February 11 – February 3, 2021 Robert William Wheatley, longtime San Diego resident, died after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. Robert was born June 26, 1950, in Washington, D.C., the son of Margaret and William Whitley and grew up on Capitol Hill. He was an exceptional student and a gifted athlete in high school. When a soccer injury derailed his high school dream, he thought writing about sports was the right thing to do. At 15, he applied to the Washington Daily News and was hired to cover sports. His talent and determination soon led him to assignments for college games and professional basketball. Robert was as adept at writing a story as he was at getting one – he wrote regularly for two rival newspapers, the Washington Daily News. His talent brought him to Newsday, where at age 19 he was hired for a coveted position as a reporter for the New York Knicks. Over the next two decades, Robert wrote for other major newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer, the San Diego Union and its successor, the San Diego Union-Tribune. He covered virtually every sport, from field hockey to soccer, tennis to horse racing, and even the 1972 world chess championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Reykjavik. During the nine years he spent in Pittsburgh, he was active in hockey and then became a national reporter for the Post-Gazette, covering major sporting events.
In his early years at Newsday, with an expense account equal to his salary, Robert discovered French wine by making wine and dining with athletes and coaches. He became a passionate collector and actively developed his knowledge of wine. He turned his passion into his profession when he left the sports office at the former San Diego Union in 1991 to write a weekly wine column for the newly merged San Diego Union-Tribune. His column appeared in the paper for 17 years and was broadcast nationally, first by Copley News Service and more recently by Creators Syndicate. Robert was also a monthly contributor to Reuters’ “Vine Talk” column.
In the mid-1990s, Robert was invited to the Salinas Valley Show in Monterey County to run a wine competition. He has been a judge at many international competitions and knows what works. The Monterey Wine Competition was launched and was the first of five wine competitions that Robert continued to judge and/or invent. His company, Wine Cellar Productions Inc. continues to own and operate four competitions: the San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge, the Critics Challenge, the Winemaker Challenge and the Sommelier Challenge.
Robert traveled frequently to wine regions around the world. He traveled to Italy perhaps more often than most other American wine writers – in one year in the mid-1990s, he traveled on fourteen different occasions. In 2005, he conceived the idea of an online publication that would be a comprehensive platform for the many talented wine journalists he met on his travels for his column. Together with two partners, he founded Wine Review Online. He remains one of the most respected and unbiased sources for wine journalism on the Internet.
Robert is survived by his devoted wife Diane Salisbury, stepson Sebastian Figueroa (Janice), grandson Luke and siblings Stuart Wheatley and Mary Gibson. A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that those wishing to honor Robert’s memory make a donation to the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra and Choir or to a charity of their choice.