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The Winehound – What About Bob?

December 16, 2010 The Press 2 Comments

The ship of our ambition fills its sails with the wind of human inspiration. Throughout man’s history, extraordinary accomplishment has been complimented by extraordinary inspiration.  Every great athlete had his Mantle or Ali, every musician his Mozart or Fitzgerald. Without human inspiration, would anyone say, “why, I think I will scale Everest today, or break the home run record”? Behind every great endeavor there are human motivations. We draw from these motivations, from friends, from family, from pop heroes, and from the public at large. From these, our passions are shaped for better or worse.

I have many passions, noble and virtuous as well as frivolous and vain. In the big picture of my life, my interest in wine is of marginal value when compared to other personal devotions. But I like the juice. While I have purchased a bottle or two from many a grocery store, one shop has been the greatest recipient of my wine dollar. It is an establishment run by a bearded and charmingly witty man named Bob Wesley.

Bob  is something of a wine celebrity in Santa Barbara where he has made his home for nearly three decades. The New York native has formed a trusted relationship with the wine consuming community and local vintners alike. “It’s the contact with customers that’s important,” he says when I mention the obvious loyalty his customers display.

Bob runs The Winehound, a wildly popular and much loved wine shop in downtown Santa Barbara. Here, “no wine is a mutt” and Bob and his knowledgeable staff work tirelessly to sniff out exceptional wines at often equally exceptional prices. I spend too much money there.

But it isn’t the money I have spent over the years that endears me to The Winehound and its bearded leader, it is the time. Over the last few years I have spent hours in the shop, browsing the neatly organized shelves dedicated to France, Spain, and especially the sizeable offering of local wines. Anything from fantastic $9 Spanish Grenache, to the not-so $9 bottle of Sine Qua Non is championed with equal enthusiasm (don’t worry Manfred, we know your stuff is better). It was there that I learned about Adam Tolmach of the Ojai Vineyard and Doug Margerum and his countless projects. It was at The Winehound that my then simmering wine fever reached a boiling point before crippling me with the disease know as the wine bug. Bob was like my drug dealer and the drugs were good (and reasonably priced which is important in such transactions). I had the cash, he had the wine, and we both had more wit than we knew what to do with. And so time and time again I returned.

Some have their Rothschild and their Drapers, I have Bob Wesley.

The stories behind wine, the tales of those who devote themselves to it, is just as enthralling to me as the juice in the bottle. Bob’s story, like any good one, starts in a dramatic way, with a young boy from Buffalo held hostage by a charming assassin.

ALP: So why wine?

Bob Wesley: “It probably goes back to the movies when I was a kid. Wine has this cache. It was like James Bond, knowing what vintage of Bollinger to order in the movies, and that has an impact on kids. So, I kind of trace it back to that early effect movies had on me; if you know wine, you’re cool. So I wound up buying my first wine book long before I could legally drink. I was probably 13 or 14. This really terrible book called The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine by Frank Henriques. I still have a copy of it somewhere. I was memorizing the villages of Beaujolais and the great vintages of Petrus before I even knew what the hell they were. So it was an early interest.”

ALP: Do you have a favorite region?

BW: “Everyone has their favorite. Over time it’s become the Northern Rhône because of my Syrah addiction…[For] most people, the Holy Grail is Burgundy, but for me it’s Côte-Rôtie and in a different style Hermitage. I love the complexity, the age worthiness. It’s got more flavors than any wine in the world to me. So that’s my favorite.”

ALP: I imagine you drink wine from all over the World?

BW: “I drink Syrah from all over.”

ALP: So Syrah is definitely your favorite varietal?

BW: “Yeah. It’s not America’s favorite though,” he says with his characteristic chuckle.

Amongst Bob’s charms and impressive knowledge of wine is a mastery of sarcastic but thoughtful writing. Reminiscent of some of Randall Grahm’s writing (although I don’t think overly influenced by it), Bob brings a particular ironic sense to wine writing in his regular e-mail news letters. Pop culture references and comparisons are frequent. Such as his review of the Tilia 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon:

“Even as we enjoy this ‘summer that never was,’ I’m meteorologically assured that we’ll soon transition to thoughts of golden leaves, pumpkins and chilly evenings with wisps of wood smoke roiling from chimneys, just like in one of those too-good-to-be-true Thomas Kinkade paintings that make Norman Rockwell look like a tagger with deep-seated anger issues.”

The 2007 Autonom Red Cuvée received this response from Bob:

“The 55% Grenache, 36% Syrah and 9% Mourvèdre from disparate sites (Nielson, Hampton, Laetitia and Bien Nacido) converge in ambrosial harmony, caressing the nose and mouth with cocoa and smoky blueberry smooches.

My notes (and glasses) got even steamier after that: “fleshy, sexy and fun” is what I jotted down, and I had to hide my notebook from the staff lest I be summoned to human resources for a rebuke.”

Bob, who grew up with a family history of wine developed his interest throughout his college years. He eventually started a restaurant with his Brother which served as the perfect platform to grow his interest. But it was more than just an interest he was developing.

“It’s kind of an obsession,” Bob confesses. “I compare it to art. Anyone can appreciate wine. You can sit there with your glass and have it with your [meal] and not think too much about it. Or you can analyze it. Art is kind of the same way. You can look at it and say, ‘nice colors’ or a critic can break it down. You can do the same with wine. You can take it as seriously or un-seriously as you want and still get pleasure out of it.”

ALP: What sets The Winehound apart as different from other wine shops?

BW: “We’re the filter; we’re trying to protect the public from the swill. We do taste a lot of wine and most wine we don’t buy, we reject…Most [of what we have] is wines we know, we’re familiar with it, we’ve tasted it and you don’t get that at any super market. Nobody takes the time to do as much tasting as we do… [We also] deal with a multitude of importers and distributors and brokers, and wineries direct and nobody in town does that. We probably deal with as many people as some of the big operations in Los Angeles; we are just on a smaller scale… The more people you deal with, the more interesting selection you have and that’s why we make the effort.”

The next time you find yourself in Santa Barbara, search out The Winehound and ask for Bob. Tell him I sent you and I am sure he will tell you a story or two about the braggart kid who lurks in his isles all too often. Sign-up for their newsletter, if anything for some interesting wine reading and local Santa Barbara wine news. And if you really want to make Bob happy, you can sign up for their monthly wine club, featuring hand selections by Bob himself. After-all, we all need a bearded man in our life from time to time.

The Winehound is Bob, Dennis, and Vicoria

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Chris says:

    Great shop! Staff is excellent too! His selection is outstanding. Been there a few times now, cozy little wine shop, we need more like this one. Even bought one of his T-Shirts the first time I went!

  2. Wayne says:

    Ha! That’s great! I am headed there in a few minuets myself.

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