Meeting Becky Wasserman-Hone, one could be forgiven a brief surprise that this woman with such an elfin, twinkling appearance could be a giant of the world of Burgundy—until she began to speak.
Conversation with Becky was a continual inspiration. She had a truly profound knowledge of Burgundy. On the occasion of her induction into the Decanter Hall of Fame in 2019, Aubert de Villaine remarked ‘She is someone who has a deep understanding of the “climats de la Bourgogne” and can explain them. She has witnessed the evolution of Burgundy during 50 years. She is still there, a kind of touchstone, and has understood it all.’
Explain she has – Wasserman-Hone has mentored generations of sommeliers, importers and journalists. Daniel Johnnes is known as the impresario behind La Paulée de New York, but also worked for decades as a sommelier at America’s top restaurants and as an importer. He remarked, ‘Becky Wasserman was without a doubt the grande dame of Burgundy. Born American, she was almost more Burgundian than some Burgundians.
‘Her home was always open to friends, family, students of wine and anyone who had a passion to learn. The table was always set and the welcome was always warm and generous. My passion for Burgundy was nourished during my first visit to her home in Bouilland in 1986. I have since made Burgundy the focus of my career, yet losing Becky feels a bit like losing the ballast on a ship.’
Fellow American sommelier (and winemaker) Raj Parr added that, ‘Becky was one of the most loved people I know. She changed the landscape for Burgundy worldwide. Her efforts have paid off and now Burgundy is on top of the wine world. But more than wine, Becky was a beacon of light to young growers, sommeliers and cavistes who treated everyone kindly and graciously.’
Wasserman-Hone was born in 1937 in New York City. She attended the prestigious Hunter College High School and Bryn Mawr College before moving to France with her first husband and their young sons Peter and Paul.
The couple settled in the Burgundy village of St-Romain in 1968. Following her divorce, she found work selling barrels for local cooper François Frères and later for Taransaud, both among the most highly-esteemed coopers in France.
Her personal taste, however, did not run to heavily-oaked wines, and she made a career shift in the 1970s. Beginning with the 1976 vintage, she set up as a courtier, matching up-and-coming producers with American wine importers. Today, her firm exports the work of 60 Burgundy producers.
Some, such as Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier and Domaine Michel Lafarge are household names. Many others, however, were unknown when she discovered them.
Linden Wilkie, managing director at Hong Kong retailer The Fine Wine Experience relates, ‘Becky had a tireless enthusiasm for Burgundy and for discovering new talent for whom she was a great supporter. She would remind us that some of the more famous domaines she was associated with had to start somewhere and were once not easy to sell. She encouraged us to explore, keep an open mind, and support the new talent emerging today.’
Wasserman-Hone was endowed with a surfeit of charisma and charm, but she never relied solely upon that to sell wine. Sales were accomplished by hard work.
Winemaker and sommelier Larry Stone MS relates, ‘She was a brilliant and charismatic person who exuded a love of vineyards, vignerons and wine but was also a tireless promoter of those wines she loved. She welcomed all who demonstrated an understanding of wine and who were eager to learn more and, in that capacity, helped train and mold generations of sommeliers, retailers and journalists.’
Among those who fell under her sway were New York fine wine veteran John Truax, who commented, ‘Becky and Russell travelled annually to the USA promoting small Burgundy producers. They put in more miles than rock bands, into their seventies!’
Wasserman-Hone combined her charm and dedication with innovative techniques. Her son Peter Wasserman relates one of the secrets to her success: ‘Mom always told me one important achievement is that she got together with the head of the Beaune office at [freight forwarder] Hillebrand and figured out how to consolidate a container from multiple sources. This was the single action that had the most impact on small production wine exports the world round. That was literally the magic key.’
The growers that she worked with also cherish her memory. Frédéric Mugnier remarked, ‘Becky was without a doubt my most important companion in my life as a winegrower. When I approached this profession in 1985 without knowing anything about wine, she introduced me to the people, winegrowers and clients alike, who had a fair and sincere approach to this profession.
‘It is these meetings that forged my vision of wine. Becky will be sorely missed. Burgundy is changing. I fear Becky’s demise marks the end of an era that I loved deeply.’
Dominique Lafon was a close friend and associate; he lamented, ‘The news is terrible! Burgundy has just lost its finest ambassador, although Becky was even more than that.’ Lafon’s wife, Cristina added, ‘Becky was like a mother to me and with her leaving I feel like an orphan. I have lost a mother, a confidante and a dear friend.’
Becky Wasserman-Hone is survived by her husband Russell Hone, her sons Peter and Paul Wasserman, by three step-children and five step-grandchildren.
Becky Wasserman-Hone at a glance
Born 18 January 1937, Manhattan, New York City
Parents Father, stockbroker; mother, Romanian former prima ballerina and dancer
Education Rudolf Steiner School, Hunter College High School, New York; Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania
Family Husband Russell Hone; sons, Peter and Paul Wasserman; three step-children; five step-grandchildren
Interests Cooking, reading, music