|Bob Has Left The Tasting
Got a call from Bob Lindquist,
whilst I was in Pasadena visiting friends, that Bob had gone to that big
tasting room in the sky. This world, and SantaBarbaraCounty in particular,
is a much smaller place this morning.
BobL had gone down to LosAlamos
ystrday morning to cheer Bob up, he having taken a turn for the worse recently.
He was there at the end, reported that Bob went quietly & peacefully.
And spent the rest of the afternoon calling Bob's friends. It was clearly
not an easy task for BobL.
I had last talked to Bob
well over a month ago when I was making my HdR arrangements and made arrangements
for dinner Wed night and for me to stay at his home that night...always
a smart thing after our dinners together. Bob seemed in good spirits, pleased
as always that I was stopping by, and gave no inkling that his battle w/
lung cancer was not going well. This will not be a good Wednesday.
AS most of you know, Bob
was a pretty special guy. He had followed SantaBarbara wines from the very
start, far earlier than I. He was tireless in singing their praises to
the world, thru his columns in the SantaBarbara paper and the SantaMariaTimes.
For new wineries & winemakers, his column was often their debut to
the outside world.
Unlike other local tasting
rooms, it was a genuine pleasure to watch Bob at work in the LOW&SE
tasting room. He liked to project this somewhat gruff exterior to strangers
who came in. But it was a mightly thin facade, covering a heart of gold
and a genuine warmth of personality that's rare in this world.
My father always used to
introduce me as "Doctor" Hill to his friends. At first I resented it, being
a plain/aw shucks Kansas boy. But I came to realize that meant a lot to
my Dad to be able to do that w/ his friends.
Same w/ Bob. When I'd be
tasting in the LOW$SE tasting room, Bob was always quick to introduce me
as TomHill, a "famous" (his words, not mine) wine writer and physicist
from LosAlamos...being quick to add "the other, less-famous LosAlamos".
When an incoming call from a winemaker would come, he'd always tell them
"TomHill is here...you wanta stop by to say hello?". Many SB winemakers
I would first meet at Bob's LOW&SE tasting room.
But Bob's gruff veneer was
easy to pierce. All you had to do was express a bit of interest in wines
and it would easily crumble. Ask about what he particular wine in his shop
was like and, often as not, he'd rip the cork outta that sucker for you,
no matter what the price, eager to show you his latest discovery.Bob was
like that, like most people w/ passions..eager to share them w/ others.
And SantaBarbara wines were clearly one of his passions, to the county's
benefit... and to ours.
The LOW&SE tasting room
was always a magnet for those of us visiting the area. The affable Bob
always made sure of that. Truly that funky little place became something
special to many of us. I remember sitting out on the front porch there
one chilly/foggy morning w/ LarryA when we first met CraigJaffurs, at Bob's
behest, and trying Craig's new wines. Bob was, of course, right..."this
is a guy you should keep your eye on". As we've gone thru well over a 100
cases of Jaffurs wines over the yrs, Craig couldn't have paid enough $$'s
to get that kind of marketing anywhere.
And the dinners w/ Bob, whether
at his home or out at a restaurant, were the stuff of legends. Always w/
a bit more wine than prudent...but always good wine. Wether w/ a crowd
or just the two of us, they were always a receipe for a great evening....one
of the things that kept me returing to the SantaYnezVlly.
He used to like to take me
over to the Casmalia HitchingPost, where he did/helped their wine list.
Certainly not fancy...just good grub..w/ plenty of good wine and great
company. Everybody in the room knew Bob & would stop by our table to
say hello. And Bob would insist they try a glass of our wine. That was
where he introduced me to JohnAlban's first Grenache. I had meant John
up at Taste of Vail and knew of his great Viogniers and Syrahs, but Grenache??
That's what they make Almaden Rose from and other SouthernRhone stuff!!
