Palm Beach

July 29, 2012

Interview with Virginia Philip, Master Sommelier

Virginia Philip became the tenth woman in the world to earn the extraordinary accreditation of Master Sommelier. This achievement was enhanced when she earned the national title of “Best Sommelier of the United States” in 2002 from the American Sommelier Association. It is Philip’s mainstream popularity as Wine Director for The Breakers in Palm Beach, that people know her name. Philip has directed the beverage department for nine restaurants and bars and 14 wine lists, including the resort’s prized 1,600-selection list, which has won the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award every year since its inception in 1981. It was this past fall [2011] that Philip opened her eponymous Wine Shop and Academy located in West Palm Beach. The Virginia Philip Wineshop & Academy offers 450 personally selected wines spanning regions from all over the globe starting at $10. Philip shares her extensive knowledge and encompassing experience with guests as she offers a variety of programs such as wine education, food and wine pairings, how to buy wine and how build a wine cellar. Pricing for the individual seminars and classes range from $25 to $50 depending on the subject matter; and for the bold and daring who wish to tap Philip’s full range of wine knowledge, an eight-week wine series is offered teaching attendees about the major wine regions of the world. I present this week’s Sommelier and Entrepreneur in the Spotlight, Virginia Philip, Master Sommelier.

Virginia Philip, Master Sommelier

South Florida Food and Wine: Tell us about your new namesake venture, Virginia Philip Wineshop & Academy.
Virginia Philip: Opening a retail store has been one of my goals for over 20 years. The city of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach are ready for a project/wine store of this caliber. One should not have to travel to New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco or L.A. to meet and listen to top winemakers in this country and the world. We have winery owners, winemakers, Directors and top people in this industry coming to the shop to give our clientele their thoughts and wisdom on what they think about their own wines and where they are heading in the future. I am know for my strong teaching and mentoring skills and this concept allows me to teach to the general public as well as those who are trying to launch a career in the wine industry. This shop is a “sounding board” or store front for all the other projects I am working on.

South Florida Food and Wine: In addition to your business, what other irons do you have in the fire? (The Breakers, consulting, etc..)
Virginia Philip: My work with The Breakers continues which I am very thankful for. For the past 12 years, I have worked with a fantastic sommelier team and Food & Beverage team in spearheading what is considered one of the best wine programs in the country. Launching our new concept in November is going to set new standards in the perception of what fine dining can be and where it is going. Stéphane’s in Boca Raton is a fun, intense wine program direction by working with the I Pad wine list concept. It is a beautiful restaurant with a great wine program and I know guests are going to be very impressed with the selections, the pricing and have a lot of fun testing out the I Pad.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is your most memorable wine moment to date?
Virginia Phillip: Probably 2 – passing the Master Sommelier Diploma in London in 2002 followed up with my win in New York City three weeks later with the title of Best Sommelier in the United States. It is hard to top that. Although opening my doors to the shop can barely be put into words – I was just stunned and happy that I had done it.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is the one thing you love the most about your job?
Virginia Philip: The Diversity. Everyday is a new day with new challenges and a new list of things to do. I enjoy starting my day at the shop and then later, headed over to The Breakers to catch up over there. I feel revitalized and re-energized. New ideas are co-mingled between the two and I am having a really great time right now.

South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you most would like to share a bottle of wine with? And why?
Virginia Philip: My Father. He died of cancer in 2006 and I know he would just be so proud to see my new shop. His Italian background had our family drinking small sips of wine mixed withwater at a very young age. He was insistent that as young ladies, we learned to become self-sufficient individuals and able to stand on your own two feet.

South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final quaff be?
Virginia Phillip: Yikes! Better check to see what’s in my wine locker! Probably Champagne – Rosé preferably. That lively acidity would be so well suited to giving a little bit of life into the day.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is the best wine advice you ever received?
Virginia Philip: To know what you like to drink and to know what you do not like and why. By using this advice every day, I became a better sommelier and am much more able to aptly describe to a client why I think they may or may not like a particular style of wine.

South Florida Food and Wine: Dream come true: You can have the wine of your choice in any city in the world, which city would it be and why? what wine would it be and why?
Virginia Philip: Rome – By the coliseum because there is so much history there and I find the rusticity of the architecture so fascinating and know that so much of our wine culture started in Italy. Wine? I would drink Brunello di Montalcino for its sheer unique character and taste profile. The Italians respect and expertise with the Sangiovese grape is so artistic and unique. No other country does this wine better.

South Florida Food and Wine: Your sense of taste and smell are crucial to your job, what if you lost your “senses”? What would be, your Plan B?
Virginia Philip: Plan B is already what I am doing right now. Creating a business that allows me to utilize all of my skills.

Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy 101 North Clematis, Suite 150, West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Love the South Florida food scene? Check out our newly published book (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95), Food Lovers’ Guide to Miami & Fort Lauderdale

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One Comment


  1. Deborah Rost

    An excellent article that was informative. The questions asked were interesting and something the average wine consumer would love to ask Virginia. I



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