HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us

THE GRAPEVINE

Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline on Twitter

Critics Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge

Winemaker Challenge



Appreciation: Robert Whitley, 1950 - 2021
By Michael Franz
Feb 16, 2021
Printable Version
Email this Article

As many readers of Wine Review Online are aware from the sad notice I posted in this web site’s blog space 10 days ago, we lost Robert Whitley to a very aggressive cancer on February 3.  Robert was WRO’s Publisher (among many other things, as you’ll see below), having partnered with me and Michael Apstein to establish and launch the site in 2005.  We were confident that many tributes to Robert and recollections of him would be sent to us before long, and our confidence was well placed.  Following a relatively brief account of Robert’s life, we will share many of them here.  This column is being published under my name simply because I compiled it, but the deeper truth is that Robert effectively wrote it himself—through his accomplishments and by etching his memory into the hearts and minds of those whose reminiscences appear below.

Robert William Whitley was born on June 26, 1950, and was raised in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C.  A strong student, he was also a successful athlete with plausible dreams of a career in professional sports.  A football injury precluded that option, but Robert’s talents with a pen made writing about sports seem like an attractive alternative.   Attractive as the prospect was to Robert, this was no small aspiration, as sports writing gigs are fewer in number than slots on pro sports rosters.  However, he showed the enterprising nature that would mark his entire life by applying to the Washington Daily News at age 15, and was hired to cover high school sports.  Before long, and on the strength of his early writing, his beat was expanded to include university-level competition as well as pro basketball.  According to winebusiness.com, Robert often managed to scoop D.C.’s two leading newspapers, the Washington Evening Star and the Washington Post.  This led to Robert being hired by Newsday to cover the New York Knicks, a coup for a 19-year-old that nearly defies belief in retrospect.

Robert went on to write for the Charlotte Observer, the Washington Post and the San Diego UnionWRO alumna Linda Murphy worked with Robert at the Union, and I’ll insert her recollection of this period shortly after this bio to convey a bit about Robert’s work life during that period.  Robert also wrote for nine years for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered hockey and the city’s NHL team, the Penguins, before being named the paper’s national features writer.  

Robert got an early jump on fine wine that rivals his remarkably fast start in sports writing.  When he recounted his early phase of romancing wine to me, he didn’t claim to be a prodigy so much as the grateful beneficiary of a pretty lavish expense account to defray expenses while following teams and entertaining interview subjects.  Robert loved fine food, but wisely used the account to pay for wines that no young newspaper writer today could even hope to learn about as an employment benefit. 

As his interest and appreciation deepened, he began collecting wines in addition to enjoying them with dinners while traveling.  I nearly choked on a bite of veal chop when he told me during a dinner about the 10 (or so) cases of First and Second Growths he purchased as futures from Bordeaux’s 1982 vintage, and you’d pardon my failure to recall the exact number if you knew the shock-inducing prices he paid for them.  He didn’t brag about this sort of thing—he was rather just recounting his good luck (though bragging would have been entirely appropriate, as the British wine press had panned that now-famous vintage, which was championed almost solely by Robert Parker, who was then a pretty obscure upstart in the global ranks of wine writers).  

Not long thereafter, Robert switched from sports to writing about wine for the San Diego Union-Tribune, a newspaper that resulted from a consolidation in the early years of the decline of print journalism.  His column ran for many years (indeed, continuing for three years after we founded Wine Review Online, which was quite a consuming undertaking), and was nationally syndicated.  He also managed—somehow—to host two radio programs. 

Overlapping this period partially was Robert's foray into wine competitions, first as a director but then as an entrepreneur, founding Critics Challenge, Winemaker Challenge, Sommelier Challenge as well as the San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge.  

All four are major competitions (note the present tense—all four will continue), but what is most remarkable about them is not the number of entries or the respect in which they are held in the wine trade or by those of us who judge frequently around the world.  Rather, it is the inclusive atmosphere of comradery that surrounds all four of them, which is especially unusual and striking because the dozens of back-of-the-house crew members have always been among the comrades.  Robert has always included these workers (who vastly outnumber the judges) in the Saturday night dinners that are the highlight of each competition, arranging the seating so that the judges and crew members get to know one another on equal terms.  Indeed, it is the supporting workers who are honored even more at these dinners than the judges, and though I’ve judged many competitions on six continents over 25+ years, I’ve simply never seen anything like this done by anybody, anywhere.

