Of all the annual grand tasting–like events that make New York an extraordinary city for wine lovers, the one that draws the greatest number of high-profile sommeliers is Wine on Wheels. The date for the 2016 edition was just announced this week (April 16, at City Winery), and tickets are now on sale for anyone interested in tasting wine for a cause.
The success of the event is largely a testament to the impact that cofounder Yannick Benjamin has had on the sommelier community over the last decade. Benjamin—whom readers may recognize from his guest role on the Esquire TV series Uncorked—is the sort of Renaissance man who makes you wonder how he finds the time to do even half of the projects he spearheads. A wine pro by day, he also oversees the charity organization Wheeling Forward, which runs the largest wheelchair donation program on the East Coast and raises funds for the disabled, paying for everything from the physical therapy that insurance won’t cover, to the costs of transitioning from a nursing home into independent living, to scholarships for further education. In addition, he and partner Alex Elegudin opened a wellness and physical fitness center last year called The Axis Project. “We offer adaptive yoga, adaptive martial arts, and field trips like skydiving and surfing,” says Benjamin. “For those who felt they could never work out again because of whatever disease or injury they’ve sustained, we’re showing them it’s possible.”
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Benjamin himself has been wheelchair-dependent since age 25, following an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. One of his long-term goals is advocacy and job placement within the wine and hospitality industry for others in his situation. “People with disabilities represent the largest minority group in America, yet less than 15 percent of us have full-time jobs,” he says.