Au Revoir Becky, Legend of Burgundy
Christy Canterbury MW reflects on the loss of her friend and mentor, the Burgundian phenomenon Becky Wasserman-Hone.
The Burgundian village of Bouilland may have just over 200 inhabitants, but several hundred times that number have cordoned off the narrow, wooded road dotted with hand-piled stone walls in the decades since the transplant. American Becky Wasserman bought a centuries-old. farm there. Sadly, on Friday August 20, 2020, the glowing lighthouse that welcomed thousands of members of the wine community to its home ceased to glow.
Becky has been a major driver of the epic success of small family Burgundian estates in America today. As her eldest son Peter Wasserman said: “She found herself in the right place at the right time.” Yet Becky arrived in Burgundy with no connection to wine. On the contrary, she had the personality and the passion to learn more about the people and the agricultural region in which she landed.
The story seems all the more unlikely as Burgundy was a very different place in the late 1960s and even well beyond. The producers remained among themselves; if anyone from Volnay has been spotted in Meursault, they have been noticed (remember, some say this continues). There was no sharing of good practices or lessons learned abroad between the winegrowers. After all, few producers were traveling abroad at the time.
But here came this young American woman who quietly – inadvertently – started to make a difference. Becky began working in wine with cooperages, or coopers, after talking to Jean FranÃ§ois at FranÃ§ois FrÃ¨res, who was based in the village of his first home in Saint-Romain. Women were even rarer in barrel sales than they were in the cellar, but she quickly added Tonnellerie Taransaud to expand the options she offered to American wineries.
Soon after, Becky started an export company focused on small family estates. Second, small estates rarely made it to the United States due to the difficulty of shipping small volumes. With her signing courage, Becky began to aggregate shipments from several producers. In part, she used her connections to US importer Kermit Lynch, who tasked her with researching one or two producers of each AOC in France, to help fill the containers. Arguably, even global shippers can thank Becky for expanding their business.
Peter said: âIt was in mom’s DNA to love small producers and small estates, but she was never against quality traders. When she started the Bouilland conferences with Clive [Coates], the traders were always present. Mom was very drawn to qualitative friendships. His real quest was people with humanity. Quality people came first, then AOC. “
New York importer Michael Feuerstein of Pas Mal Selections agrees, describing how he worked his way into importing so many of Becky’s wines between the unconditional faith he put in his job – at first he didn’t ask for samples, he just ordered his wines – and pay his bills on time. “I promised him that I would not be his biggest importer but that I would be his favorite,” Feuerstein told me.
Finding good wines every day was one of Becky’s talents. FrÃ©dÃ©ric Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin wrote that Becky has done wonders in arousing people’s appreciation for the complexity of the many appellations and climates of Burgundy. Practical and respectful, it does not immediately tackle the grands or premiers crus of a new producer. Famous, when she went to see GÃ©rard Potel and then Michel Lafarge to discuss the export of their wines, she asked to taste their Passe-tout-grains. Feuerstein said: “Becky would say ‘Not everyone is well behaved’.”
Another of Becky’s prime instincts was communication. She listened well and everyone. Peter said: “For her, the preconceived idea was the enemy.”
Learning from the winemakers, she realized that they too should learn from each other. Shedding local habits, it brought together young producers and the most open-minded Burgundians of the time for dinners and tastings. In the decades that followed, she expanded it to include importers and sommeliers as well as wine critics, students and enthusiasts. The tables rise under the weight of the Rolodex – yes, those on spindles – in Bouilland.
In 1997, Becky was named Chevalier de l’Ordre du MÃ©rite Agricole. In 2019, she was welcomed to the Decanter Hall of Fame. Most people rarely have a look around the corner when it comes to people with such esteemed recognitions. Becky would see such a person, open the curtain and invite him in.
Becky always took time for a meal or an aperitif. Almost welcoming to the fault, she gave so much while making it look and feel so easy. Becky and her second husband, Russell Hone, owned the best-stocked pantry on the Gold Coast and were masterful in using their chosen products. Are you coming to dinner? No, no, we have it all. Are you from the United States? âWell, a packet of English muffins would be lovely. The best booking in Burgundy – for food, drinks and an interesting cast of characters – was at Bouilland.
Becky is survived by her husband, Russell, and sons Peter and Paul. The brothers agree that their mother would not have wanted a memorial service, so the family will not hold a public gathering. The family suggests that any donation be made to Becky’s two favorite charities: wheelingforward.org and nokidhungy.org.
The family is grateful for the outpouring of love on social media and through personal messages and calls. Peter said people the family have never met and from places they have never sold wine, including Egypt and South America, have reached out to tell stories on how Becky’s enthusiasm for small Burgundian production affected their wine drinking habits. “What I didn’t realize was how well the people at the company told mom’s stories to their customers.”
After the fact, Peter added that once the public health concerns surrounding Covid subsided, they could plan a celebration of Becky’s life with the international community she has woven together.
Burgundians and Burgundy wine lovers who mourn the loss of this beloved woman must remember that in French, we do not say goodbye but rather goodbye, or until we meet again. In the bottles of the wine producers she championed, in the stories of individual passions for wine that she ignited, in her oft-repeated quotes, in the lessons learned from the formal and informal symposia she continually orchestrated. , in the presentations to friends and to the industry the links she has forged and in the legacy she leaves to Becky Wasserman & Co., which will continue to export great wines from small family estates, she will remain around we.