sad losses…

Becky Wasserman Hone 1937-2021

By billn on August 23, 2021 #sad losses...

On Friday evening, on the US forum wineberserkers, I saw the notice of Becky’s departure from this place. I checked in on another UK forum that I visit and there was no mention. I started to type the news but having known her for over 20 years, I felt a little like an ambulance chaser and decided to let the weekend pass and write my thoughts here.

Becky began her Burgundian journey in the 1960s; at that time with a different husband to the Russell Hone that we all know and love today. Becky began by selling barrels from Burgundy to customers in the US – consolidating multiple orders and shipping full containers to the States. With her two sons, Peter and Paul, the family lived in Saint Romain near the barrel-maker François. When I got to know her, Becky had only the slightest of accents when speaking French but the boys, brought up in St.Romain had none, switching effortlessly between the two languages depending on their company.

It soon dawned on Becky that the contents of those French barrels could be a much better product to sell than the barrels themselves – and, over time, she was proven right. There were some downs as well as ups – particularly during one credit crunch when a customer failed to pay for a large consignment of wine after delivery. Then there was the time that her office roof caved in and it took many months to be fixed – the whole team de-camped, nextdoor, to what had been the wine cellar of Ma Cuisine until the work was completed. But her business weathered the storms and grew stronger for it.

Becky began by selling the wines of hand-picked producers that she had come to know and, as she tasted more widely, the range grew too. It is without a hint of consideration that you can describe her as the most pioneering, important, importer of burgundy wine into the US for the last 50 years – her portfolio only lacked a little DRC/Leroy magic – but she still counted those producers as friends. Becky once told me that in her early days she’d invited Aubert de Villaine to a tasting of the wines she was starting to export but was unsure if he would actually attend; attend he did and took a little extra time to compliment her on the quality and cleanliness of her glassware for the tasting – good tasting glasses being a rarity in the 1970s – Aubert and Becky always kept in touch after that!

Soon a new house was to beckon – above Savigny-lès-Beaune in the hamlet of Bouilland. Becky confided that although the wine business was thriving at the time, the banks needed a lot of convincing to lend the money – eventually they accepted when Becky included in her business plan the Bouilland Symposia. These symposia being week-long tasting and dining experiences with producers and critics – originally with Clive Coates but other ‘hosts’ were to follow. Bouilland later becoming the home of Clive Coates’ 10 years-on burgundy tastings – all under the various outbuilding rooves of the Wasserman-Hones with dinner prepared by Russell. I only visited one of these tastings – the 1997s – as one year later ‘the press’ were banned as there were more of them coming to taste than producers.

When it comes to the critics, Becky knew them all – not only knew – she also opened doors for very many. Her office kitchen – just across from Ma Cuisine in the centre of Beaune – saw generations of writers and would-be writers, young and already established, joining her and her team for lunch. “It’s the only rule I have for the people that work for me – we have to eat lunch together – but it’s cooked here.” Becky knew that it was a symbiotic relationship, selling wine and knowing the people who wrote about wine, and she was most happy sending people to what she thought good addresses though often had to be stoic – ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink!

Of course, you also met winemakers at Becky’s table. I remember the day that Dominique Lafon (who for a time before joining the family domaine had worked for Becky) came and sat down, eating his sandwich and berating what one (or more!) of his neighbours in Montrachet had done. We hadn’t previously met and Becky shot me one of those stares that said – ‘say nothing’ – and after Dominique left Becky’s stare was reinforced with a ‘and write nothing too!‘ Of course, 20 years ago, Becky had overestimated the level of my French language skills, so I was anyway 50% clueless 🙂

I was often welcomed at Becky’s table and really can’t remember who made the introduction for me but she was happy to write a small piece in the first issue of Burgundy Report in 2003. I’m sorry that I fell out of visiting the team at Le Serbet – the name of her business – but it largely mirrored Becky being less often in Beaune in the last years. I still look back at the day when I asked her what she really thought about the book I’d written about the region – her answer inscrutable, perhaps enigmatic but still a great answer “What I can tell you, is that a lot of people are green with envy and would be very happy just replacing your name on the cover with theirs!” Thanks Becky.

