I was slightly puzzled when I saw the results of the online search I did for Bibio, the small but cozy new wine bar that popped up in forever-busy Poblacion, Makati, along perennially popular night out destination Don Pedro street.
“Natural wine,” the writeup said. I thought to myself, ‘Aren’t all wines natural?’ They come from the grapes on the vine, which shoots up from the earth. How is that not already natural?
Of course, as with all things, there is an explanation. Wine lovers and connoisseurs Justin and Vanessa Apolonio, two of the chief partners behind Bibio, explain a simple definition.
“So all natural wine is wine, and it’s really just the way we like to think of natural wine,” says Justin. “When we say natural, that means that when they farm, the grapes are usually organic, they don’t add any chemicals. They take care of the nature in the land, and they make sure they produce really high-quality grapes. And then in the winery, the grapes are turned into wine through natural processes—so natural fermentation.
“With commercial wines, they are allowed to add a lot of things, like sugar. Natural wine is low-intervention, so it really gets to show the quality of the grapes, and the scale and creativity of the winemaker because there’s nothing to hide,” says Justin Apolonio.
“With commercial wines, they are allowed to add a lot of things, like sugar. Natural wine is low-intervention, so it really gets to show the quality of the grapes, and the scale and creativity of the winemaker because there’s nothing to hide.”
And with that, we were introduced to the world of natural wines. I’m not a big wine drinker so I wouldn’t know exactly, but I did seem to feel the heat a little sooner with the wines we were served that rainy Friday afternoon.
Carving a new niche on the busy side of town
Simply put, Bibio is the partners’ manifestation of their passion for wine. Fellow partners and experienced restaurateurs Kaity Jayme and Melissa Orozco wanted to put up a wine bar, and searched for possible wine importers they could work with. They recount that they simply found the Apolonios’ Natty Wines Inc. profile on Instagram, saw their posts, and sent them DMs—all of that eventually led to the space we were all sitting in.
“Kaity approached me and said, ‘Let’s open a natural wine bar,’ and I was like, okay, why not? It sounds interesting,” says Orozco. “We just got inspired by what happens abroad, which doesn’t happen here. Most of the concepts we put up are mostly like that. I was looking around [and saw Natty Wines Inc.] and I was like, let’s try these guys. I like the pictures, I like the branding.”
Simply put, Bibio is the partners’ manifestation of their passion for wine. Fellow partners and experienced restaurateurs Kaity Jayme and Melissa Orozco wanted to put up a wine bar, and searched for possible wine importers they could work with.
Meanwhile, the Apolonios are engineers by trade, wine lovers by passion, and wine importers by side hustle.
“In Australia, I guess we fell in love with the food culture first,” says Justin, referring to a phase in their lives where they briefly lived overseas to work. “And then we also fell in love with wine, because there’s a lot of good wine regions near where we lived. And then there were a lot of great wine bars and wine shops. So for us, it was just the two of us there, then wine became a part of our life.”
And then to round Bibio off was the food part—the wine was already taken care of but there had to be something people could munch on while they were sipping the great natural wine. Enter Mianne Manguiat and Ruther Sandico, who put together a menu fully composed of different fermented foods—even things I didn’t know were possible to ferment.
“We wanted to match [the food] with the natural wine bar,” says Manguiat, who mostly handles the food. “It’s also what I like to do. I have a small business where I cure meats, so I kind of incorporated what I love doing here because it matches the brand.”
From the appetizers in the fermented vegetables, fermented fries, and can’t-keep-away-from mortadella to the big mains such as their 30-day aged steak and a heaping pastrami sandwich, Manguiat put everything through some sort of fermentation process. It leaves the food soft and somewhat sour, which may be a bit of an acquired taste for some people, but nonetheless rewarding for those who like it like that. With her out-of-the-box style of cuisine, Manguiat made sure that Bibio wouldn’t be a slouch when it comes to food, just because its main offering is wine.
Bibio is your friendly neighborhood wine bar
The main aim for Bibio is to be approachable to everyone who comes by. Bibio even has a friendly waiter and sommelier, who’s well-versed in the language of wine and able to personally suggest and recommend anything to anyone who’s willing to be surprised.
“In terms of our service, we want it to be approachable,” says Jayme. “We like that our sommelier gets to talk to guests, like there’s really a personal relationship there when he asks what kind of wine do you like, and he’s able to suggest. It’s a very personal touch.”
“In terms of our service, we want it to be approachable,” says Kaity Jayme. “We like that our sommelier gets to talk to guests, like there’s really a personal relationship there when he asks what kind of wine do you like, and he’s able to suggest. It’s a very personal touch.”
“It was really important to us when we spoke about it—like if we were going to offer wine, it had to be when we had to work with people who knew their stuff. And then it’s not like, ‘oh, let’s just open and then let’s get some tips here,’” says Orozco.
It’s because of small but essential touches like these that Bibio is quickly gaining traction as a classy new watering hole in Makati, just a few months after they’ve opened their doors. The most important thing, however, is that one doesn’t have to be a well-informed wine connoisseur like the Apolonios to enjoy what they’ve got. Nobody’s going to judge you for not knowing about natural wine.
There’s really no need for pretense to have fun with wine—and you don’t even have to have the wine to have fun at Bibio.
“It’s a place where you can really be yourself,” says Vanessa. “You can be someone who likes wine. You can be someone who’s new to wine, or even if you don’t like wine, we have cocktails—we’re a bit more inclusive. It’s a place where if you have friends over, each person will find something they like and have a good chat.”