Food & Drink

Meet the Women Who Are Changing the Way We Drink Wine

An old boys club no longer, the emerging local wine scene counts women as its newest and most active players.


Founded in London in 1933 by André Simon, the International Wine and Food Society was the world’s first association of amateur gastronomic enthusiasts who were not involved commercially in the wine or food trade. Its vision, “to bring together and serve all who believe that a right understanding of good food and wine is an essential part of personal contentment and health and that an intelligent approach to the pleasures and problems of the table offers far greater rewards than the mere satisfaction of appetites,” has successfully brought together a worldwide membership of over 6,000 people across 30 countries.

A part of the society’s global network since 1982, the Philippine chapter, with a founding membership of 27, was chartered by Fil Juntereal. In 2001, he set up the Manila Ladies Branch, one of only two all-female branches. Today, the Manila Ladies Branch has 41 members and is led by Juntereal’s daughter, CJ Juntereal. “Much of the unique identity of the Manila Ladies Branch is due to the leadership of our founding president, Felice Sta. Maria, and her board of trustees,” says CJ. “They wanted to create a specific identity that included a cultural and social aspect, as well as one that would encourage our members to learn about wine and food. With it, they created an atmosphere of fun and camaraderie that continues to this day.”

With the only requirement being that those who join are equally interested in both wine and food, its members are privy to exceptional wine and food experiences in the company of like-minded women. Some of the events that have been staged over the years include wine pairing-themed dinners with Filipino, Mexican, Austrian, and Swiss menus, private dining events with visiting chefs and winemakers, cheese, salt, and olive oil tastings, and an annual Champagne-filled afternoon tea. Its largest event of the year and the only one that is advertised to the public is the annual Wine Crawl, held every February, where a host of wine merchants showcase their wines to hundreds of guests. Tickets are pre-sold and guests are able to taste a wide variety of wines and buy bottles at special prices.


While the IWFS Manila has now opened its membership to women, the Manila Ladies Branch will continue to operate on its own. “We have created our own culture, one that is fun and dynamic, and suited to women who like to eat and drink,” CJ continues. “We can ask questions about the food and wine, and learn without fear of judgment. And most importantly, our dinners are not always all women because men are always welcome as guests.”


 “My career in wine happened purely by accident, I initially wanted to be a chef,” recalls Gigi Varua, sommelier at M. Dining. “Although my wine instructor at the Culinary Institute of America encouraged me to pursue a career in wine, I really didn’t think that there would be any jobs for me in the Philippines as a sommelier.” Certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, Gigi currently holds once of the most coveted positions in the local wine industry—one that many young women today can only dream of—as she oversees one of the finest wine lists in the country. “It is a hard job with long hours but very rewarding as a career,” she says.

Although a true sommelier culture has yet to take off in Manila in the way it has around the world in recent years, particularly in North America, Gigi still finds herself a minority in an industry that has been traditionally dominated by men, but she is not intimidated. “I think people are actually more open to female sommeliers because they are not as daunted by women. Sometimes when customers ask for a sommelier, and I approach the table, they are a bit surprised. It definitely starts a conversation and soon, they are more comfortable with me giving recommendations.”


Gigi feels that diners can enhance their exploration of wine by stepping out of their comfort zones and trying new things, whether that be a deviation from their regular Bordeaux, Napa cabernet, or whatever is familiar to them. What she loves most about her job, in addition to getting to try amazing wines daily, is introducing people to new bottles that they would not normally drink or buy. “When people ask me for a recommendation, I give them a safe option but I will also always give them an out-of-the-box choice based on what their preferences are or what they chose from the dining menu. I am very eager to share my passion. All customers have to do is ask and I am always happy to help.”


As a freelance wine and hospitality consultant, Pierre Dee Addison thinks it is amazing to be a woman in wine in this day and age. “Most people think it is a man’s world, but I believe women generally have more open palates even without prior education. When that palate is developed and honed, the possibilities are endless.”

After spending 10 years in the United States, where she received her Associate Degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America, sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Wine & Spirit Trust advanced certificate, and worked at a number of restaurants on the east coast, Pierre and her young family returned to Manila in 2011 to find an emerging wine culture among a younger set of customers. “There were very few sommeliers at the time though,” she recalls. “I knew of a few working for private collectors but most restaurants did not have one, not even the hotels. Lately, however, we’ve seen a lot of establishments hiring professionals to focus solely on wine and beverage program. The direction now is to offer a complete dining experience and a sommelier is part of that front-of-house orchestra that enhances the diner’s full experience.


For her clients, Pierre develops, executes, and maintains wine programs, and offers training programs with a focus on wine service. She updates wine lists for restaurants based on new trends and up and coming producers. Admittedly, she is happiest when she can recommend a bottle of wine to customers that they have never had before. “It excites me to figure out the flavor profile that each person loves and try to recreate that experience with a new producer, a new bottle.”


“Sometimes I think that some of the older, more experienced men think that it’s ‘cute’ that we write about wine,” shares Juana Manahan-Yupangco, half of the very “cute” and charming duo behind the blog, which she pens with friend and fellow wine enthusiast Stephanie Zubiri Crespi. “We have received so much interest in our blog since we launched it late last year and we realize it’s because there is nothing like it out there. Our female edge has turned ‘cute’ into something that is extremely approachable and our feminine take on wine is our biggest asset.”

While its voice may be decidedly female, the blog speaks to an audience of both men and women alike—from the serious aficionado to those who are just beginning to discover the pleasures of the bottle. “Our approach is very different. We don’t come in trying to analyze the wine, we come in to experience it, often doing research after we’ve tasted it so as not to have any preconceived notions about it,” adds Stephanie. “We like being a blank slate and allowing all that beautiful liquid to color our mind and emotions—good or bad!” Honest, funny, sexy, and intimate, and without taking itself too seriously, Wine Lips gives each wine personality and context, and discusses nose, terroir, fruit, structure, acidity, complexity, age ability, and finish without confounding its readership.


Making the most of Stephanie’s penchant for French wine and Juana’s knowledge about California’s top makers, together they are learning from one another and expanding their individual appreciation while happily sharing their experiences on the blog. “Having Wine Lips has made me a little bit more adventurous in general, pushing me to try unfamiliar things on a menu like Indian wine, just for the novelty and experience,” continues Stephanie. “I also have a new found love for tempranillo, particularly for the Ribera del Duero region.” Juana chimes in, “Before we started working together, my knowledge of French wines was very limited. I found it all incredibly intimidating. I’ve since discovered the regions in France that I enjoy. I think between the two of us, our posts are balanced between New World wines and French, Spanish, and Italian wines, and definitely something everyone can relate to.”

This story was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Town&Country.

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Alicia Colby Sy
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