I suppose that Becky was doing a similar job with (budding) journalists that the BIVB do now but actually within the trade of wine nobody did it as she did – or at all, before she did it! It is such an understatement to say that she will be missed. My thoughts extend to Russell, Peter and Paul but I know that her whole team in Beaune will be equally devastated…

volnay’s warming biennial festivities for the police-industrial complex…

By billn on October 27, 2020 #sad losses...#travels in burgundy 2020

Tar and feathers!Perhpas you may remember the image to the right – almost exactly 2 years ago. The culmination of a game that began in the summer, first by knocking over, then burning & flaying (more than once), then finally tarring and feathering the radar camera for detecting speeding cars that had been installed on the Route Nationale below Volnay. The remains of the metal box were taken away by the authorities – never to return – or so we thought…

Truth be told, that camera was intentionally very sneaky indeed – hidden behind bushes so that a driver had no chance to see it before it was too late. Given such a state of affairs, and despite the medieval tortures that this metal box was put through, nobody had the slightest sympathy for said metal box.

Move on 2 years and at the beginning of this month, a new machine to subdue the workers arrived – more self-important, higher off the ground – and seemingly able to catalogue driving infringements in both directions too. Note that this time around, the actual apparatus stood nearly 3 metres above the ground. This was no-longer a machine to shy away in the bushes, here was a machine with dominion over all. Until this weekend – when it was set on fire again.

Despite not hiding the apparatus from view in this phase two approach, it seems that sympathy remains scant for this burnt-out hulk. It also seems that burning tyres remain an effective deterrent for the police-industrial-complex 🙂

Before and after:

Thanks to Georges Duboeuf

By billn on January 05, 2020 #sad losses...

Adrien & Georges Dubeouf with Guy Marion, 2017
February 2017, with Adrien & Georges Duboeuf, plus oenelogue Guy Marion who had worked together with Georges since 1976…

Yesterday we said goodbye to ‘Mister Beaujolais;‘ Georges Duboeuf was 87 years old.

I only tasted once with Georges, above, but he was generous with his time if already frailer than all the photos of him that I’d seen – that was almost 3 years ago.

Georges was one of the principal drivers of the explosive growth of Beaujolais Nouveau in the 1970s. But behind that, he was able to create an empire of all the sorts of Beaujolais; make any blind tasting and you would be shocked by how often wines from his Hameau du Vin would be numbered amongst the best.

Today is not a day to critique his efforts, only to remember a man that probably sold more Beaujolais than any other who has existed. My thoughts go to his son, Franck, and all the rest of his family.

adieu michel andré…

By billn on August 31, 2019 #sad losses...

Michel & Francoise André
Michel & Françoise André, from their domaine’s website.

Goodbye Michel André, Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite, who died on the 26th August and was buried on the 29th – he had been profoundly unwell for the last year and leaves a large and extended family in the region.

You may be forgiven for not previously having come across the name, Michel André was very discrete, but he was also one of the most important actors in Beaune’s winetrade for the last 30-plus years. Michel is very-much the architect of the modern wine domaine in Burgundy.

At one entrance to Beaune, close to the autoroute, are some landscaped gardens, a fountain and the large office buildings of André et Associés, accountants to most of the important domaines of Burgundy. This is a business established in Beaune in 1946 and developed by Michel and his brother, Jean-Claude. Michel took his retirement only 3+ years ago, afterwards doing a little consulting, his sons have taken on many of the roles at the accountancy business.

Michel presided over the financial health of some 400-plus domaines from a time when a domaine could hardly support a growing family, through financial crisies of one form or another, to the modern day when previously undreamed of wealth lies within the vineyard land and the wines that are produced from it. Michel also worked behind the scenes helping with transferring domaines to the next generations of families – latterly with much financial pressure from extended families who saw, and sometimes grasped, their opportunites to cash-out of these (now) valuable businesses. Michel was a professional, and his family remain within the business, so without naming names, it is still fair to say that some the most important domaines of Burgundy remain extant only due to the hard work of Michel and his team, structuring the optimum solution for all concerned during such times of change.

But Michel was not just a numbers man, he also loved the vineyards and the product of those vines. So much so that in 1983, when he had the opportunity to purchase a plot of premier cru vines in Savigny Les Vergelesses, he jumped for it. A domaine on the ramparts of Beaune – the Domaine des Tergelesses – followed, along with additional purchases of vines. Sylvain Pitiot was his first winemaker before he left for the Hospices de Beaune, and then later the Clos de Tart. The domaine later took the name of Michel’s wife, Françoise André and is, today, run by Michel and Françoise’s daughter-in-law, Lauriane. It was in this context that I shared many interesting and older bottles with Michel – this being my ‘home domaine’ for harvesting in 2017 and 2018 – I think it will be a more sombre harvest this year in 2019 – but we will try to make it a great one for him.

