Growing grapes and strawberries is fun, profitable

Grapes and strawberries are fruits not so common among Filipinos. Grapes are very popular during the Christmas season, particularly during New Year’s Eve. Most Filipinos have not eaten strawberries as these fruits are available only in cool places where they are mostly grown like Baguio.

Most farmers are not growing these crops as they have particular methods of propagation. In addition, farmers are not familiar with how to grow them well. Plus, sources of planting are oftentimes sporadic.

So, it’s astounding to learn that a lawyer has ventured not only in growing grapes but strawberries as well. He used to work with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

But as he is also a graduate of agricultural engineering, it’s not surprising that Atty. Ferdinand Taglucop is into farming. And when it comes to farming, he is very passionate about it. He did his own research, watched videos and read whatever materials available and even attended some school programs (online) just to get all the necessary information.

Atty. Ferdinand Taglucop with his wine and grapes.

Taglucop does not rest on his laurels. If he has learned something, he wants to do more. Such is the case of grapes. He doesn’t grow grapes just for eating but also for drinking. After all, wine is an alcoholic drink typically made from fermented grapes.

More than half of the world’s wine is produced only by four countries: Italy, France, Spain and the United States. The following countries contributed less than half of the world’s needs: Argentina, China, Australia, China, Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Hungary and New Zealand.

He wants to put the Philippines in the global wine map. He can only do that if he can produce a world-class wine. And it’s possible only if he has good sources of wine grapes. That’s why he keeps on experimenting and doing trials and errors — in growing grapes.

Photographs courtesy of Atty. Ferdinand Taglucop
Atty. Ferdinand Taglucop and his eight-year-old flowering grapes.

After eight years, he now has finally selected seven world-renowned varieties of grapes that have good potential for production and making quality wines in his 3.5-hectare farm in Barangay Tacunan, Tugbok District, Davao City.

Not necessarily in the order, these are Shiraz (from Australia), Moldova (from Ukraine), Chardonnay and Petite Syrah (from France), Freisa (from Italy), Moscato (from Israel) and Chenin Blanc (sourced from Gran Monte, Thailand). He also has this sweet and aromatic variety which he called Davao Delicious from a Muscat variety parentage.

Taglucop admitted that he started growing grapes as a hobby albeit with an eye on farm tourism. “But the big dream is really the winery because that’s the main thing in other countries,” he said.

Right now, The Vineyard Davao — as he calls the place — is not yet open to the public as he is still on the production stage to increase his inventory of bottled wines before the winery will open. He is not keen on engaging solely in the business of “grapes picking” as this may not be economically viable since grapes are harvested only every six months. In-between, what will you do since you don’t have any harvest? So, you don’t have business. You close the farm for business but you still have to spend to maintain the vineyard.”

In other countries, people who grow grapes have a winery. They are open all the time because wine is available all year-round. People can visit the place even if the grapes are not bearing fruits because they can always have wine, he said.

Although it is not yet open to the public, some people have already enjoyed tasting his wines straight from the barrels in his cellar through privately arranged wine tasting and food pairing events. The farm caters to a minimum of 10 persons per group. Interested groups must book first before coming or else they will be denied entry.

His passion about grapes and winery can be gleaned from the postgraduate certificate course on Winemaking and Viticulture he received from the University of
California-Davis Campus. “The university supports the Napa Valley and the whole vineyards and wine industries in the US in terms of education, research and development,” he said.

Now, what about strawberries? They are grown in his farm located in Barangay Lorega in Kitaotao, Bukidnon. He said he bought the initial 1.9-hectare property with an objective of turning it into a farm. He didn’t know what agricultural crop to plant, but his children really wanted to experience strawberry picking just like the one in La Trinidad, the country’s strawberry capital.

Since the farm is situated 1,200 meters above sea level and has cool weather, it is best suited for growing strawberries. So much so that it is now called the Taglucop Strawberry Hills.

Taglucop grows strawberries through a hydroponics system (drip type with cocopeat and rice hull as media) and the conventional type (growing on the ground but with drip irrigation).

He thought growing strawberries was easy. But he was wrong. “Growing the berries was difficult as the plants were prone to pests and diseases,” he recalled. “But we persisted.” Now, after four years, he seems to have discovered the right way to grow strawberries.

Only 1.5 hectares of the farm is planted to strawberries. He is planning to expand it. “We are expanding our hydroponic systems as well as the conventional ones in the hope that all guests can enjoy picking sweet strawberries anytime they visit our place.”

Just like the grapes, he planted several varieties of strawberries. “A lot of varieties are not suited under our conditions due to disease pressure and climatic considerations,” he said. “By the process of elimination, we now only grow San Andreas, an ever-bearing variety from California and Honeoye, a short-day cultivar from Japan.”

Among the main pests of strawberries in his farm include thrips, spider mites, Japanese beetles, and worms. “We prevent them by using green labelled (near to organic) pesticides as much as possible,” he said.

The main diseases are fungal infection and root rots. To fight them, “We use organic lime and copper sulfate mix, some sulfur and other green labelled fungicides,” he said. “Our approach is integrated pest management to ensure sustainability and responsible application.”

When it comes to strawberries, nothing is wasted as the Taglucops make them into different products: ice wine, pure strawberry jam, strawberry juice, strawberry shake, chocolate truffles with dried strawberry inside, strawberry trifle, strawberry chocolate fondue, strawberry panna cotta, burnt strawberry cheesecake, strawberry salad dressing and strawberry toron.

Other products they produce from strawberries are strawberry soap, strawberry lotion and strawberry recovery set.

“We did not actually plant strawberries with profit for business in mind,” Taglucop pointed out. “It was just a hobby and a joy for the family until it morphed into a worthwhile business enterprise. We paid our tuition, so to speak, before we learned how to make our farm sustainable.”

When asked about what his secret is, he replied without much ado: “Family, passion, diligence and learning the right science to grow the crops.”