Obituary: Becky Wassermann
Becky Wassermann with her husband Russell Hone at her home in Burgundy in September 2019
© Robin Lee
An open house
On my first trip to Beaune along with a few introductions to some noteworthy producers I had been given the advice to call Becky. And so I did, without quite knowing what to expect. Becky answered my call, listened to my self-introduction, and promptly invited me and the friend I was travelling with to come to lunch, at her office, that same day. Lunch with Becky was a lengthy affair. That time it was on the ground floor of her office in a beautiful 18th century château in the centre of Beaune, Burgundy. On future visits it was at her home, a converted barn in the nearby village of Bouilland.
The food was always wonderful and abundant – classic French dishes cooked by Russell Hone, Becky’s charming and gargantuan husband (particularly enormous when standing beside the diminutive Becky) who was a gourmet and gourmand, as well as wine connoisseur of the old school sort who would typically finish off lunch with a large snifter of Cognac or Calvados. At lunch, Becky served the wines in her portfolio, always Burgundies from her favourite producers such as Sylvain Pataille and Olivier Merlin, and always something from Italy, the Loire or the South of France.
A crucial time
Becky was a legend and throughout the wine world, particularly in the United States, she was Burgundy’s ambassador, its representative and its champion. Becky had moved to Burgundy from her native New York City in 1968 as a young wife with two small boys, but after arriving she discovered her artist husband was cheating on her and soon found herself a single mother, needing to make a living. Her love of wine catapulted her into the epicentre of the life of Burgundy, which was gathering pace at this time, when some of the great domaines were just starting their estate bottling, international sales were starting to become more important, and even the most illustrious names were still approachable and affordable, but also in need of a certain amount of soft promotion.
A legend in her lifetime
What Becky brought to the table, as it were, was not the eye of a native, nor the sensibilities of an outsider, because she was both, or, more accurately, neither. She was fiercely loyal to her boys, her husband, her myriad friends and guests who travelled to seek her out on a regular basis and whom she always welcomed with open arms, acerbic anecdotes and an individualistic take on which producers to visit and what wines to look out for. She always rooted for the underdogs, but also stood up for the classics.
Becky’s friendship was treasured by all whom she extended it to, and she was also respected by those who were outside her milieu. Becky witnessed the evolution of Burgundy from provincial obscurity, to something akin to wine Hollywood, which was somewhat unnerving, but in which she participated with wry humour, formidable energy and a twinkle in her eye. Becky was a one-off, a mischievous feminist, an old world intellectual, a disrupter, a savvy businesswoman and a hopeless romantic, as well as one of the most knowledgeable and well-read critics that one could hope to meet. She will be sorely missed.
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