The Wine Guy - Greg Walter

Transitions, happy and sad…

Sorry to say that I will be diverging from the normal format of this column, but wine is most definitely a thread that connected me to two people and their individual transitions that are the subjects of this week’s writing.

When Ron Kantor and Robert Della Santina opened Enoteca Della Santina in 2008 I was drawn to the venue pretty much immediately. For me, it had several things going for it. First, it was next to and essentially part of my favorite restaurant in town. Second, the broad and diverse selection of wines from around the world really satisfied the craving for non-local wines (sorry!) that creeps up on me regularly since leaving San Francisco years ago. Third, and most importantly, I was lucky enough to meet Ron Kantor.

As I got to know Ron I discovered that not only is he a consummate bartender in the truly classic sense of the word — with his great poker face, subtle, dry sense of humor and a talent for mostly patient listening — he is also a great wine guy who has been involved in just about every aspect of the business over the years. Some of my most enjoyable evenings over the past few years have been spent at Enoteca Della Santina talking about wine, and many other things, with Ron.

Ron is retiring from the business this month. He and his wife Julie are heading off on a long-planned new journey to a home they’ve built in Southern Oregon. He says he’s going to play a lot of golf and enjoy life. I truly hope he does.  I am going to miss him and hope that he won’t mind a visitor up north every one in a while.

Stop in the Enoteca while you can and join me in wishing Ron and Julie all the best.

On a sadder note, I was at first shocked and then very sad to hear of the passing of a man I knew simply as “Al.” I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t ever know his last name. I could have asked someone (or Al himself) what his last name was, but never seemed to be important at the time. I found about Al’s passing in a post on Facebook and no one that I saw post there at that time (or since) has referred to Al’s full name — almost all referred to him as “Al” or “Al the architect.” Based on the response I saw on Facebook, Al touched the lives of many more people in Sonoma than just me.

Our paths crossed irregularly over the past few years but mostly I remember running into him at Enoteca Della Santina’s on many Wednesday nights.

Al was an architect, retired. He always had lots of great stories to tell about projects he had worked on and we would usually chat for an hour or two on that and a lot of different subjects. I never really realized how much I enjoyed our conversations until this week when I learned he was gone.

I have to say that Al was one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met. In our conversations, he was mostly quiet and reserved but could be passionate about certain subjects once you got him going. Mostly I found him to be a wonderful person to talk with and now that he’s gone, I know I won’t be able to do that again. I will miss our conversations. If there is an afterlife, I’m hopeful I can share another glass with him.

As always, you can email me with questions or comments at

Greg Walter has been a Sonoma resident for more than 20 years. Greg has been in wine and food publishing for more than 30 years, 15 of which as a senior editor and later president of Wine Spectator magazine. Today he writes the PinotReport newsletter ( and publishes books through his Carneros Press imprint (

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