W/ that characteristic twinkle in his eye and knowing look, he urged me
to try this wine. It was, of course, amazing wine. All I could say was
"Wow...this is serious Grenache". That was a line that Bob would use again
over the yrs.
SAme story w/ the Tablas
Creek wines. When I first had one w/ Bob, I was underwhelmed... found them
a bit hard and lean and lacking the vulptuous fruit I KNEW CAlif Rhones
should have. Bob just shook his head knowingly and admonished me to give
it some time. He was, of course, dead right. A couple of yrs ago, he pulled
out one of their first ones and ShoNuff, it had developed all those aromatics
that you'd expect from a great/mature wine.
Sitting in his living room
after one of those meals (and repeatingly fending offer his offer of a
Bourbon or SingleMalt Scotch or a brandy), was when we could get in some
serious talk time. He would like to talk about his early days in Nebraska,
something a Kansas PlowBoy could relate to. He was always eager to know
about my two kids, especially the actor son in NewJersey. I had brought
along this trip a photo of my new grandson, KlayBear as we call him, that
I could hardly wait to show Bob, knowing that he'd have something clever
to say about KlayBear's overalls..another classic Kansas PlowBoy.
Oy... this trip to HdR is
just not going to be the same w/o that pre-HdR time w/ Bob Senn. As I breached
that last hill coming out of Ventura late ystrday and caught my first view
of the Pacific, always something very special to me, there was this small
sliver of Sun sinking away into the ocean to the West. Seemed sorta appropriate.
My heart goes out to Rena
and Dexter and all the rest of Bob's family there at the LOW&SE tasting
room, all the SAntaBarbara winemakers who meant so much to Bob. We were
all family to Bob and he made sure we all knew that. Indeed, this world
is a much lesser place w/o Bob to pull a a cork now and show us something
Wine advocate dies of
By Michelle Hatfield/Staff
Santa Maria Times, May
Reprinted by Permission
Wine enthusiasts across Santa
Barbara County are sadly toasting the passing of one of their own this
week after local wine advocate Bob Senn died Monday afternoon.
Senn was best known for his
love of wine, his early role in the local wine industry, and his frequent
dinners at Casmalia's Hitching Post surrounded by friends. The 61-year-old
passed away in his Los Alamos home after a lengthy bout of lung cancer
during which he underwent chemotherapy and radiation.
"People were around him the
last week. He had people that he trusted and knew," said Jim Fiolek, longtime
friend and executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association.
"Selfishly, I'm sad, but I'm not sad for him. I'm sad for myself."
Senn's roots in the wine
industry go back 30 years, when there were only 20 or so wineries in the
county, longtime friend Mark van de Kamp said Tuesday. Now there are about
70, and "every one of them knows Bob," he said.
"He was always interested
in wine. He foresaw the greatness of Santa Barbara County wine long before
a lot of other people did," van de Kamp added. "This is a massive loss
for Santa Barbara County wine. He was there at the very start."
Senn's favorite wine was
pinot noir, which he frequently paired with barbecued chicken or top sirloin
at the Hitching Post, van de Kamp said. Senn's last meal out was at that
restaurant eight days before his death.
Friend Bob Lindquist was
with Senn when he died.
"It was sad, but at the same
time, it was liberating because he was so sick," said Lindquist, owner
and winemaker at Qupe Winery in Santa Maria.
By the time Senn's cancer
was caught, it was in advanced stages.
Because Senn had no immediate
family, friends were trying to piece together his history Tuesday.
Born Aug. 3, 1943, Robert
M. Senn was originally from the Midwest but attended UC Berkeley and later
earned a master's degree in sociology from UC Santa Barbara, van de Kamp
said. He became program director at Santa Barbara's KTMS-FM radio and started
a wine feature with Fiolek in 1975.
None of Senn's friends knew
where his love of wine came from, but "he was relentless in his focus on
Santa Barbara County wines," Fiolek said.
