Joe Dressner, an iconoclastic importer of European wines known for focusing on smaller, organic wineries, and also for a very public discussion of his brain cancer, died Sep 17 in New York at 60.
Wine industry professionals and journalists praised Dressner for his personal style and taste, which he used to build a business, but also called him cantankerous, contrarian, intellectual, and a provocateur who “countered pretension and self-importance with sarcasm, and while he baited enemies, he thought nothing of skewering those who sympathized with him, especially if they were overly earnest and lacked humor.”
Dressner’s “combination of tough love and gruff humor won Joe a lot of fans. The glum sentiments around many in the wine world…are tribute to the quality of his work,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle wine blogger Jon Bonne.
Wine blogger Lyle Fass wrote: “He was uncompromising, brilliant, one of the funniest people I will ever know, kind, sweet and took no prisoners.”
Dressner and his French-born wife, Denyse, founded Louis/Dressner Selections in 1988 and specialized French and Italian wines described as “real, natural, authentic or heirloom,” and his efforts “inspired a sort of natural wine avant-garde,” New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov wrote.
Joseph Mathew Dressner grew up in Queens, NY, graduated from University of Buffalo in 1973 with a degree in American history and received a master’s degree in journalism from New York University. He met his future wife, a student from Burgundy, at NYU, and spent time each summer at a farmhouse belonging to his wife’s family in the Mâconnais region of Burgundy, where they decided to import French wine.
He was guided by his taste and realized the wines he preferred were from small wineries that eschewed large-scale commercial production techniques. “It’s a taste and sensory preference,” he said in 2005. “It’s not being purist, or that we follow this guru or that guru, but that we feel the wines taste better.”
When he contracted brain cancer three years ago, he began a blog, Captain Tumor Man, in which he dealt with his illness in a humorous way: “I already have a wine blog and frankly wine is such a luxury business that I hate to mix my cancer problems with my wine observations. I think it would be a general downer for the lifestyle crowd out there. Furthermore, we in the wine trade always claim there are tremendous health benefits to drinking wine. I’ve already had cardiovascular bypass surgery over eight years ago and now I got a tumor aggressively rattling in my brain. My colleagues in the glamorous wine industry want me to keep it quiet. So, I’ve started this wonderful new blog to discuss wine, brain tumors, my life and to give you hot tips on handling the cancer stricken around you. There will also be practical wine/radiation pairings when I start radiation therapy and chemotherapy next week. Having brain cancer means I might both physically and intellectually decline. So, I will be using this blog as a venue to pursue petty vendettas against relatives, acquaintances and people in the wine trade.”
His last blog posts were frank discussions of his physical decline; he spared no details in describing his condition. Rather than donations to cancer research, his family and company requested money should be given in his name to Partners in Health, which has been active in Haiti and elsewhere on behalf of the poor. He and his wife had two children.
Click here to read the Eulogizer’s treatment of Daniel Rogov, the noted Israeli wine critic, who also died in September.
The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at firstname.lastname@example.org.