• Sarah O'Kelley

Becky Wasserman: A Wine Hero


I have been blessed at many points in my career by serendipity, luck, fate, call it what you will...but certainly a high point in my wine wanderings happened back in 2014 when I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon/evening at the home of famed French wine broker Becky Wasserman.

Becky passed away August 20, at the age of 84, and it gave me a chance for one of those all important pauses where you take the time to look back and thoroughly value a magical moment.

First, a bit of backstory on Becky for you to truly appreciate this incredible being. Becky grew up in New York City, the only child of a Romanian prima ballerina and an American stockbroker. Wine was most definitely not in the proverbial cards for Becky until she moved to the tiny French village of St. Romain in 1968 after marrying American artist Bart Wasserman.

There, the marriage failed, and Becky found herself needing to support herself and her two young sons. The village of St. Romain was famed for its wine barrels, and Becky hit upon the idea of selling these to American winemakers. (Today, it seems amazing that French barrels had not yet become a critical ingredient in American winemaking, but such was the case!)

Becky soon found herself being asked by Americans for Burgundy recommendations, which eventually led to her transition from the barrel business to wine brokering (a sort of middle-woman between French domaines and American importers). (It’s hard to believe but at this point there was not an abundance of European wine readily available in the United States!)

There were many setbacks along the way, from sexism to bad business deals, but Becky persevered and can be credited with introducing so many (now famous) Burgundy domaines to the American market.

But just as importantly, Becky’s home (a quaint stone house in the Burgundy village of Bouilland) became a meeting ground for so many in the food and beverage industry. She and her second husband Russel Hone welcomed folks from around the globe with open arms and bottles and legendary dinners.

And this is where my short story with Becky begins…

In one of the only truly valuable social media moments that I can recall, in 2014 I reconnected with a childhood friend via Facebook after seeing her intense wine posts (think lots of flashcards). I found out she was living in Burgundy and studying for the Master of Wine exam. I was thoroughly impressed and of course thrilled to have a real life connection to Burgundy (my favorite region of study and imbibing).

As it turned out this was a crossroads year for me where I sold my share in a restaurant after six demanding years and thoroughly needed to re-charge. A trip to Burgundy seemed just the answer, and my old friend kindly extended the invite.

I booked a three week trip and made the most of every moment. I spent countless hours biking up and down the Cote d’Or -- stopping to take photos at famed vineyards I had had committed to memory.

And then one afternoon my friend announced we were headed out to Bouilland to help Becky prepare dinner for some visitors. Becky had been a mentor to my friend and provided her a true introduction to Burgundy. By this point they had become like family to each other, and since Becky’s husband Russell was in the hospital we were enlisted to help with one her feasts.


Truthfully, the entire afternoon/evening is a blur as I was thoroughly starstruck to be in the presence of this small, humble, but mighty woman. I do remember donning an apron, and perhaps roasting potatoes? Sautéing mushrooms? I believe Becky had a stew in the oven? And then there was pate, served with a simple leaf of endive and local tomatoes. (I do have a picture of this!) But mostly I remember the feel of that house that had known so many guests, so many good times. The long, narrow kitchen filled with afternoon light and a black cat that jumped on the counter. I remember the field behind the house filled with that same golden light. There was the long dining table, and the ledge crammed tight with bottles of past dinners. And there was Becky with her twinkly eyes and an aura that glowed just as much as that golden hour.

We snapped a quick photo in the kitchen, and amazingly it’s one of those phone photos that despite being a bit soft in focus seems to truly capture the moment -- my eager smile, Becky’s effusive hospitality. Thank goodness for fate and old friends and heroes that live up to and beyond their reputations.

Rest in peace Becky. The wine world is certainly a better place thanks to you.

For anyone wishing to discover some of the terrific wines we are blessed with via Becky and her incredible team please email me: sarah@grapetotable.com


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