Beloved Sonoma Valley vintner Robert Hunter Jr. dies

Nearly five months after his 91st birthday, Robert E. Hunter Jr. died in his sleep on Tuesday, Oct. 1, in the early evening hours.

Affectionately referred to as “Bob,” Robert Hunter Jr. owned Robert Hunter Winery and the 42-acre vineyard tucked away on Arnold Drive that distinguishes itself as the smallest champagne house in California and is touted as one of the most intimate winery experiences in the Valley, with visits in the family’s home and private tours of the estate.

Robert Hunter Jr. always wanted to live in the country and preferred Sonoma over Napa, so buying the land in 1973 was a dream, said his son, Robert Hunter III. Along with his wife, Ann, Robert Hunter Jr. cultivated the 70-acre estate that includes the vineyard and the family’s home. However, Robert Hunter Jr. did not permanently move to Sonoma until six years ago.

“He was a pioneer; he found a slice of heaven here in the Valley of the Moon and pursued his dream,” Robert Hunter III said, comparing his father to Angelo Sangiacomo, in that he found a part of Sonoma County that was unplanted and planted grapes on “what has turned out to be one of the greatest vineyards in Sonoma County.”

A descendent of the Scottish Hunter clan, the Pasadena native “lived his Scottish heritage,” notes Robert Hunter III, who is known as Rob. He worked for years as a banker in San Francisco, specializing in agricultural lending. In those days, explains Rob Hunter, business was done based on relationships and Robert Hunter Jr. “was an incredibly well-liked man, known for his friendships.”

While he worked on the bank platform, Robert Hunter Jr. was the kind of man who made sure to walk the floor every morning and greet each teller, said Rob Hunter. “He touched everyone he worked with. He was a man of the people.”

Rob Hunter said his father was not only a friend to many and an astute businessman, but also a sage advisor who had an incredible amount of faith in future generations.

Rob Hunter explains that his father was a rare breed as he was always in sync with winemakers, when often growers and winemakers are at odds.

“He touched many winemakers, and he had a big impact on them,” said Rob Hunter, who is the current winemaker at Robert Hunter Winery. “He believed in all of these young winemakers and when you are at that point in your career there is a lot of skepticism and you need that kind of belief.”

Rob Hunter started working at the family winery in 1992, and said he was amazed at how fond employees were of his father. “His employees adored him, and people in the industry and his friends adored him. He always seemed so fair.”

“The greatest compliment I ever received from my father was how proud he was of wine I made for him out of his grapes,” Rob Hunter said.

Robert Hunter Jr. was also an avid hunter and fly-fisherman and, according to his son, was “a great shot” and fly-fished into his 90s. Rob Hunter recalls his dad teaching him how to fish when he was 10 and fly-fishing throughout the Pacific Northwest for a number of years.

Robert Hunter Jr. is survived by his beloved family: his wife, Ann; his three daughters, Ruth Hunter-Daniels, Liza Hunter and Catherine Hunter; his son, Robert Hunter III; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. The family will host a private service.