Robert Whitley was a passionate advocate for California wine and always willing to help another wine writer
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, who died over the weekend after a brief bout with cancer, will be much missed.
He 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: San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge, Critics Challenge, Sommelier Challenge, and Winemaker Challenge.
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.