If you reflect on the names of three of the competitions—Critics Challenge, Winemaker Challenge and Sommelier Challenge—you’ll recognize that Robert respected the differing judging perspectives of those who work in very different ways with wine.  “Respectful” is the right word to convey his cast of mind, whereas “subjectivist” would be inaccurate and “indecisive” would be laughable.  Robert was very quick and clear as an evaluator of wines, as I can attest from having judged adjacent to him many times, and he was not shy about articulating the reasons for his judgments.  Yet, interestingly, he understood that wine is not a “thing” to be weighed or measured, but something more elusive that should be approached aesthetically, like art or music, about which people can differ without anybody being just flat wrong.  I admire and share that understanding, as does Michael Apstein, and this helps to explain how Wine Review Online came into being, along with the friendships that developed among the three of us while traveling together over the years.

It was Robert who first broached the idea when he and I were enjoying a dinner together in the France’s Rhône Valley during the winter of 1993-94.  The idea—to be more specific—was to enlist the talents of a broad set of our wine writing colleagues for a publication that would provide each of them with a platform but not saddle any of them a “party line.”  In a few instances, the writers we recruited had lost column slots due to the financial woes then besetting print journalists as online publications were rising, but others were cruising along quite nicely, so the idea was emphatically to fill a talent pool rather than to set up an orphanage for displaced writers, as a few people have mistakenly supposed. 

We started scheming and recruiting and building the platform in the months leading up to WRO’s launch in August of 2005, at which time I quit my column for the Washington Post to work as editor.  Robert ran the business side of things, and true to the ethos of high-end print journalism, never dictated to me on editorial matters, even though he was far more experienced in publishing than I was.  To offer a specific example of how principled and respectful he was toward me and our contributors, on multiple occasions he agreed to let me publish reviews of the same wine but with different point scores from two different reviewers in the same week’s edition.  Nobody did that back then (Marvin Shanken’s head might well have exploded if Tom Matthews had tried that in Wine Spectator in the late 1990s), and to this day I haven’t seen a major wine publication that affords so much latitude to contributors or reviewers.

That’s enough from me, maybe more than enough, but I hope those who didn’t know Robert or met him only in passing will better understand how unusual and dynamic a person he was, based on what I’ve written and the recollections that follow.  These need to be put into some sort of order, so I’ll begin with some of the more extensive tributes sent by individuals who were closely associated with Robert’s ventures before turning to briefer condolences and notes, some of which were sent to me via Facebook.  To anyone who reads this and wishes to have me post a note, feel free to send me an email at Michael@FranzWine.com

Finally, but most important, please join me in sending hope for consolation and strength to Diane Salisbury, Robert’s wonderful wife, and to all those who enjoyed Robert's friendship and have been saddened by his passing.  

*          *          *

From Michael Apstein, Columnist and Partner in Wine Review Online:

Generous is the way I describe Robert in a single word.  Of course, he was generous in donations, but more importantly he was generous with his time and knowledge.  That kind of generosity among wine writers, a group frequently competing with one another for attention and another outlet, is especially rare.  Robert didn’t need to give advice or educate—why advance the career of a potential competitor?  But that wasn’t his style or personality.  He gave.  And he gave graciously without expectation of anything in return.

Here are just a couple of examples.

He advised me to visit wine regions “on your own dime,” and not just rely on press trips.  He said—and of course he was right—that producers would have more respect for you and your writings.

He taught me the most accurate and succinct definition of the point-scoring of wines: it was an applause meter, a measure of how much you liked a wine.  What a brilliantly simple explanation.

He thought outside of the box when he started the Critics Challenge Wine Competition, the first of what would become multiple “Challenge” competitions.  Instead of wines being judged by committee, with the inevitable horse-trading of “you vote for my wine and I’ll vote for yours,” he devised a competition in which an individual critic tasted a wine, much like they do on a regular basis, and assess whether it was award worthy.  Importantly, a bit of the critic went with each award because he or she wrote a brief note about the wine. It remains a unique and powerfully important competition.

Robert will live on in his competitions, which will continue unabated, and likewise in Wine Review Online, but I will still miss him.  Thank you, Robert.