In 1993, Senn opened Los
Olivos Wine and Spirits Emporium, which he allowed wineries to use as their
wine-tasting rooms. He also wrote wine columns - including a weekly one
for the Santa Maria Times - where many winemakers would debut their wines.
Senn helped launch and guide
several careers in the local industry, van de Kamp said.
"Bob was such a sweet, sweet
person every time we talked - and what a sense of humor," said Dana Gran,
Santa Maria Times features editor, who spoke with him each week when he
sent her his column. "He told me about a week or so ago that one of his
favorite drinks is Dr Pepper - No, he may have been an expert, but there
wasn't a trace of the wine snob in him.
"And he was such a dedicated
columnist that he wrote for us until just a couple of weeks ago, even when
he must have been absolutely exhausted by his illness," Gran added.
Senn was a news junkie, van
de Kamp said, and was quoted in publications such as the New York Times,
San Francisco Chronicle and Wine Enthusiast.
While Senn could be gruff
and terse at times, he was more playful once people got to know him.
"He had a laugh, chuckle
and smile that I will always remember. His whole body would move and his
eyes would light up," Fiolek said.
Following Senn's request,
his body was to be cremated today and the ashes placed next to his parents'
graves in Nebraska. Along with a legion of friends, survivors include an
Loper Funeral Chapel in Ballard
is in charge of arrangements. Friends are planning a memorial service for
by Mark Van de Kamp
Wine writer and wine store
proprietor Robert “Bob” M. Senn died Monday afternoon at his house in Los
Alamos, after a lengthy bout with lung cancer. He was 61, a few months
shy of his birthday in August. He had done chemotherapy and was receiving
He will be cremated Wednesday,
May 10, and he requested his ashes be placed next to his parents in Nebraska,
his birthplace. His friends are planning a celebration of his life June
He is survived by an aunt
in Nebraska. His mother died while he was in high school. His
father died in 1985 at age 86.
Bob’s father taught him that
to cook with wine made the food taste better. Bob seldom cooked anything
without using wine. Unfinished bottles ended up next to the stove and got
added when he cooked.
Bob was a special figure
in Santa Barbara County wines, for many years discovering and promoting
the likes of Bob Lindquist, Lane Tanner, Chris Whitcraft and many other
pioneering winemakers. He championed pinot noir – by far his favorite wine.
Of course, he also enjoyed syrah and viognier.
Bob owned the Los Olivos
Wine & Spirits Emporium, which he opened in the summer of 1993, in
a century-old market building in the field half a mile south of the flagpole
in Los Olivos. This funky store became the tasting room for many
small local winemakers who lacked their own wineries.
He followed local wines for
decades and was tireless in singing their praises to the world through
his newspaper columns that debuted in 1984. He was quoted by the
New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wine Spectator and other publications
He began a writer during
the 1960s while attending college in the Bay Area, by writing a monthly
column for the Sunnyvale Standard.
Later he moved to Santa Barbara.
As the program director of KTMS-FM, in Santa Barbara, for 15 years, he
developed a daily local wine show, "The Wine Show with Chris Whitcraft,"
which came about because of his own passion for wine - a passion which
was sparked growing up in the Bay Area in the early sixties.
His career as a wine writer
started in December 1984 when The Weekly (now the Santa Barbara Independent)
hired Bob to do a monthly column. He was also the wine columnist for Santa
Barbara Magazine for several years. Later, his column was picked up by
the Santa Maria Times and became a weekly feature.
Bob left the world of broadcasting
in the mid 80's and immersed himself in the wine business. He also wrote
for the Santa Barbara News-Press, Santa Barbara Magazine, Montecito Magazine
and the Mosby Winery Newsletter.
Bob developed a concept
for a tasting venue in Santa Barbara County in the late 80's, a venture
that eventually blossomed into his wine retail store.
