Looking for a nobler reason to drink than the start of summer? Here’s an awesome one: Join New York’s native son Yannick Benjamin, possibly the world’s first wheelchair sommelier, on Saturday, June 7, from 1 to 4 p.m. at City Winery (155 Varick Street, 212-608-0555) for the third annual Wine on Wheels fundraiser.
This year’s event will showcase approximately 200 wines plus artisanal Cognac for a salon-style tasting, and 40 of New York’s top sommeliers will be on hand to guide guests through the wines and divulge secrets of the trade. Participating somms include newly minted master sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate and star of documentary film Somm and wine director at Eleven Madison Park, Dustin Wilson, MS.
A silent auction with over 20 lots will be available for bidding, and four of the city’s top bartenders will host a spirits tasting and provide tips and tutorials on cocktail creation. Tasty and complimentary taquitos will be provided by Taquitoria. Tickets range in price from $75 for general admission to the all access pass, which includes an hour-long Champagne session, for $200.
Yannick met Wine on Wheels co-chair Alex Elegudin while enduring lengthy rehabilitation treatments at Mount Sinai, having both been paralyzed in separate car accidents. They started the fundraiser to support the work of the non-profit organization Wheeling Forward, which they co-founded in 2012. “We realized there was a void in the spinal cord community and we decided that we needed to make a change. The way we survive and the majority of our revenue is from doing wine events,” says Yannick.
The first Wine on Wheels, held that same year, was at Le Du’s Wines in the West Village, where Yannick worked as an educator and retail associate. They were surprised at the event’s success; they doubled their projected earnings the first year and have since outgrown the retail store digs: “This is our first year doing it at City Winery,” says Yannick. “We needed a bigger space…we have over 40 sommeliers that wanted to be part of this event. We are a unique tasting because the sommeliers have a connection to the disability community through me and are proud to make a difference by participating.”
The Wheeling Forward organization has one of the biggest wheelchair donation programs on the east coast, having donated well over 100 wheelchairs. It provides peer mentoring groups and field trips such as adaptive waterskiing and skydiving. Yannick and Elegudin also established an education scholarship fund to help those desirous of returning to school. Yannick says his pride and joy, however, is the spinal mobility program: “It’s held every Saturday, and it is a program that helps people with disabilities work out for free; they are also provided complimentary physical therapy with some of the top therapists in the city.”
Buy your tickets on the Wine on Wheels website.