From Linda Murphy, Author, Wine Writer, Editor and Alumna of WRO:

Robert and I met in the early 1980s, when I was a sportswriter at the San Diego Union and he arrived there to run the sports copy desk, and later become assistant sports editor.  While our roles changed over the years, we worked closely together – no more intensely than during the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles; I managed our team of writers from the LA Convention Center, and in the San Diego newsroom, Robert – we called him “Whit” back then – handled the flood of copy and photos that came in the final hours and minutes before deadline.  After 16 days of the Games, we were exhausted, but didn’t skip a beat as the Padres played their way to the 1984 World Series.
 
When I left San Diego in 1990 to move to Sonoma County, I had no idea how expert Robert was in wine.  We talked about horse racing and hockey, not grape harvests and Haut-Brion.  Only when I got into the wine biz myself did I learn how knowledgeable Robert was.  In an interesting coincidence, The Union had not just two, but four, sports staffers who found find their way to wine.  Sportswriter Dan Berger also had a Union wine column until he relocated to Sonoma in 1986 and became wine editor for the LA Times; Robert took over Dan’s column.  And reporter Bruce Schoenfeld left the Union and went on to cover the Cincinnati Reds, author books on Spanish bullfighting and Althea Gibson, contribute to Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, and write wine articles for Wine Spectator and Travel + Leisure magazines.  Independently, we each found our way to wine, upgrading our drinking habits from beer and a shot to fine wine.
 
I wish I’d discovered wine, past White Zinfandel and Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay, sooner than I did, because Robert and I would have had so much more to talk about during long shifts on the sports desk, and the midnight staff run to the local bar for a cleansing ale before closing time.  Robert was remarkably generous in sharing his knowledge, his cellar, in hosting wine competition judges in comfortable style, and in taking on new judges and giving them experience when other competitions wouldn’t think of doing so.  He gave me my judging start, in 1994, and I’ve been grateful ever since.
 
I’ll also never forget the conversation we had after I submitted a column to Wine Review Online several years ago, on one of Robert’s favorite California Cabernet Sauvignon producers.  My point: This winery was making changes in its vineyards and beginning to purchase grapes from other growers that would elevate the wines.  But Robert took offense.  He supported the winery’s long track record of making age-worthy, Bordeaux-style reds, and said nothing was wrong and no fixing was needed.  Yet he never told Michael Franz about our disagreement, and never asked that the column be published in any way different from how I had originally written it.  He expressed his opinion to me in no uncertain terms, then let me have my say anyway.
 
I always respected Robert for his firm beliefs and willingness to listen to those of others.  Sometimes he could be gruff, but far more often he was a warm and generous man and I will miss him dearly.
 

From Rich Cook, Director of Wine Cellar Productions and Columnist for WRO:

I met Robert Whitley face to face back in 2004 when he was named Director of what was then the San Diego International Wine Competition, but I really “met” him years prior to that through his weekly wine column that ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune.  He had succeeded Dan Berger—another well-known writer whom I had followed—and I appreciated his no-nonsense approach to wine.  Robert “inherited” me as the cellarmaster of the competition, and we became fast friends.  I got to learn and help steer as he guided our volunteer crew into three additional target specific competitions of his own creation, where writers, sommeliers and winemakers that he respected would bring their areas of expertise to bear in separate blind tastings.  Robert’s extensive connections provided him with a clear vision, and his meticulous attention to detail has helped set very high standards in the wine competition arena.  He wasn’t afraid to make a change in award categories when industry standards were on the rise, and in both his writing and his events he was very successful in walking the line between producers and consumers in a way that both could benefit.  Robert was happy to replace himself with me as the Director of his events some years back, and it is my honor to play a role in continuing his legacy as all four competitions continue in the spirit that he imbued them with.

On a bittersweet note, we wrapped up the 2021 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge just a few days prior to Robert’s death.  It was always a treat for me to be able to sit with Robert and his Wine Review Online partner Michael Franz and taste through the best of the best that came to the head table for reviews and rankings, arguing the finer points of a particular glass and fighting good naturedly about who would get to write about a great glass.  This year I was on my own, shooting Robert the occasional text about the status of things in the hope that he’d be at ease about the event and able to focus on resting and hopefully improving.  Though we hadn’t spoken in voice for a couple of weeks, we had been communicating via text message.  The last words he sent me let me know that he knew the end was near.  I’m thankful that he didn’t suffer long – imagine Robert going longer than three weeks without enjoying an evening out with Diane at a favorite restaurant!  

