When you are a young, upstart, female freelance wine journalist, the people who support and help you are extremely few and far between. That means you will definitely remember them for many years to come.
Being a natural wine writer, furthermore, puts you in a weird position, especially in a place like New York. People in the natural wine crowd there, at least the more old-school types, don’t really think it’s “cool” to write about wine. They prefer the secret-society model, where “if you know, you know” is the motto. Meanwhile, the top-somms who sling Grand Cru Burgundy and cult Rieslings would be quick to insult the general “natural” category for embracing too many “flawed” wines.
I’m sure some of that has changed now—I hope that Pipette Magazine has shown how natural wine writing can be different. But when I lived in New York, I often felt very alone in my quest to document natural wine culture—without a mentor or support network.
A few people showed me kindness and generosity and took me seriously as a professional. One of those was Ned Benedict of the wine imports company Grand Cru Selections, who recently passed away tragically at a too-young age. I met Ned at the annual “International Pinot Noir Celebration” event in Oregon. He introduced himself and said he’d heard of me—I was incredibly flattered—then introduced his colleague Brian and asked me to join them at Rajat Parr’s table, where Premier Cru Dauvissat was being poured like it was Evian. The esteemed Marquis d’Angerville was sitting at the table, serving a vertical of his Burgundy wines. I pretended like it was no big deal, but it truly was. I felt included, allowed to hang with the “top dogs.”
Soon after, Ned invited me to lunch at Felidia, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. I wondered why he wanted to chat with me. I wrote mainly about natural wines, for hardly-visible websites and my own blog, at that point. Ned was at ease, ordering whatever he felt like drinking, and treating me like a friend, not trying to see what I could “do” for him and his business. Of course, Grand Cru is very successful and doesn’t need any journalist props, but I still appreciated the attitude.
I was always invited to Grand Cru tastings after that, and saw Ned at parties, where he always poured me whatever special, rare wine he was drinking.
Ned also reached out to me when there was an opening at a very special lunch highlighting several Grower Champagnes. I remember, I was at the gym in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, when he called, and for some reason I answered. “I’ll be there in an hour,” I said, and I rushed home, showered, and got on the train as quickly as possible. I had no suitable shoes to wear, so I bought some black pumps on 6th Avenue for $60 before arriving to Gunter Seeger for the lunch. I was seated at a table with the eminent Champagne writer Peter Liem, whose work of course I knew. I later went on to visit several Champagne growers with Peter. It was all thanks to Ned thinking of me, and making that call.
Whatever I needed, I felt I could ask Ned, and he’d let me know if he could help—if I wanted to visit a producer, or if I had a question for an article, or if a somm friend was looking for a job.
My deepest condolences go out to those who work with Ned, those who love him and consider him a close friend and family. He will be remembered by many in the world of wine and food and beyond, as a kind, generous, thoughtful human being who loved wine, loved to support people, and knew how to be great company.