“I am drawn to intellectual side of wine—there is so much culture, language, and history you can unearth from it.”
There wasn’t a lot of wine back in Manila, so I never really thought about it that much until I moved to New York. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by it and, of course, I started drinking a lot of it.”
Jhonel never really had any interest in wine, let alone being in the hospitality industry. He took up Management Engineering in college and worked in Japan for a couple of years in the fashion industry before moving to New York. Here, his fascination with wine turned into a conscious pursuit when a James Beard Foundation Scholarship allowed him to plunge into this ancient rabbit hole. He started off as a bartender in Amali, then worked as the sommelier at the Fourth American Brasserie in Union Square until Thomas Pastuszak, the Wine Director of The NoMad Hotel, invited him to check the place out. It was here that he found a collective group of people who do their best at what they know how to do: give an excellent experience to their guests, and wine plays an essential part in all of this.
Now, he works at the floor of The NoMad, helping guests and connoisseurs alike elevate their palates.
Devoting oneself to wine is no easy feat. To become a Master Sommelier, one must pass the Court of Master Sommeliers exams wherein the final test demands an almost encyclopedic knowledge of history and geography, a discerning palate, and a holistic approach to wine, beer, spirits and hospitality with most of the learning done outside of one’s place of work.
“More people have gone to space than have passed the final exam of the Court of Sommeliers,” Jhonel says.
Despite all this, he is determined to see it through. In fact, he is going to take the exam in July.
When it comes to next steps, Jhonel says that it is pretty much open ended.
The career path for a sommelier is not as clear compared to others but it is also not as structured. Some go into distribution while others open their own bars and introduce their own wine programs. As for me, I would like to give people in Manila access to good wine someday. I think there’s a market and there are people out there who are starting to become more open to these kinds of experiences. But who knows where all this would lead me?”
It’s easy to see how much Jhonel loves wine and sharing it with the people around him. His affable demeanor and his willingness to impart his knowledge to others has the ability to inspire people to follow suit.
Some people may just be passing through the night, but it’s exciting to know that I am helping people start their own wine adventures.”
The NoMad Hotel is located at 1170 Broadway, New York, NY 10001.