I’ll miss our review tastings, I’ll miss his sports stories, I’ll miss his love of great music, I’ll miss witnessing his generous heart, and I’ll miss our discussions about how we could keep improving wine competitions for the benefit of all.  I’m more than grateful to have been mentored into and introduced around a new world as a writer, taster, judge and friend of wine by one of the greats.  Robert, I love you like a big brother, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I’m cracking open a fine bottle of bubbly to celebrate having you in my life.  Santé!


From Rebecca Murphy, Former Sommelier and Wine Competition Director; Current Columnist for WRO:

It was always interesting to me that four of the best wine writers in the U.S. began their careers as sports writers for San Diego Union newspaper.  Robert Whitley was one of those writers.  I first met Robert in 2006 in Italy at a seminar about the Sangiovese grape and immediately became a fan.  Not only was he an accomplished and successful wine writer, he was also a wine competition founder and producer.  While writing can be a somewhat solitary endeavor, wine competitions have many moving parts and success requires many helping hands.  Over the years Robert surrounded himself with a dedicated and congenial team at all levels and created or directed several successful wine competitions, of which Critics Challenge stands out in the world-wide sea as the most innovative.

It has been my honor and pleasure to have known Robert and to be a very small part of the world he created.  I will miss seeing him at his table at Critics Challenge making sure we judges give each wine its due.  


From Panos Kakaviatos, Wine Writer and Columnist for WRO:

It is very sad to read about Robert's passing.  I met him 15 years ago in Bordeaux, and he proved to be a straight-talking friend.  As a former news agency journalist, I understood Robert's tell-it-like-it-is approach to language—and to life—given his vast journalism experience.  We both hailed from Washington, D.C. so that was another common point.  Our love for wine brought us together, with many discussions over quality and price/quality ratios.  More recently, he invited me to judge at the Critics Challenge wine competition in San Diego, where he introduced me to new friends, and where I got to know him even better.  I join many people to express sadness for a dear friend lost, a friend who spread much kindness and wisdom to the people he knew.


From W. Blake Gray, Former WRO Columnist and Current US Editor of Wine-Searcher:

I once ran into Robert in a hotel bar and he invited me to sit and drink Scotch with him.  He ordered an 18-year-old Scotch, one for me as well, with ice.  The bartender inhaled a bit: One doesn't put ice on an 18-year-old!  Robert thanked him politely — I never once, ever, saw him be anything but respectful of servers and sommeliers, even when he knew much more about wine than they did.  When the bartender was out of earshot, Robert said people in Scotland drink their Scotch with ice, and anyway it didn't matter because he liked it better that way.

I'm sorry I don't have better anecdotes about Robert, but to me that encapsulates many aspects:  His knowledge of fine wines and spirits.  His desire to drink the best (not 25-year, he thought 18-year was the peak).  His generosity, because 18-year-old Scotch in a hotel bar is not cheap but I never saw a bill.  And his conversation ability, because we had a wonderful talk over those Scotches and I regret that I won't be able to have that experience again.


From Leslie Sbrocco, WRO Alumna and Author, Speaker, Consultant and Television Host:

Robert was one of the first journalists I met in the wine business when I began my career more than two decades ago.  He was special because he treated me as an equal even though I was just beginning my wine journey.  His validation and support meant so much.
 
My lasting image of Robert, however, is how he commanded the room at the Critics Challenge opening night party each year.  I would love getting to the hotel then going upstairs to join my fellow judges for a drink and catch-up chat.  Robert always had a smile on his face and a hearty laugh at those soirees.  He was in his element surrounded by friends, colleagues and copious amounts of bottles.  That’s how I’ll remember him…holding court with glass in hand getting ready to taste, toast and share his love of wine with us all.  


From Jeff Siegel, Author of “Wine Curmudgeon” Web Site and Critics Challenge Judge:

Robert Whitley and I once spent a delightful spring lunch in Bordeaux arguing the merits of California wine.  We were enjoying the discussion so much that a wine writer at another table leaned over and said, “Will you guys please keep it down?”

