Burgundy Icon, Advocate and Mentor, Becky Wasserman, Dies

Becky Wasserman with panthers and chickens
Becky Wasserman / Photo Courtesy Michel Joly and Studio Hans Lucas

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 Fran√ßois Fr√®res 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.) ¬†

Becky Wasserman / Photo Courtesy Michel Joly and Studio Hans Lucas

At Le Serbet, she was known for her selection and championing ‚Äúthe little guys,‚ÄĚ according to Allen Meadows, a longtime friend and founder of Burghound.com.

‚ÄúIn baseball, there‚Äôs a term called ‚Äėsmall ball,‚Äô and instead of going for the home run, you do a lot of singles,‚ÄĚ says Meadows. ‚ÄúShe took little growers and enabled them to have a platform‚ĶIt was a stroke of genius. It‚Äôs 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.‚Ä̬†

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.  

‚ÄúShe seemed to always give more than she got, and always tried to give a helping hand,‚ÄĚ says Meadows.¬†‚ÄúThat‚Äôs¬†probably her enduring legacy in the greater wine world.‚Ä̬†

Daniel Johnnes, sommelier and founder of La Paul√©e de New York, a weeklong celebration of Burgundy‚Äôs wines, calls Wasserman a ‚Äútrailblazer as a young woman in the late ’60s… in a field dominated by men.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĮ¬†

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. 

‚ÄúShe successfully earned the trust of many of the finest vignerons in France,‚ÄĮnot an easy thing to achieve for the best of us,¬†and Becky earned it every day by running a business with honor,‚ÄĚ says Harmon¬†Skurnik, president¬†of¬†Skurnik¬†Wines & Spirits.‚ÄĮ‚ÄúShe has long set‚ÄĮa good example for companies like ours, who came along later, demonstrating that one‚Äôs name on the back label can stand for quality and integrity.‚ÄĮThere is no doubt that the wine world‚ÄĒand the world in general‚ÄĒare better places because of the long and successful life and career of Becky Wasserman.‚Ä̬†

“The impact of her work was felt far and wide in just about every corner of the globe where people enjoy fine wine.” ‚ÄĒMichael Skurnik, Skurnik Wines & Spirits

Michael Skurnik, CEO of Skurnik Wines & Spirits, shares Harmon’s esteem.   

‚ÄúI have known¬†and¬†admired Becky for nearly 40 years,‚ÄĚ he says.¬†‚ÄúHer 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‚Äôs presence will be sorely missed¬†by so many.‚Ä̬†

Her work impacted generations of wine professionals, Johnnes says.  

‚ÄúLater in life, Becky became a beacon and a mentor to scores of young people enthusiastic to learn about Burgundy.‚Ä̬†¬†

Master Sommelier Andrea¬†Immer¬†Robinson¬†agrees, calling Wasserman a mentor, connector¬†and¬†‚Äúhumble trailblazer.‚Ä̬†¬†

Burgundy's New Generation Rising to the Challenge

Wasserman‚Äôs famously immersive, weeklong Burgundy deep dives, dubbed the ‚ÄúBouilland Symposia,‚ÄĚ 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. ¬†

‚ÄúThe connection between Becky Wasserman and Burgundy was,¬†and is,¬†not a one-sided relationship,‚ÄĚ says Ian Downey, executive vice president¬†at¬†Winebow¬†Imports.‚ÄĮ‚ÄúBoth were profoundly changed by the introduction to the other‚Ķ and the wine world is better for it.¬†Her influence on Burgundy‚Äôs ever-evolving story is not likely to be fully understood by any one person, but I‚Äôd imagine she‚Äôd be ok with that.‚ÄĮ¬†¬†

‚ÄúCollectively, the international wine community celebrates her influence and dedication.‚Ä̬†

Wasserman is survived by her two sons, Peter and Paul Wasserman, and her husband, Russell Hone. 

Published on August 24, 2021
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