Jul 13, 2018

Celine Lopez, just a couple of years shy of 40, believes she’s on her fourth life now. And in this fourth “reincarnation,” life for her is all about building and establishing Gypsy Rosé, a blend of sparkling wine that’s meant to appeal to the young Southeast Asian market, even those who are reticent about getting into the intimidating world of wines.

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“My business partner Monette Bata-Garcia and I started this last year,” Lopez says. As workout buddies who liked to have some tipples together after putting in time at the gym, they soon discovered how different their tastes for wine were. “Economically, that’s how it started. We’d end up ordering numerous bottles. It was so silly that we joked, ‘Why don’t we just make our own drink that we both like?’”

Their half-joke soon had them doing research and going around different vineyards in France, sampling blends and talking to winemakers. And as organic as the beginnings of Gypsy Rosé were was the precision of their vision of what their wine should be: “Something very inclusive, something that can be enjoyed by both a wine connoisseur and someone who has always wanted to learn more about wine but doesn’t know how to get started on it.”

“I see wine as something like making love: You don’t talk about it, you just enjoy it.”

Upon finding the right concoction that appealed to both of them, Lopez and Bata-Garcia initially wanted to keep Gypsy Rosé a private wine label. “But as we drank it more and more and shared it with friends who also really liked it, we realized we were onto something.” What was initially a purely hedonistic pursuit became a full-fledged business—one that has both women going all in.

Part of that commitment is the ability to learn how to steer their small business through a constantly evolving market. “Ten years ago, it would have taken an eon to get our product moving,” Lopez reflects. “Progress in communication and technology and more effective distributing channels have made things easier, but we also need to move fast.” And to move fast, she and Bata-Garcia understood the necessity of keeping the company small, at least for now.

To launch Gypsy Rosé in Hong Kong, the two supplied wine for Marc Spiegel’s Director’s Cut party during the recent Art Basel and for a few exclusive dinners (one of them hosted by Vito Schnabel, son of contemporary artist Julian Schnabel), and they would deliver boxes of their product themselves, navigating through the crowded Lan Kwai Fong. There’s no physical office yet for their two-woman business, and Lopez admits to doing most of her work on the green couch in her Makati apartment living room. Yet their label is steadily building its identity on social media, with the Gypsy Rosé Instagram page filled with beautiful yet cheeky images and equally saucy quotes.

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“Monette and I knew what we wanted, and she and I have very different personalities,” says Lopez. “She’s a bold and confident businesswoman who knows where to plug things, who’s extremely efficient when making decisions. I’m more of the romantic one, creating ideas than creating stories for those ideas.

“We’re wedged between the old school and new world ideas. What’s important is that we hold the same views in more important matters, and also have differences in opinions over things that need to be examined first. It’s that synergy and openness to one another that accelerated this journey.”

What the two really agree upon is how “bloody great” their sparkling wine is, and how it can help cultivate more wine drinkers in the region. “When served very cold or à la piscine, meaning with ice cubes, it has that tarty, very easy-to-drink flavor. Its alcohol content is relatively low at 11 percent, so it adds something extra to lunches, dinners, and happy hours. It’s also an easy wine to store at home; rosés aren’t as temperamental as reds and some whites.”

Ever the storyteller, though, Lopez has more romantic visions for their label. “I’d like to think we’re a bit of a rebellious wine company, and I’d like to make Gypsy Rosé more than just a wine. I see wine as something like making love: You don’t talk about it, you just enjoy it. And Gypsy Rosé is a message, a celebration of life, a celebration of every single day. A dream maker. A deal maker. I think everything in the product DNA has this in neon lights.”

“I found success at a very young age, and you really think, in that moment, it will never end.”

It’s apparent in how she can talk almost a mile a minute about her new business that Lopez has found her zone with her rosé, but it was a different picture between 2014 and late 2017: After 14 years of working in the media and being seen as an arbiter of all things tasteful yet fun in the lifestyle scene, Lopez found herself flailing, with her post-media ventures fizzling out.

“I wrote a book (The Recorded History of a Girl) [and] only five people came to the reading. I tried to make an app with a brilliant team, only to hit a wall. I tried to create a cooking show, but when I asked my friend David Chang, who is probably one of the most important chefs in the world, what he thought, he just told me it was—in his words—‘nothing special.’ I tried to make cashmere shawls, write a movie, decorate Airbnb rentals—everything. I helped make a very successful movie Metro Manila, which was just another red herring to make me think life was easy. I also had a challenging tenure in branding an amazing skincare product in Paris, but the owner and I had different ideas so I ended up leaving. It’s actually now a product with a strong cult following.”

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After taking hit after hit, Lopez admits to getting severely depressed, especially given the fact that she had been working since she was 17, and her 20s and early 30s were such fast, exciting times. “I peaked early,” she reflects. “I found success at a very young age, and you really think, in that moment, it will never end.”

She’d wake up at noon and look at the ceiling, wondering what she would do for the day, then end up watching television in her pajamas until she’d fall asleep. “And the cycle would repeat itself the next day. After failing at so many things, doing anything felt like a Sisyphean effort. I was wondering, ‘What is it?’”

It was Bata-Garcia who helped Lopez rise from the rut she was stuck in. “She got me going to the gym and eating healthy [again]. But most of all, she has always made me think.”

There was also something that felt easy about their business partnership, which to Lopez was a relief, as she had long believed in never mixing friendships with business and was always reticent about partnering. “Working with her, I realized how vital that buddy system is, because when I’m feeling weak, she’s there for me, and vice versa. It really works.”

“Don’t ever think that your best years are behind you; don’t ever feel that, seriously. If you think about it, we have around 40 more years to live, so there’s no expiration date for ambition.”

Lopez is turning 39 in October, but the proximity to the big 4-0 doesn’t scare her at all. “Ever since I was really young, I had always wanted to grow older,” she reveals. “Maybe that was why the skincare line in Paris didn’t work!” She credits her mother Emily and her grandfather Fernando Lopez for serving as her best examples of finding more to life in middle age. “They started their impressive and affective careers in public office in their 40s, and even though they’ve done many other things, their years in public service are what people remember. I’d like to think I’m following their lead.”

As someone who was a guiding voice to a generation of young women navigating the different social and cultural intersections of the lifestyle scene through her column in The Philippine Star, Lopez advises: “Don’t ever think that your best years are behind you; don’t ever feel that, seriously. If you think about it, we have around 40 more years to live, so there’s no expiration date for ambition.”

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So what is Lopez up to these days? “I feel alive again. I have an alarm clock again, and I jump the moment it buzzes. You know something in your space makes sense when it is followed by a dynamic synergistic spark. To keep it alive… well, it’s really no surprise. There’s nothing like working your ass off to make that idea into a reality.”

STYLING MELVIN MOJICA
MAKEUP PAM ROBES
HAIR JAN EDROSOLAN

 

This story originally appeared in Southern Living, July-August 2018

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