Robert was a tireless and passionate advocate for California wine, as our Bordeaux adventure demonstrated.  But he was also a pioneer in post-modern wine writing, with a syndicated newspaper column, one of the earliest ventures on the Internet with Wine Review Online, and the director of four important international wine competitions.

But what Robert should best be remembered for is his consideration for other wine writers.  This is not always common in our business; one of my wine writing friends recently told me that she was quite tired of the way too many of us disparage each other so we can make ourselves feel more important.

I never saw that with Robert.  If he disagreed with you, he told you so – no whispers in the corner.  He treated me with the utmost respect, even though our wine worlds often didn’t have much in common.  I was a regular judge at the Critics Challenge until the pandemic, and it was always one of my favorite events.  Unlike many competitions, where the judges are treated like a boil that needs to be lanced, we were treated like we mattered.  We were even paid – not some “gratuity,” but real money that showed that Robert knew our time was valuable.

One final story:  Around the time I started the blog, we were having dinner during a writer’s trip to Spain.  Robert told Janet Kafka, one of the preeminent wine publicists of our time, that he wanted to buy the group a bottle of wine.  Janet, because she is Janet, would have none of that.  It was her trip and her party, and Robert was not going to pay for anything.  I don’t remember if Robert paid for the wine; I just remember what a kick we got out of his offer and the way he kept insisting he wanted to buy it.  That was Robert.

[Editor’s note:  One the same press trip to the Rhône Valley when Robert first discussed his idea for WRO with me, he wanted to have a cheese course rather than dessert, and mentioned how well a glass of mature Sauternes would go with the cheese.  Our host from Sopexa was glad to order a glass, but that horse had already left the barn the moment Robert mentioned how good this pairing could be, and he insisted—successfully—on placing a separate order for a full bottle of expensively mature Sauternes so that everyone could give it a try.  And then he paid for it.  ~MF]


From Katherine Jarvis, President, Jarvis Communications:

I was so saddened to hear of Robert Whitley’s passing.  I had actually not seen him in several years, but my schedule finally synced last year to attend and judge the San Diego International competition, which would have been my first time since having kids more than 10 years ago, and I was so looking forward to it.  (Then, of course, COVID hit.)
 
One thing I loved about Robert is that he was an advocate for young women and men in the wine industry.  He had a great talent for recognizing and encouraging young people, and for encouraging and promoting those who may not have had the courage to do it themselves.  He was an incredible teacher and mentor to me.  When I started my Jarvis Communications in 2005, he gave me the best (or most important?) advice of my career, and I often hear his voice echoing in my head when I am stressed or have doubts about my business.  He said to me, “Katherine, I know you are ambitious, but never ever forget what brought you into the wine business.  Never forget that you came into this business because you love wine, and because wine is fun, enjoyable, social.  Because you love all of the great people in the wine business.  Work hard, but never forget to have fun.”
 
Soon after I launched my business, he decided to launch Wine Review Online, and called me for PR help.  Because he was a friend and mentor, I offered to write and distribute his launch press release at no charge.  He was giving a platform to many of the most respected writers in wine, many of whom had lost regular columns in publishing consolidations.  I wanted to be a part of this effort to preserve wine journalism, and I did not think twice about saying that I’d work for free.  Upon getting an email about this from me, he called me up and gave me a second piece of great advice.  He said, “Katherine, if there is one piece of advice I can give you, it is to never work for free.  Your time and expertise are of value, and you need to recognize that.  Every relationship needs a give and take.”  We ended up settling on terms that made both of us comfortable, paving the road to many years of mutual respect.
 
I will never forget his continued encouragement and do wish that I could have had the opportunity more recently to thank him and tell him how much it meant to me, and continues to mean to me.  I’m standing on the shoulders of one great giant, Mr. Robert Whitley, and my heart goes out to all who had the pleasure to cross paths with him, near and far.


From Jesse Rodriguez, Chief Judge of Sommelier Challenge:

Robert was one of the most generous kindest people I had the opportunity to work with.  He was a pure joy to connect with and talk about food and wine.  The way the staff for the Sommelier Challenge just loved working with him was a testament to how authentic he was as a person.  That is the one thing I will always remember.  The wine industry—the food and beverage industry particularly—can be so cutthroat, yet Robert was one of the few people with whom everyone could connect and sense there was no hidden agenda.  He would compliment everyone on their specific skill set and made you feel good.


