Get To Know Jhonel Faelnar, An Award-Winning Filipino Sommelier Who's Featured On "The Crawl France"
"The Crawl" is heading to France with a Filipino sommelier who has been trained and decorated in New York
He graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a bachelor's degree in Management Engineering. Six years after, he is Wine & Spirits magazine's Best New Sommelier of New York, winning the Wine Enthusiast's Best Wine Restaurants in the USA for Atomix as its Wine Director.
Who exactly is Jhonel Faelnar, and what sparked his unique story of passion?
Jhonel was born and raised in Quezon City amidst what he describes as a “very homogenous part of Manila.” That’s why after college, when he started exploring the world, his curiosity to learn more about other cultures was immediately piqued.
“I moved to Japan to pursue a career in the fashion and retail world and really discovered a love for food and travel there, going from city to city on the weekends and trying out everything from finer cuisine to neighborhood restaurants,” Jhonel recalls. “When I moved to New York in 2013, I really took a right turn and pursued wine in earnest. It seemed to fit what I wanted at the time and what I loved about New York: a multi-cultural exposure that often happened in the middle of a busy bar or restaurant with a cocktail or a glass of wine in hand.”
“What made me decide to become a sommelier was what was then a burgeoning passion for travel, language, culture, history, people, and how this all comes together at the dinner table, especially in the dynamic city of New York,” Jhonel says about his decision to pursue being a sommelier. And after internships, advanced programs, and jobs with various institutions, here he is now, fulfilling the dream he envisioned for himself.
“It was tough in the beginning as I had no roadmap to follow. But I quickly found sure footing with some of the city’s wine veterans. Wine can be very intimidating in the beginning as a lot of it is experiential. No amount of reading will ever give you the true experience of tasting a particular wine from a particular place from a particular year. The learning continues! Really, it never ends,” Jhonel says.
Here, we get to know more about Jhonel:
What was the first glass that ever blew you away and why?
"That’s a tough one. I can’t remember. (Haha!) But I do recall a bottle of 1982 Château Le Pin from Pomerol in Bordeaux. It was one of the first few times I had a horizontal lineup of iconic producers from this vintage and this wine just sang in the glass. It’s such a vivid memory."
What are your favorites so far and how did you discover them?
"Hard to say! I love well-made wines, wherever they may come from. That said, if you left me on an island with a cellar full of Burgundy, I could probably die happy. I discover all of these much in the same way—by drinking them."
What are the top 5 things not a lot of people know about you?
1. I like to doodle quite a bit. I do it often to relax.
2. Cats over dogs. They’re way cooler.
3. I like airports. I enjoy being in transit and the in-between of it all.
4. I cook really great scrambled eggs.
5. I played judo for Ateneo for a good six years from high school through university. I barely drank in college!
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
"Cool answer: Photography. I travel with my Nikon FM2n 35mm film camera fairly often and I’ve been shooting film for years now.
Real answer: Sleep in, eat well, and watch Netflix while being a little antisocial on my weekends."
What do you miss most about the Philippines?
"Everything and nothing at the same time. I feel like I’ve never left but I get reminded that my friends and family are all growing up without me. I miss the air (not along EDSA), the food, and the people!"
Hosting The Crawl France
France is indeed the heart of wine culture in the world. And with The Crawl heading to France this year, the show could really use a wine expert like Jhonel to walk us through the country’s complex but beautiful wine-and-dine scene.
“The wines of France are as diverse as they are delicious. It is a country of wine (and food) that you can spend your whole life trying to taste through and never tire of. You should look forward to our visits in Champagne, Burgundy, and the Rhone Valley where we'll be visiting some iconic and classic wineries that have been around since before your grandparents,” Jhonel teases. “I am looking forward to hanging out with Stephanie and the crew, and I’m just excited to taste a bunch of wine and share that love with the hometown! Everyone better be ready for my Asian glow!”
Apart from France’s diverse wine options, we’re also looking forward to exploring Jhonel’s favorite France experiences like riding the TGV (“Train à Grande Vitesse,” France's intercity high-speed rail service), enjoying the café culture, checking out museums, and eating oysters and Muscadet.
The Philippines’ wine and fine dining culture is just starting to blossom, with more Filipinos like Jhonel traveling the world and more shows like The Crawl bringing back a piece of the world to the country. And when it comes to wine drinking, Jhonel says the Philippines is not very far behind.
“We just need to start drinking!” Jhonel says. “Whether it's First Growth Bordeaux or a humble Bourgogne Rouge, I think finding the wine you personally like to drink and exploring that is the most important thing. On top of that, knowing that Filipino food and wine, while non-traditional at this time, go just as well and just as easily as sisig does with a cold glass of beer.”
Learn more about France’s rich wine and food culture with Jhonel Faelnar and his co-host, Stephanie Kienle-Gonzalez, on The Crawl France, soon on Metro Channel.
Banner image from the International Culinary Center. Other photos from @jhonelfaelnar