Adieu Michel…

RIP Bernard Hudelot

By billn on August 11, 2019 #sad losses...

I never met Bernard Hudelot, and now never will, but I only heard only positive anecdotes about this character.

Bernard who died in the last days, aged 77, had rejuvenated the estate of the Château de Villars Fontaine to over 30 hectares of vines. The château a once important bastion, literally, of the region and also of winemaking in the Hautes Côtes.

say goodbye to william fèvre

By billn on July 21, 2019 #sad losses...

I had always assumed that William Fèvre, of the eponymous grand domaine in Chablis, was somebody who was long lost to this world – but I was wrong.

William was born in 1929 and only departed this world two weeks ago. He established his, I would say, emblematic Chablis domaine in 1959, and with only 7 hectares of family vines. Given the ravages of frost, this was a hard time for Chablis, but a good time to accumulate vineyard land, such that when William sold his domaine to the Champagne house of Henriot in 1998, it had grown to 64 hectares, including 15 hectares of grand cru. Today, still under Henriot, the domaine now stands at 78 hectares plus the equivalent of many more from purchased grapes

The Fèvres have, for hundreds of years, worked the vines of Chablis, predominantly from their base in Fontenay-Près-Chablis, and it remains a large, extended family, including independent producers such as of Nathalie et Gilles Fèvre.

Goodbye William Fèvre…

Chablis yesterday:

au revoir, auprès du clocher!

By billn on June 23, 2019 #sad losses...

I visited Aupres du Clocher this week, an institution for the last years in Pommard, but learned that it is closing in 3 weeks. Probably most famous for their ‘Mousse tiède d’époisses au pain d’épices et sa tartine‘ – or a cappuccino of epoises to you and me – a dish that’s been much copied in the last years.

There will be new owners in Pommard, so the village will still have its restaurant in the church square, but all is not lost for the cheese cappuccino lovers! Jean-Christophe Moutet’s restaurant is moving and changing its name – Au Fils du Clos is the new name and they expect to be opening towards the end of August – but in Meursault!

The new place will be just across the road from Domaine Roulot. I’m looking forward to it!

rip – henry-frederic roch

By billn on November 20, 2018 #sad losses...

logo prieure rochIt seemed almost an apologetic first report of the death of HFR – and then the article was suddenly gone from the publication’s website – had they made a terrible mistake? It seemed to cause sufficient doubt that further reports took some time to surface – but surface they did.

Henry-Frédéric Roch (HFR) died overnight on Saturday-Sunday during the weekend. He leaves behind an iconoclastic domaine, with a very large – 75% finished – extension to the premises in Premeaux. I hope that the domaine has a successor and that the building work will be finished – the latter if-only for his long-suffering neighbours as this is already a three-year construction project. Then there is the question of his successor at the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, HFR being the public face of the Leroy family – half owners of that domaine. I saw HFR a number of times at DRC during harvest times, but I never saw him there during tastings.

I shared a first vintage with HFR – 1962 – and found him a captivating subject for a visit though unfortunately saw him very little after that first visit – simply because I knew my schedule was likely to be destroyed – if he was feeling receptive, you would struggle to depart in less than 4 hours. But he had such a stimulating mind, questioning all that you knew about burgundy wine from a very different standpoint of knowledge.

In the end I tasted with HFR no-more than 3 times, always for his own domaine’s wines, but those interactions are burnt into my memory – what a brilliant character…

goodbye to gilles jayer

By billn on January 30, 2018 #sad losses...

Jayer-Gilles was a producer/estate that I firstly knew as a producer of expensively oaked wines that needed time in the cellar before I should approach them – my last bottle was drunk very recently, over Christmas.

Gilles Jayer, a cousin of Henri Jayer, took on some notoriety last year when his 11 hectare estate was sold for a bold sum to the Swiss, André Hoffmann. It was said at the time that Gilles would remain on hand to help manage the estate as required by the new owner. But it seems that behind those headlines, something was lurking, to which Gilles very recently succumbed. His funeral was today in the church of Magny-les-Villers.

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