From Lars Leicht, Vice President of Education, The Somm Journal; "Wine Sherpa-in-Chief," Vina Viaggio,  former Director of Trade Development, Banfi Vintners:

I am absolutely shattered over Robert’s sudden passing.  He was a force of nature.   I can offer a couple of short stories that I think speak to the essence of Whit.   I had the pleasure of traveling with Robert on press trips I lead to Chile and Italy.
 
One time in Chile we couldn’t find Robert in the lobby at the designated departure time.  Phone calls to his room and cell went unanswered.  When I figured I should let our driver know we had a slight delay, I went to the van and there found Robert in the front seat.  “Where have you been?” he asked, “...your schedule says departure at 9 am!”  Leave it to Robert to take the schedule to heart and seek out the van.
 
Another time also in Chile our small group was invited by our hosts to tour their estate on horseback.  Robert said he wasn’t comfortable with that, so the proprietor said he would accompany him by car and meet us at the winery.  After our 45-minute tour in the saddle, we finally arrived at the winery – to find Robert on horseback.  As always, he went along with the program…his way!
 
I think after several years I finally earned Robert’s respect when he found out I enjoyed grappa as much as he did.  We went to the local bar in Montalcino and ordered two grappas, which were served politely in a ¾ fill of a pony glass.  I suggested another, and Robert was almost as thrilled with that idea as he was with the second pour – a good 7/8 fill!  We figured we must have impressed the bartender, unlike an American server who might have started cutting back on us.  For the sake of science we ordered a third, and this one came filled to a meniscus.  Robert never forgot that experience – and we recounted it over many grappas since!
 
I think what made Robert different than so many in the wine world is that he was a businessman – a sharp and successful one.  And he always found a way to make sure the people he liked benefited from that business, be it the way he treated judges and entrants at his competitions, or Wine Review Online which he worked to create at a time when traditional sources for his fellow wine writers were drying up.  He often did things "his way," but if you were with him, his way almost always benefited your way.
 
Generous, principled, headstrong and gregarious – that was our Robert, and may we all learn from his example.


From Jeffrey Pogash, Former Director of Communications at Moët Hennessy USA:

I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Robert Whitley.  I was fortunate enough to travel with him on a number of occasions and always had a great deal of fun tasting wine and visting historic sights in some very exciting and exotic destinations.  For two years straight, Robert and I traveled to VinItaly together, where he was kind enough to show me the ropes for the three days that we spent there.  Both of us were golf enthusiasts, so in our spare time, we looked for a television set and watched The Masters tournament.

While in San Diego to speak at a Dom Perignon Dinner that Robert had organized, he took me to Torrey Pines for a once-in-a-lifetime round of golf, a truly thrilling experience.  Traveling with Robert was a happy balance of work and fun-filled leisure activities and always a great learning experience.  Robert was an outstanding teacher as well as an eager student always interested in discovering new and exciting wines.  He will be missed by the wine world.  My sincerest condolences to his wife Diane and to his children and grandchildren.


From Bill Ward, Wine Writer and Critics Challenge Judge:

I was crushed to learn of Robert’s passing.  He was a decidedly engaging man.  I sense that he didn't suffer fools gladly, and since he tolerated me, I’m comforted by the though that maybe I’m not such a fool after all.

I loved how inquisitive he still was, and how fascinated he remained about wine and the world — traits that I have seen many of our generation shed as they reached our age.

I keep on thinking of “w” words:  Warm, witty and wise.  That winsome smile in his portrait photo — equal parts "the cat that ate the canary" and “I’m about to call you on your bulls**t”— speaks volumes.


From Shannon Horton, General Manager, Horton Vineyards:

I saw the announcement about Robert's passing.  He had a great passion for wine and the craft of wine making and it was evident from the many different things that he built for the industry from the competitions and the Wine Review Online platform.

His perspective will be missed.


From Carole Martinson, Manager, Passaggio Wines:

Michael…thank you for giving me a way to say something about my friend Robert Whitley.  I knew him for over thirty years in this wine industry.  He was a gentle soul who rarely let out his vulnerabilities.  I admired his knowledge of the world and wine.  Having dinner with him was like visiting another country in a very wonderful way!  I have great memories of him and cherish them.


