Yannick Benjamin Founder of Wine on Wheels

Grape Collective talks with the co-founder of Wheeling Forward Yannick Benjamin about the background of the organization and the Wine on Wheels event.

The blockbuster wine tasting event Wine on Wheels is now in its sixth year. This year Wine on Wheels is a series of events beginning on April 22 and culminating with the Wine on Wheels Grand Tasting & Silent Auction on Saturday, April 29th which allows one to taste older vintage wines from some of the world's most unique producers selected by a who's who of New York's top restaurant professionals - and all this for an amazing cause. 

To purchase tickets go to: http://www.wineonwheels.org/


Talk about your charity Wheeling Forward - how did it come into existence?

Alex Elegudin and I met after sustaining spinal cord injuries in the same month. Alex was just 19 and I was 25. Young and determined to persevere, Alex returned to school to become an attorney and I went to college while becoming a sommelier.

After years of volunteering in the disability community, Alex and I decided to use our experience and networks to tackle challenging, underserved areas of need. In 2011, we founded Wheeling Forward with a group of committed board members. In just a few short years, the organization has provided people with the motivation and resources to resume active lives. Wheeling Forward is recognized as an agile, innovative and effective group of advocates working to drive progress in the disability community.

How has the event evolved over time?

Our first Wine on Wheels was in February 2012 and we had no idea what we doing and what to expect. I sent out some emails to some of my friends who were in the industry some working as sommeliers and others on the supplier side. The response was overwhelming and we had a great turnout of over 100 wines and 25 sommeliers pouring at it was at Le Du’s Wines though it was a tight space it was a huge success. Six years later we are now at City Winery with over 75 sommeliers pouring and over 250 wines from all around the world.

What are some of the highlights of this year's event?

We have had added some highlights to this year’s event and one of them is our fine and rare table which will be sponsored by The Grape Brokers and some fantastic food tables including freshly shucked oysters by SommTime! Also some great wines to be had in both our Silent and Live Auction. This year Wine on Wheels is proud to announce Sommposium, a week of Wine on Wheels wine tasting events throughout the city leading to our Grand Tasting event on April 29th! We also have some exciting Fast Track Seminars being featured at Wine on Wheels led by some of the world’s top experts.

How did you get the wine bug?

For me it was very simple my dad is from Brittany in France the one region where there are no vines but just apple orchards and my mother although is from Bordeaux. My father came to this country in 1963 right after the French-Algerian War and his first job was working as a dishwasher at the legendary La Grenouille Restaurant where his brother was the famed Maitre d’ and his boss! My father eventually worked at some of the great restaurants in NYC such as La Côte Basque, The Palace, and spent the last 20 years of his career at Lutèce working alongside my other uncle and cousin who worked there as well in the kitchen. So at the age of 13 years old I had already made my destiny and decided that I wanted to have a career in the hospitality industry which than connected me to the world of wine and I have no longer looked back. I have carried those same values over to Wheeling Forward/ Wine on Wheels and I like to describe ourselves as a hospitality driven non-profit organization.

Do you have a favorite wine region?

A region that I love to visit and that has my heart is Chablis; I absolutely adore this place and of course its wines but more than anything I love the way I feel when I am there and the simplicity of it all. When it comes to reds I can never have enough of is Northern Rhone Syrah and a delicious glass of Barolo! However, I try to make it out to the Finger Lakes as much as I can and I am really excited about what’s happening out there and they are finally getting the recognition that they deserve. 

If you had to pick two desert island wines - one a special occasion wine and one a value wine what would you pick?

A wine of great value that I can drink all day long is Tenuta delle Terre Nere “Etna Rosso” 2015 from Sicily. Using 100 percent Nerello Mascalese which is a local grape; and it is all about purity and power. Within the last 2 years probably one of the most impressive wines that I have had and I still think about is J.F. Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 1999 which had so many unique flavors and a superb wine that is a poignant reminder of just how moving aged white Burgundy can be.

What are your hobbies outside wine?

I try to participate in a couple of marathons a year but mostly spending as much time with my wife and family. 


Wine on Wheels 2017 will feature over 200 wines from over 30 different wine regions selected by and poured by New York City’s top sommeliers. The who's who includes: Aldo Sohm of Le Bernardin, Arvid Rosengren of Charlie Bird, Dustin Wilson of Verve Wine, and Joe Campanale of Annona Wine, Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate, Paul Greico of Terroir Wine Bar, John Ragan, Union Square Hospitality, Jordan Salcito of Momofuko and many, many more.

100% of the proceeds from Wine on Wheels benefits Wheeling Forward, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities live life to the fullest.

Wine on Wheels includes multiple events during the week of April 24th-April 29th including a "Sommposium," a series of high-end wine events taking place throughout the city (see below for specific events).


Wine on Wheels Grand Tasting & Silent Auction
Date: Saturday, April 29th, 1:00pm-4:00pm
Where: City Winery, 155 Varick Street, New York, NY 10013

All-Inclusive Experience 
Admission $325
This ticket includes all-day access to Wine on Wheels and Sommposium (week-long access to pop-up pre-event wine tastings happening throughout the city). Additionally, you'll receive a limited seat at the one-hour seminar “The Magic of Mature French Wines “with Jean-Luc Le Du, the Meet & Greet Sommelier hour with premium wine tasting, fast track seminars, the silent auction and the Grand Tasting.

Meet & Greet Pass
Admission $150
This unique opportunity includes the Sommposium (week-long access to pop-up pre-event wine tastings happening throughout the city). In addition, gain an hour of early access to NYC's top sommeliers in an intimate setting to sample our premium reserve wines. This ticket also Includes admission to every fast track seminar, silent auction and the Grand Tasting.

Wine on Wheels Grand Tasting
Admission In Advance: $99, At Event: $135
This is a chance to bid in our silent auction and taste over 200 wines from over 30 different wine regions poured by over 60 of New York City's Top Sommelier community and access to every fast track seminar. Click here to see the EPIC Grand Tasting Wine List!

Sommposium - Wine on Wheels Week - Wines of Austria with Justin Timsit Wine Director of Gramercy Tavern
Date: Saturday, April 22nd, 1:00pm-2:30pm
Where: Le Du's Wines, 600 Washington Street, New York, NY 10014
Price: $15 at the door or free access included with “All-Inclusive Experience” or “Meet and Greet" ticket purchase

Wines of Rueda and Ribera del Duero with Alex Lapratt Master Sommelier
Date: Sunday, April 23rd, 2:00pm-3:00pm
Where: TBA
Price: $15 at the door or free access included with “All-Inclusive Experience” or “Meet and Greet" ticket purchase

Book Signing and Wine Tasting with Bianca Bosker & Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Date: Tuesday, April 25th, 6:30pm-8:00pm
Where: Verve Wine, 24 Hubert Street, New York, NY 10013
Price: $15 at the door or free access included with “All-Inclusive Experience” or “Meet and Greet" ticket purchase

Sud de France
Date: Wednesday, April 26th, 6.30pm-8:00pm
Where: Papillon Bistro & Bar, 22 East 54th Street, New York, NY 10022
Price: $15 at the door or free access included with “All-Inclusive Experience” or “Meet and Greet" ticket purchase

Riesling without Borders Preview Tasting with Justin Christoph, Riesling Geek
Date: Thursday, April 27th, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Where: SommTime, 959 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10022
Price: $15 at the door or free access included with "All-Inclusive Experience” or "Meet and Greet" ticket purchase

For more information, check out Wine on Wheels 2017 Grand Tasting and Auction.