus T Tanchanco (right) of the National Food Authority and Mrs Alice Tanchanco pose with the author after receiving the BIDA Award. Lower photo, members of the winning team receive the cash award from BIDA, a joint project led by DOST and DTI (Small and Medium Industries), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), and Planters Bank of the Philippines.

Rotor Basi (made in San Vicente Ilocos Sur) has labels depicting the Ilocos Region's historical events, landmarks, and outstanding natives of the region - Ilocanos. Basi is a major attraction to tourists from different parts of the world. Basi is the only kind of table wine in the world. Basi as well as its by-product, Ilocos Vinegar (suka ti Ilocos, or sukang Iloko to the Tagalogs) meet rigorous European standards and US Food and Drugs Administration tests.

The distinct mellow taste of basi comes largely from its aging time in burnay (earthen jars) - perhaps the only kind of tropical table wine processed and aged in this respected age-old tradition. The jars are kept to as long as ten years in home cellars or buried in the ground, and sealed hermetically with hard clay. Basi was once an important article of commerce in the region, and when the islands were colonized by Spain, basi reached Europe via the Galleon Trade passing through Acapulco, the southern tip of Mexico.~

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