Longtime wine writer Bob Woehler dies at 79

Longtime Tri-City Herald reporter, wine writer and community advocate Bob Woehler died Wednesday of complications from blood clots.

He was 79.

Woehler had his first wine-related assignment covering the opening of Preston Premium Wines in Pasco in 1976, and became one of the state's earliest wine writers with his column "Woehler on Wine," which started in 1978.

"As a wine writer, he was honest in what he perceived," said Coke Roth, a Kennewick lawyer and former owner of Roth Distributing, a beer and wine distributor in the Tri-Cities and Moses Lake. "He tasted a lot of crummy wines, especially in the early days, but he never said anything bad about them publicly. He was a real gentleman all the way around."

Woehler and Roth became friends in 1973 and traveled together to various emerging wine regions in the Northwest and worked together to start the Tri-Cities Wine Festival.

"I can't tell you about the amount of wine we drank together, but it was oceans," Roth said.

Woehler started working for the Herald in 1967 and retired in 1994, but continued writing about wine.

When he stopped writing "Woehler on Wine" last year, he said, "I never dreamed when I started writing about the Washington wine industry in 1978 that it would be a lifetime joy for me."

Woehler was tasting editor for Wine Press Northwest since its launch in 1998, and wrote two columns every issue for the magazine. One column, "Bargain Bob," focused on low-priced wines and the other, "Vintage Musings," looked at wineries that have been around the industry for many years.

His last two columns will appear in the fall issue of Wine Press Northwest, which comes out next month.

Last year, Woehler launched an audio podcast that was published on winepressnw.com and Facebook. Each week, he would interview someone in the wine industry, and really enjoyed talking with pioneers in the Washington and Oregon wine industries, said Andy Perdue, Wine Press Northwest editor-in-chief.

Woehler started his journalism career in radio and was news director of a radio station in Omak before moving to newspapers. He held newspaper reporting jobs in Renton, Othello, Pendleton, Hermiston and Cottage Grove before joining the Herald.

Retired Herald Executive Editor Ken Robertson said Woehler was the leader of the reporting staff when he joined in 1976 as the new city editor.

"Over the next couple of decades until his retirement, he proved to be a prolific reporter with an incredible nose for news stories no matter what beat he worked on," Robertson said.

Robertson recalled how Woehler once noticed a string of Ford pickups that had been stolen in Richland, checked into why it was happening and found that their ignitions were easy to defeat.

"He turned it into a great piece that I'll bet almost everyone in the Tri-Cities who owned a Ford pickup just had to read," he said.

Woehler's wine column also helped the Herald become "known for its coverage of wines and the wine industry, which Bob foresaw would be hugely important in the state of Washington," Robertson said. At the time, there were less than a dozen wineries in the state and now there are more than 700.

"Over the years, Bob also became a great friend," he said.

Woehler was a notoriously bad speller and when he retired, Robertson gave him a dictionary but replaced the cover to read "Words I've Misspelled, by Bob Woehler," said his brother, Dave Woehler.

"He could type blindingly fast with two fingers," Dave said.

His brother was an avid supporter of projects, programs and organizations in Kennewick and also knew just about everybody.

"It was impossible to go anywhere in the Tri-Cities without being assailed by several 'Hi Bobs!' " his brother said. "We would joke about that -- about the number of 'Hi Bobs!' he got."

Bob Woehler was a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Kennewick, serving as president in 2005 and lieutenant governor of Division 54, which covers Tri-City, Walla Walla and Dayton clubs, in 2007.

In 2004, he was named Kennewick Man of the Year, and was the grand marshal for the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo parade in 1994.

Robert August Woehler was born in Hamilton, Mont., and lived in Alaska for three years before moving to Kennewick in 1944. His father was former Kennewick postmaster Walter A. Woehler.

Bob Woehler graduated from Kennewick High School in 1950 and joined the Navy. He served in Korea and returned to the Tri-Cities when he was discharged. He retired from the Navy Reserves as a lieutenant commander.

He was a charter member of Columbia Basin College in 1955 and graduated from the University of Washington in 1959 with a degree in communications.

Woehler was very involved with his family, liked classical music and was an avid reader on all topics -- almost everything interested him.

"He was a firm, but extremely loving father," Roth said. "There was inspiration in Bob's loyalty to his country and the integrity with everything he did."

Woehler is survived by his wife of nearly 55 years, Joyce; four children, Judy, Rebecca, Andrew and Thomas; four grandchildren; a sister, Mary; and his brother, Dave.

A service is planned for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Kennewick. Mueller's Tri-Cities Funeral Home in Kennewick is in charge of arrangements.