From Jill Schlegel, Communications Director, Merry Edwards Winery:

Hi, Michael…we were all so saddened to hear of Robert’s passing.  Such a class act and he wrote so eloquently about Merry Edwards over the years.  She has retired from the winery, but wanted to pass along her thoughts for your compilation:
 
I was saddened to learn about the passing of Robert Whitley.  I always enjoyed meeting and tasting my wines with him over our many years of association.  The wine industry has lost an excellent writer.  My condolences to his family – Merry Edwards


From Nicole Breier Carter, President, Merry Edwards Winery:

Michael - I am sorry for your loss and I am sorry for the industry loss. One of the great champions of wine.  Robert Whitley -- we will all miss you tremendously.


From Dave McIntyre, Wine Columnist, The Washington Post:

I only met Robert a few times and didn’t have the pleasure of working with him, but I enjoyed his warmth, wit and straight-shooting wisdom.  He will be missed.


From Michelle Monfort, San Diego, CA:

I am so saddened to learn about the sudden passing of Robert Whitley.  He was my first editor at the San Diego Log newspaper in Point Loma in 1994 and we recently reconnected last summer after all these years when I visited him at his wine warehouse.  I will always remember him as a true gentleman and professional mentor.  My condolences to his wife and family.


From Robert Farver, Founder & President, Sanity Wine & Spirits:

Just shocked to learn this.  Way too young in age but also in contribution.  Robert was an icon in the wine industry and a very kind soul as well.  Thank you, Robert, for the good work...Rest in Peace.


From Tim McDonald, Founder, Wine and Spirits Spoken Here:


I am very sad the past few days.  A mentor, a mensch in my life.  We met in 1994 at the Sonoma Valley Auction.  A Gentleman of Wine.


From Stephen McKimmey, WRO Reader, Heath, Texas:

I was shocked and saddened by the news of Robert Whitley’s passing.  I began reading Wine Review Online in my early days of wine tasting and always appreciated Mr. Whitley’s unpretentious reviews and insights about wine and wine culture - I’ve looked forward to Wednesdays when the new reviews and articles would be released for years!  Thank you, Mr. Whitley, for the many years of outstanding reviews and interesting commentary - you will be missed!


From Rachel Martin, Owner/Vintner at Oceano Wines and Executive Vice President at Boxwood Estate Winery:

Heartbreaking.  Robert, such a beautiful soul and kind person.  He will be sorely missed and never forgotten.


From George Rose, Former VP of Public Relations at Kendall-Jackson; Contributing Photographer, Getty Images:

I have learned from friends that Robert Whitley, the Ironman of wine writing, has passed away.  Robert began his wine column with the San Diego-Union Tribune in 1990 and over the years was picked up by Creators Syndicate.  Robert was also the director of four major international wine competitions.  I got to know this seemingly gruff on the outside, but lovable on the inside, former sports writer over the course of 25 years.  Each year we would meet in San Diego and sit down to taste the new vintages from the various wine companies I was representing at the time.  To say he was a lover of all things food and wine would be an understatement.  I enjoyed our time together and followed up on his many tips on how best to enjoy Paris.


From Craig Kritzer, Vintner, Frogtown Cellars:

It all started in 2011 when I received an email from Robert: “Who the hell are you?  You are not from the country of Georgia but the State of Georgia, right?  I am fascinated by the quality of your wines because I would not have thought Georgia capable of such, primarily because of the heat and humidity that I associate with your part of the world.  It just shows how far viticulture has come that we now see wine from areas that were once considered next to impossible for fine wine production.”

I am and will forever be profoundly grateful to Robert.  He was never at a loss to say wonderful things about Frogtown and me.  I attribute the national recognition Frogtown and I have received for our estate grown wine from the Dahlonega Plateau AVA in Georgia, in large part, to Robert.  

Robert, I am devastated that you are gone.  I only wish I could have spent more personal time with you; ah, Georgia is so far away from California.  Our relatively small community of winemakers, wine writers, wine critics, judges, and friends has lost a Giant.  Such an honor to say I knew Robert; I will profoundly miss his counsel and friendship! 




Archive of Robert's wine columns:   Robert Whitley