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  Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium

A nice picture of our Emporium in the field.

A UNIQUE source for ordering wine, industry news, and local events along and around the Santa Barbara County & Central Coast Wine Regions of California and throughout CyberSpace.  We're the experts on Santa Barbara Wine and Central Coast Wine.

will be closing its doors 

at 2531 Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, California as of Saturday June 25, 2005. 

However, check with the website for continued news on a new location.  

Thanks to all our great customers who supported the store and Bob Senn
over 10 years. We hope to see you soon again.

The Historical Site, known as the Montanero Farm, will become a living museum with the goal of preserving the land use in Los Olivos and the Santa Ynez valley.  Many artifact from the Bob Senn's LOWSE will be maintained on that site. Bob, area winemakers and restauranteers have made a significant contribution to the development the valley and what it is today. When the area is restored you will want to stop by to see this little part of history.



Celebration of Life: Bob Senn
Held June 18, 2005

Launched: Lincoln Nebraska, 1943
Bottled: Los Olivos, California,  2005

"Life is too short to drink bad wine" 
Anon & Bob Senn

Bob Has Left The Tasting Room
Tom Hill

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 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 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 new.


Wine advocate dies of cancer
By Michelle Hatfield/Staff writer
Santa Maria Times, May 10, 2005
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 aunt.

Loper Funeral Chapel in Ballard is in charge of arrangements. Friends are planning a memorial service for June 18.

Bob Senn
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 radiation treatment.

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 18.

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 recognition.”

“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, decorative language. 

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 average Joe. 

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!

Market Brandy by Germain Robin Labels We now have in our latest Market Brandy Designer Label Series. Outstanding craftmanship by one of the finest producers in the U.S., Germain-Robin, we have presented these fine products with a series of beautiful labels. Collect the entire set and be rewarded with a pair of engraved Brandy snifters. For more details and much better images, click on the labels!

   The Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium, located in the heart of Santa Barbara County's wine area, proudly presents this web site with a lot of information about the wines, wineries and "people, places and things" of this area, as well as offering one-stop shopping. Available are Santa Barbara County's and the Central Coast's best wines and California's best spirits, an eclectic selection of hand crafted wines & spirits, many of which are hard to find and among the finest produced in the world. Some of our wines can be found nowhere else, Santa Barbara Wine and Central Coast Wine are our specialties! A great place to stop while in the area, as noted by a couple wondering by and reported in Los Angeles Time's Sunday Travel Section

    Owner Bob Senn is one of our local wine treasures. He writes columns in both the Santa Barbara Independentand the Santa Maria Times. For reprints, go to ourNews Section, where you will also find theDefinitive Guide to Tasting Wine in Santa Barbara County, and local Vintage Tasting Guides!

    Our friendly staff love to answer questions. We're here to help you find just what you are looking for in wines from this area (and some beyond) to fine spirits and even a couple of bottles of really good beer.This web site contains a lot of information on wine in general and on the wines we have to offer (our stock page has a lot of tasting notes), along with wine and winemaker dinner events, a monthly local wine news feature, touring guides, a comprehensive list of Santa Barbara County & Central Coast wineries and lots more stuff (check our site map for a quick overview). Our attitude is: Have a good time! We might be a bit off the wall, but we think you'll like it. Stop by often and check out what we have to offer!

  The Emporium features wines from the likes of John Alban of Alban Vineyards, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars, Lane Tanner of Lane Tanner Winery, Bob Lindquist of Qupé, Bill Cates & Jeffrey Fink of Tantara Winery,and Chris Whitcraft of Whitcraft Winery. Our boundaries go well beyond Santa Barbara County into the Edna Valley and on up the Central Coast. We are one of the largest retailers of Bonny Doon Vineyard wines in California. We proudly offer the largest selection of Germain-Robin alambic brandies and grappas in the world.

We have fine wines and spirits for sale from this web site, or stop by in person. For a nominal charge you can taste any or all of the wines we have open on the bar. Try before you buy! We're located in a field about 1/2 miles south of the flagpole in Los Olivos. Click on the thumbnail for a bird's eye view!

Tom Hill Tasting Notes Archives

For your pleasure, featuring California wines well beyond our own stock, a bit of food and "inside" gossip! Click!
Latest: A Mixed Bag of Rhones!

The Winemaker

"The Winemaker," a small bronze nude sculpture posed by longtime local winemaker Lane Tanner and created by internationally known artist Robert Houghtaling debuted and can be seen "in the flesh" at the Emporium. Copies of this limited edition are available from the artist and from the Emporium. Just call us! For more detail of the piece, look here.  As featured in both the "Wine Enthusiast" and "Appelation," this unique piece is currently available for $1200. Of course as the edition nears it's end (and half of it is already gone!), the price will rise again as the pieces become more rare. So hurry! The edition initially only consisted of 20 pieces and two artists proofs. This is a unque embodiment of wine and Santa Barbara wine history.

"God in his greatness sent the grape to cheer both great and small. 
Little fools will drink too much and big fools none at all." 

                                             -- Anonymous

11 to 6 p.m., Wednesday - Monday (closed Tuesdays)
(Closed Easter, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Thanksgiving Day)
In the Heart of the Santa Barbara Wine Country
2531 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos, California
In the field, just south of town, 1/2 mile south of the flagpole

MapQuest Driving Directions

(888) SB-WINES or (805) 688-4409 or (800) 68-WINES [California Only] 

Our "snail" mail address is:

P.O. Box 946
Los Alamos CA 93440-0946

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