Bob knew many people in
the wine business. He considered his main mentors to be three of
the best - Jim Fiolek, formerly of Zaca Mesa Winery, Bob Lindquist of Qupe
and Chris Whitcraft of Whitcraft Winery-all celebrated pioneers of the
local wine industry.
Bob was born August 3, 1943,
in Nebraska and lived in California since high school. He attended college
in the Bay Area and earned a master’s degree in Sociology from UCSB.
He lived in Santa Barbara starting in 1970 and around 1995 moved to Los
Alamos. His house was at the end of Main Street, overlooking a vegetable
field. Bob’s invitations for social events at his home were inscribed
with the phrase, “Where Main Meets The Sunset.”
“Santa Barbara County’s wine
industry has lost a special person in Bob Senn,” longtime friend Mark van
de Kamp of Solvang said. “He helped a lot of upstart winemakers get deserved
“Bob was strong willed and
opinionated, very politically incorrect, but he also could be charming
and I’ll always remember his wit and those dinners at the Hitching Post
or at his home. He always brought more than enough wine for everyone
and we often bought more. He also turned a lot of people onto great
wines from the area.”
Bob also served as a judge
in local wine competitions.
Bob Senn Memorial Rant
by Bernard Roth
"A day without pork is like
a day without sunshine." That's a pretty strange thing for a Jew boy like
me to say, but that was one of Bob's favorite lines.
If Bob were to pick one wine
that he'd want us to drink today, I'm sure it would be Joe Phelps Grenache
Rose. I contacted Craig Williams at Phelps winery to see whether they had
any in their library, but they tested a few bottles and found them over
the hill. But they were gracious enough to send a few bottles of their
Mistral which is available at the bar inside.
Just yesterday I was wondering...
If Bob were here today at his own memorial, would he get all sentimental
and gushy? Or would he use the platform for one of his patented rants?
"Well F**kin' A Tweety Bird"
I think I hear Bob callin' from the ether. "Those g*d damn Orange County
cheap skates driving up in their friggin' SUVs lookin' for one last free
buzz after all the winery tasting rooms have closed. Ya' gotta turn your
phone off if you want to come in here, or leave them in your truck! If
you want to taste what's on the bar, it'll be $10 a person."
Bob could certainly rant
with the best of them, and he wasn't shy with his use of (ahem), well,
My wife Sam and I used to
have Bob over for dinner regularly when he lived in SB in the early 90s.
We'd have political and philosophical discussions, and it was interesting
to observe the progression in his attitude. For most of his life, Bob had
been a traditional Republican with overt Libertarian leanings, no doubt
developed during his college years studying political philosophy. Bob believed
in limiting the reach of government in people's private affairs and he
believed in rugged individualism and personal responsibility.
It was therefore only mildly
surprising when, in 1996, after having bought his house in Los Alamos,
that Bob somewhat sheepishly (for him) told Sam and me this little tidbit.
It was the summer and Bill Clinton was campaigning for re-election. Bob
was shopping up in Santa Maria and was approached by a Democratic outreach
worker outside a grocery store. Bob hadn't registered yet in his new home
district, so when given the opportunity to fill out his voter registration,
he just decided he had to become a Democrat.
And with that, Bob proceeded
to rant about how the Republican Party was sucking up to those goddam bible-thumping
Moral Majority Neanderthals who wanted guvmint to enforce their version
of values over anyone else's. Not to mention that the GOP already had sold
out to Big Corporations, like the tobacco Nazis, at the expense of the
Bob certainly had his pet
peeves, but nothing infuriated him more than Fundamentalist nutcases exerting
influence over public policy. These people who don't know shit from shinola
were (and still are) trying to dictate to school boards around the country
that science education should include their King James fairy tale version
of creation. Bob wanted government to stay out of people's bedrooms, out
of people's medical treatment, and out of their gynecological exams. And
politicians who used the Bible to justify intrusion into private affairs
were the lowest form of scum.
And with that rant, I honor
Bob. Let us all look at the world through Rosé colored glasses!