My friends and I recently went on a road trip to Northern Luzon. Everything was loosely planned. There was no set itinerary, and we merely relied on friends’ recommendations for where to stay, where to eat—you know how it is these days. We were open to the unexpected, eager for surprise. We just wanted to get away from the city, and what we took back with us (aside from buttloads of chichacorn, dried fish, and bottles of local cane vinegar) went far beyond whatever expectations we had.
Our first stop was at Pagudpud where we checked in a resort upon a friend’s recommendation. Aside from enjoying the luxury of not having any mobile signal (and diving into palayoks of monggo), we were able to mingle with a few of the locals in the town of Adams who took us trekking to a hidden waterfall, fed us with legit Ilocano fare in their own homes, and made us sample some of their local wines made from a wild cherry known as Bugnay.
I picked a berry from a basin carried by one of the locals. It looked like your typical coffee cherry; I popped one into my mouth and it burst with bright, tart, sweet flavors, reminiscent of blackcurrants and mulberries. I must tell you that this happened on the way to our exhausting trek, and when we descended, we were treated to a glass of the juiced stuff, after a sip of which left us in mouth-gaping awe—this drink was liquid gold. A few minutes later, Ate Sabel, our host for the afternoon told us that they had a vineyard that produced and sold bottles of the fermented stuff, and of course, we had to check it out.
Rows and rows of bottles lined wooden shelves—apparently, they weren’t only limited to Bugnay. They had lemongrass liquor, coffee, honey, and non-alcoholic concentrates. Secluded in another area were bottled “experiments” that go way back to 2013. We found out that the winery only recently opened a few years ago, but they’ve been quite aggressive with the production of their wines and products. Turmeric soap, for example, is handmade and crudely wrapped—always a good sign that a product was made minus the machine.
Research says that bugnay has a taste-changing property, making anything you put on your palate after eating it sour. While we didn’t have the opportunity to prove this, what we were able to try ourselves, though, was the slew of liquor the locals of Adams had to offer. A lemon grass liquor turned out a bit too sweet, but the refreshing taste of the herb was definitely spot-on. The bugnay wines, though, were a revelation, if anything. Smooth yet heady on the berry flavors, each sip tasted like a spoonful of the sweet-sour fruit laced with just the right amount of alcohol. Easy on the palate, this might just prove to be a saleable glass of vino here in Metro Manila.
Though bugnay, or more commonly known as bignay in Tagalog, has slowly been making an appearance in a number of specialty stores. Holy Carabao in Poblacion, for example, has been stocking up on Bignay Melomel (mead) by Nipa, and there is, also, the occasional sighting in food bazaars. Whether in wine form or not, bugnay can be turned into other products such as syrups, marmalades, and even jams. We were already thinking of how to use it while we daydreamed about the wild berry on our way to Vigan. There is a lot of potential in these berries! And I’m sure there are so much more untapped food gems lurking around in the provinces, waiting for someone to jump on the chance to make something great with them. We’ve seen how adlai became what it is now thanks to our amazing local chefs and local talent. Looking forward to great things with this incredible wild berry.