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…