You might know Yannick Benjamin from his years of stellar service in the New York restaurant scene.
Or maybe, you know him from the TV series Uncorked.
Have you been to one of his amazing wine events in support of his non-proft, Wheeling Forward?
Yannick Benjamin is a master of the art of the hustle. He’s an inspiring figure in the wine world, and every time I talk to him I feel blessed and motivated.
Enough about me. I’ll let Yannick take over to tell his story and hopefully leave you inspired too.
Listen to Yannick Benjamin’s Interview
Update on Yannick Benjamin
When catching up with Yannick, it was fantastic to hear about his latest trips in the wine world. He’s exploring lots of great places and drinking lots of great wine. Plus, he’s got a great tip on how to travel while working as much as he does.
Q: How have you been?
A: Everything has been great. No complaints. Still same position at University Club.
Q: You have been traveling a ton. Any favorite new places or revisiting a lot of different spots?
A: This past May I was up in Champagne, which is always such a treat. From the North Island to the tip of the South Island, I was in New Zealand out in February. I always knew the quality of wines were spectacular, but it’s when you are out there with the wine makers and you understand their philosophy and the terroir they have there. I was just blown away by the quality and diversity they have out there. It’s such a young wine industry, but they are just way ahead, leaps and bounds in terms of technology, compared to everyone else. They really understand what they have to work with, and I think it’s only going to get better. Their future is very bright.
Q: Are you seeing a lot more presence of New Zealand in the market place?
A: I think so. Sauvignon Blanc tends to be king. I think what we are starting to see creep in is the alternative of Pinot Noir. New Zealand Pinot Noir is definitely starting to become more popular. I was so impressed by the quality of Chardonnays that were out there. It’s challenging because there is so much competition. We should definitely be seeing some of those in the future. Definitely some Rieslings as well. A-typical Sauvignon Blanc as well. Unbelievably precise and driven. I think you will be seeing more of that in the market place in the future as well.
Q: What other regions have you been interested in?
A: If I am in mood for a Pinot Noir, as far as affordability, complexity, and as far as being stimulated, New Zealand Pinot Noir is something that has really opened up my eyes. I love Spanish whites. Particularly Albariño from Galicia. Those are wines that I find really exciting. They are crisp. They are refreshing. I love Hondarribi Zuri, which is an indigenous grape from the Basque region. Low in alcohol, great acidity. Just super refreshing.
Next week, I’m going to the southwest of France. I am going to visit places like Cahors, Mandiran and Juraçon. I think the wines of the Juraçon are out of this world.
Q: How do you find time to work and travel as much as you do?
A: You just get a couple duffle bags of cash and give them to your boss. That’s it. That is how it works.
No, I am very blessed. I do not have to really answer to anyone. I would like to think that I am quite organized. In the past few years, I have been able to really manage my work schedule and make sure everything is done and stable while I’m gone.
I think its super important to travel to these places, understand what is going on there, meet the wine makers, understanding the philosophy. When I come back, I can understand the wine and be the man I need to be for the guests. I think this year I am kind of just working for myself. I am very grateful for the position that I am in.
Q: Looking back, what advice would you give your past self?
A: I think every so often it’s easy to be complacent with yourself. I think I would say always ask questions and never lose your curiosity. This whole week I spent time with illuminators of the restaurant industry just to ask them questions and stay relevant. I wish I would do that back then. Always get out of bed saying how you can get better than yesterday. Am I still in love with what I’m doing? If not, there might be something I need to change.
Want More Yannick?
Read his feature in Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers 2016 by Wine Enthusiast.
Listen to his interview on The Grape Nation.
New Yorker Yannick Benjamin is head sommelier at the University Club and lead lecturer for Saturday seminars at Le Du’s Wines in the West Village. A visit to Bordeaux at 13 inspired Benjamin to pursue wine as a career, and he went on to work at Le Cirque, Oceana, Jean-Georges, and Atlas before becoming a sommelier at Felidia and Atelier at the Ritz-Carlton.
In 2003, a car accident left Benjamin paralyzed below the waist. He quickly adapted, outfitting his wheelchair with a table that allows him to continue to perform the tasks required of his profession.
Benjamin is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and has competed in more than 20 major sommelier competitions, including the 5th Annual Somm Slam at ICC—in which he was named the grand champion.
Beyond the world of wine, Benjamin works tirelessly on behalf of his nonprofit organization, Wheeling Forward, which he started with Alex Elegudin in 2012. Their mission is to provide guidance and resources to disabled individuals, focusing on education, employment, wellness, community integration, housing acquisition, and personal fulfillment.
A para-athlete, Benjamin competes in marathons to raise money for his advocacy group. In 2015, he starred in “Uncorked”, a documentary series about sommeliers on Esquire TV. Benjamin also has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, Wine Spectator, and Forbes.