One Event, Three Sommeliers on Wheels!


I sit this evening relaxed, drinking a glass of wine and reflecting on the past year, looking forward to what lies ahead in 2020. To begin the year I could not be more excited for our upcoming event with our friends at Wheeling Forward! On January 26, 2020 we will host the first Wine on Wheels Chicago event with all proceeds benefiting BACKBONES and Wheeling Forward.

There will amazing silent auction items, delicious food, and of course, WINE poured by some of Chicago’s hottest sommeliers! Among the great sommeliers in the room there are three we can’t wait for you to meet:

Yannick Benjamin, (straight from New York and the one behind this whole operation!) Yannick is co-founder of Wheeling Forward and Head Sommelier at the University Club and Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is a proud New Yorker born into a family of French restaurateurs who knew that hospitality was his calling from a young age. Yannick worked 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 and he quickly adapted, outfitting his wheelchair with a table that allows him to work the floor as a sommelier. Yannick has been recognized among Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 under 40 and was named Person of the Year by New Mobility Magazine in 2017. Yannick created Wine on Wheels – one of New York City’s largest and most exciting wine events. He is also a para-athlete and competes in marathons to raise money for Wheeling Forward.

Peter Kuhnz, (Chicago’s very own and the person who helped make all of this happen in Chicago!) Local restaurant and wine professional – who has been in a wheelchair most of his 34 years. “Bringing this event to Chicago brings funding and awareness to the disability community – especially those of us in the hospitality industry,” said Peter Kuhnz, maître d’ at RPM Italian, currently studying for his Certified Sommelier exam. “I was inspired by Yannick and his ability to do a full wine service while seated” said Kuhnz. I sought him out on social media while preparing for the Intro to the Court of Masters exam,” added Kuhnz. “He was so generous with his time, setting up a study guide for me, quizzing me weekly, and giving me tips on the custom wine tray I would have built for the exam. I assisted with Wine on Wheels in NYC in 2018 and shortly after we started talking about bringing the event to Chicago. He’s been a huge inspiration in my pursuit to become a sommelier. I am thrilled to see the enthusiasm of the Chicago wine community around this event– it’s going to be an amazing afternoon.”

Mirko Pastorelli, (all the way from Italy!) Mirko was born with Spastic Paraplegia which is a hereditary disorder causing progressive weakness and stiffness of the legs causing him to use a wheelchair. Mirko worked as a Web Developer from 2010 to 2016, but one day he decided to change his life. For Mirko, being in a wheelchair didn’t mean having to do office work for entire life. In 2017 he started becoming passionate about wine and service and decided to start studying to become a Sommelier. After being inspired by Yannick Benjamin, a New York City Sommelier who is also a wheelchair user, Mirko was well on his way to achieving his dream.The day after the death of his father Giorgio Pastorelli on April 25, 2018, Mirko decided to board a plane and fly to New York City to meet Yannick and attend his 7th annual Wine on Wheels Event. Thanks to Yannick’s inspiration and the help of Wheeling Forward, Mirko continues his adventure in the world of wine attending seminars and classes all over Europe and implementing a rigorous self-study program.⠀

This is what mentoring, peer support, and success looks like! I love it and am truly honored to be in the same room with them and to work with these talented and giving individuals for a great cause. Please join us on January 26 at RPM On The Water to celebrate 2020 and all our wonderful friends, supporters and donors!

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