When I was a kid, happy I am every time my mother is bringing home some pasalubong for me from a market visit, may it be the tupig, kakanin, puto at kutsinta or perhaps my favorite sweet tomatoes. I remember back then, life in the province is so simple and plain. You get to savor some fresh air from the neighboring rice field with lush vegetation of trees while playing the taksing lata along with friends and if already tired resting under the shade of a mango tree goes next.

Every summer, visiting the nearby river to somehow relieve the heat of the scorching sun is a tradition. As the season calls for an adventure, flying our own do-it-yourself kite or saranggola made out of cropped plastic bags and tingting from the midrib of coconut leaves is just one of the exciting outdoor activities that we are looking forward to during summer. It’s really great to muse over on the usual things primarily because changes in our lifestyle are there to dwell in so it’s good to bring back those days.

Now that summertime has started, let us then revisit one of the flourishing farms here in the North promoting the agritourism of La Union while reliving the good old days.

Onboard The Geek visits La Union to experience grapes picking.

The province of La Union is located in the Ilocos Region, sandwiched in between Pangasinan, Benguet and Ilocos Sur. Besides it’s known as the Surfing Capital of the North, it’s also famous for its local produce and products that are imported all throughout the country, such as the sugarcane vinegar, hand-woven blankets,pottery, bamboo and wood craftsto name a few. Not only that, La Union also has its own inviting local spots and attractions that charm many backpackers and tourists as the province is close to the West Philippine Sea wherein various beach resorts are situated.

 La Union is located north of the Philippines in which San Fernando is the capital city. It's bordered by Ilocos Sur to the north, Benguet to the east, Pangasinan and the West Philippine Sea to the south and west respectively.

In the quiet town of Caba, hectares of farms devoted primarily to agriculture are often planted by the locals with rice, white corns and tobacco. In addition, there are also farms and lush vegetation of fruiting trees in which guapples (guava apples), papayas, bananas and mangoes are propagated. But unknown to many, you can as well find pockets of vineyards that are thriving to grow in the Philippine soil and grapes is a common produce.

Bunches of red Cardinal grapes are matured in the vines for about three months to make it more sweeter prior to the harvesting season.

About two hours of travel by land from our place to the town proper (roughly five hours if you’re commuting from Manila to La Union), I along with my mother and younger sister went on a family trip to the Manguerra Grapes Farm, one of the farms which lead the way for the vineyard industry in the province and promoting grapes farming in the North.

As told, summer is the best time to visit the farm not just because the fruits are ready for picking but also it’s more sweeter every the season’s harvest.

Maykan Restaurant's savory beef noodle soup topped with egg slices for a lighter lunch to which we ordered along with sets of Filipino rice favorites.

We arrived in the town around eleven in the morning so we decided to have a short rest first and take our lunch in Maykan Restaurant. A small eating place just a walk away from the Manguerra vineyard, the restaurant offers affordable yet delicious home-cooked Filipino dishes, rice sets and noodle soups which reminded me of the simple life that we have in the province.

As interesting as the food that we have for lunch and as we walked a bit towards the vineyard, just from the highway you will see pockets of green vegetation that stretches along the dry land. If it’s your first time, you don’t have to worry with the direction as it’s just a walk away and the route leading to the farm was adorned with colorful flags waving in harmony to welcome guests and visitors. Besides, the people who live closeto the vineyard were so accommodating that even if you didn’t ask for directions they will assist you right to the grapes farm.

Berries change in color from green to deep red.
Bunches of red Cardinal grapes waiting for guests to pick them from the vines.

Hectares of lush grape vines warmly welcomed us upon entering the vineyard. We were so amazed as finally we were able to see fully-grown grapes face to face and that they are actually grow beautifully in the Philippines. Clusters of thriving 6-foot tall grape vines and overhead trellises with inviting deep red fruits glowing like gems under the sun, hanging in groups and almost ready for picking surprised us with excitement.

My mom poses a smile along with bunches of ripe and deep redgrapes.

