The wine world mourns a legend. Last weekend, Becky Wasserman-Hone, the iconic importer of Burgundian wine, died of a chronic respiratory illness.
Wasserman had an outsized impact on the wine industry as a whole, and Burgundy in particular. Known for her caring, motherly touch, championship of lesser-known Burgundian domaines and unflinching integrity, Wasserman popularized the authentic tastes and terroir of Burgundy.
In 1968, American-born Wasserman moved to the small Burgundy village of Bouilland, near Beaune. Her foray into wine began as a barrel broker for the François Frères Cooperage in Burgundy in 1976. She realized that she wanted to work more with wine itself, so she established her own import company, Le Serbet, named for one of the fields in Bouilland. (It’s now Becky Wasserman & Co.)
At Le Serbet, she was known for her selection and championing “the little guys,” according to Allen Meadows, a longtime friend and founder of Burghound.com.
“In baseball, there’s a term called ‘small ball,’ and instead of going for the home run, you do a lot of singles,” says Meadows. “She took little growers and enabled them to have a platform…It was a stroke of genius. It’s what I set out to do myself, and I was partially inspired by her. Now everyone looks for small growers because no one was doing it before Becky.”
Meadows met Wasserman in 1997 and rented one of the small homes on her property for 16 years, spending five or six months of the year there.
“She seemed to always give more than she got, and always tried to give a helping hand,” says Meadows. “That’s probably her enduring legacy in the greater wine world.”
Daniel Johnnes, sommelier and founder of La Paulée de New York, a weeklong celebration of Burgundy’s wines, calls Wasserman a “trailblazer as a young woman in the late ’60s… in a field dominated by men.”
One of the most enduring stories about Wasserman’s early days at Le Serbet illustrates her commitment to her community. One of her distributors went bankrupt but Wasserman wanted to ensure that she made good on her obligation to pay her growers, so she mortgaged her house. That display of integrity cemented her reputation in the industry.
“She successfully earned the trust of many of the finest vignerons in France, not an easy thing to achieve for the best of us, and Becky earned it every day by running a business with honor,” says Harmon Skurnik, president of Skurnik Wines & Spirits. “She has long set a good example for companies like ours, who came along later, demonstrating that one’s name on the back label can stand for quality and integrity. There is no doubt that the wine world—and the world in general—are better places because of the long and successful life and career of Becky Wasserman.”
“The impact of her work was felt far and wide in just about every corner of the globe where people enjoy fine wine.” —Michael Skurnik, Skurnik Wines & Spirits
Michael Skurnik, CEO of Skurnik Wines & Spirits, shares Harmon’s esteem.
“I have known and admired Becky for nearly 40 years,” he says. “Her contributions to the wine world are legendary. As she was a tireless promoter and lover of wine, the impact of her work was felt far and wide in just about every corner of the globe where people enjoy fine wine. Becky’s presence will be sorely missed by so many.”
Her work impacted generations of wine professionals, Johnnes says.
“Later in life, Becky became a beacon and a mentor to scores of young people enthusiastic to learn about Burgundy.”
Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson agrees, calling Wasserman a mentor, connector and “humble trailblazer.”
Wasserman’s famously immersive, weeklong Burgundy deep dives, dubbed the “Bouilland Symposia,” brought Burgundian vignerons, experts and aspiring vintners together to introduce and teach wine lovers the way of Burgundy through vineyard walks, cellar visits and convivial gatherings around the table.
“The connection between Becky Wasserman and Burgundy was, and is, not a one-sided relationship,” says Ian Downey, executive vice president at Winebow Imports. “Both were profoundly changed by the introduction to the other… and the wine world is better for it. Her influence on Burgundy’s ever-evolving story is not likely to be fully understood by any one person, but I’d imagine she’d be ok with that.
“Collectively, the international wine community celebrates her influence and dedication.”
Wasserman is survived by her two sons, Peter and Paul Wasserman, and her husband, Russell Hone.