As we head towards a kind of small reception area, we then greeted by the farmers in charge and I still remember those kind words to warmly welcome us, “Magandang umaga. Tuloy po kayo!.” While manang, an Ilocano word used to address an elder lady, was busying herself cutting some rotten fruits in the vines so it does not infect the other, I had a short conversation with the owner’s relative to know a bit about the grapes industry in the Philippines.

We’ve been told, it was then a hobby by the time that the Lomboy Farms, led by the King of Philippine Grapes, started planting a number of grape vines from a 20-hectares family farm in 1972. With the good result of years of learning and propagating different varieties of grapes, yielding a large percentage of produce in the country, he then introduced grapes farming to his neighborhood as an alternative to planting root crops. The Manguerra Grapes Farm is just one of the farms in the province continuing the legacy and actively promotes the industry here in the north.

A farmer’s helpful-hand busying herself taking out rotten fruits in the vines.

The “Pick and Pay” attract backpackers and tourists to visit the farm every the harvest season. As a popular activity, you get your own fresh harvest, have them weighed and pay for it at a good price. There’s no entrance free to visit the farm anyway so trying out the activity this summer is something to look forward to when in La Union. Sold at Php 250 pesos per kilogram, depending on the season’ demand, the red Cardinal grapes is just one of the sweet varieties of table grapes that are grown in the majority of the farms, includinggreen grapes which is smaller and has sweet and tangy taste.

Equipped with garden scissors, a small basket and handful of tips from the farmer’s helpful hand, for us to be able to pick the best grapes from the vines, we then enjoyed picking our own grapes harvest and we couldn’t let an opportunity pass to also get ourselves some selca along with the beautiful fruiting vines. You will feel at home in the vineyard as if you’re actually living there as the people were very warm and friendly.

The activity is definitely a must when you visit the province because you get to experience and appreciate the best of grapes farming while learning something new from the experts. Not only that, as you also get to help our hardworking farmers and made the industry more sustainable by supporting at least their local produce and products.

As opposed to what many believe that grapes are only grown in the countries with mild and cold climate, they can actually thrive in heat and loves warmer weather in which La Union is one of the provinces that are blessed with consistent long dry season, not to mention the adjacent sea which is also a factor why grape produce in the local is much sweeter and juicer.

Geek onboard who's having a hard time which bunch of grapes he’s going to pick.

Aside from fresh grapes, they offered us a free taste of their locally made grape wine in which we all tried. It was surprisingly refreshing as it tasted similar to a soda with distinctly fruity flavor. With the wine that we tried, you can taste the sweet harvest as well as the love and hard work of our local farmers. It’s indeed a great feeling as our own farmers don’t stop just by harvesting grapes but continue innovating their produce and investing to something worth their harvest.

Bottles of grape wine processed locally in La Trinidad, Benguet which are sold at Php 150.

Refreshingly sweet grape wine that tastes like soda from the pioneers of the vineyard industry in the Philippines.

In summer, which is the peak of the three harvest seasons every year, the grapes is said to be more sweeter as the farm let the fruits mature and ripen from the vines for as long as three months. Although the fruits have seeds and quite thick skin, it doesn’t seem to matter with the bursting sweetness of the grapes as it doesn’t have an acrid taste or mapakla unlike most of the imported ones.

Furthermore, you also get to appreciate the neighboring rice fields and corn plantations which are closely watched by the cows and resting goats under the ipil-ipil trees.

Rooted grape cuttings are also sold in the farm ready for replanting for your dream vineyard.

We can grow grapes in our own backyard as said to us by the farmers while weighing our own harvest. In addition to fresh grapes, the farm also sells rooted grape cuttings to visitors who are interested in putting up their own vineyard. As a way of sharing the blessings, they don’t just sell but provide you as well some useful tips on how to successfully start a vineyard and venture in grapes farming.

Our fresh harvest and two bottles of grape wine that we brought home from the Manguerra vineyard.

Besides the town of Caba, you can also experience grapes picking in Bauang, particularly in the municipality of Urayong, which has much wider farms carpeted with varieties of grapes and in which the industry’s pioneer Lomboy Farms is humbly located.

La Union really has something interesting to offer for the local and foreign tourists wherein the summer adventure does not end in the vineyard as you can also drop by the nearby beach, experience surfing first-hand and try some of the best seafood in town.