Los Olivos tasting room experience

Went up to the central coast this past weekend with another couple . We spent one day in Los Olivos and decided to try the Los Olivos tasting room , which my friend (who is in the business) stated they had gone in years ago and had a bad experience. When we walked in we were greeted by the owner and everything seemed OK at that point, however as the tasting progressed we all started feeling more and more of an attitude from him, especially when he didn’t agree with our opinions on a variety of topics about wine. I mention this after I just read about a similar experience by Ken Zinns in Grape Nutts. It felt like if i had written an article about our experience it would have been a carbon copy.

The strange thing is that the bar was empty, where all the other tasting rooms were full for the most part. By the way, we went to quite a few tasting rooms afterwards including; Qupe, Kaena, Larner, Byron, and Carhartt. We were treated exceptionally well at all of those mentioned.

Has anyone else had an experience at this tasting room they could share. Someone must have had a positive experience there since he has remained open all these years.

I don’t even know what the Los Olivos tasting room is. Is that the name of a winery, or is it a bar that serves various wines from the area, or what?

You should have gone to Tercero.


The place is infamous, and has been for years. In fact, I wrote a negative note on this place on GrapeNutz.com in '94. So, he has a solid 20 yr history of pissing people off. I’d be willing to bet that EVERYONE who’s walked in that door has ultimately regretted it. Frankly, I’m shocked he’s still in business.

Los Olivos Wine Shop? Yes, he’s opinionated. But he turned us on to Center of Effort Pinot, which we love. When meeting someone with strong opinions, sometimes best just to listen and nod politely. You can just leave, or maybe you will learn something.

it’s next to Andrew Murray and offers a variety of labels, including Seasmoke, ABC, Alban, and many boutique labels.

Yup…followed ChrisBenzinger and his LosOlivos Tasting Room from the very start. When he opened it up, sometime
back in the ‘80’s, it was the only tasting room in LosOlivos, back when LO was just a little/dusty/hick town that
happened to be in wine country. Back in those days, very few SBC wineries had any tasting rooms, so it was designed
to be an outlet for SBC wineries to get the wines tasted and sold w/o having to open their own tasting room.
It was a great idea and a great business opportunity. Trouble was Chris had a distinct attituude problem. I found him to
be fairly knowledgeable. But he was not someone you could easily engage, he had this surly attitude, and could care less
about pouring you wine or even selling you wine. He always seemed to be pi$$ed that you came in to interrupt his day.
I last darkened his door maybe 3-4 yrs ago and nothing had changed.
He also had a guy that occasionaly worked there by the name of BobSenn. Bob realized there was a real opportunity
here in LosOlivos for a tasting room to serve (and sell) SBC wines (at this time, still no wnry tasting rooms in LO) and so
started the LosOlivos Wine & Spirits Emporium down MainSt on the west edgge of town, in front of an old meat butchering
plant (it was rumored that some of the SantaYnezVlly horses met their fate there), where BobLindquist stored his wine for
many a year.
Bob could be a little on the crusty/curmudgeonly side at times, but once he warmed up to you & realized you had an interest in wine,
he was totally engaging and great. He organized the wine list at the original HitchingPost over in Casmalia and often took me to dinner
there to share w/ me his latest wine discovery. When I’d come in the door, usually unannounced, Bob’d immediately get on the phone
and start calling winemakers in the area to announce that TomHill was there in his shop & wouldn’t they like to come by & say “hello”.
Bob also wrote a weekly wine column for the SantaBarbara newspaper. It was sitting out in the rocking chair on the front porch
of the LOW&SE that I first met CraigJaffurs on a cold/dreary/misty morning. Craig poured me his first Viognier (he wasn’t commercial yet,
but was making his wine up in the Miller’s CentralCoast Wine Coop in SantaMaria) from little Gerber baby food jars (don’t think they were
the Reidel edition of Gerber baby food jars). The cloudy Viognier was not particularly remarkable but I was quite struck by the passion
Craig had for Rhone varietals. Yup…spent many an hour hangin’ in Bob’s shop and made many new friends there.

Bob’s WebSite still exists and can be viewed at: http://www.sbwines.com/. It still contains a nice tribute I wrote to Bob…worth reading.

Alas, Bob died from lung cancer some yrs ago (he’d been a smoker in his youth growing up in Nebraska). I was driving up from Pasadena afore
a HdR to see & stay w/ Bob. I was just driving out of Ventura when I got a call from BobLindquist that BobSenn had died that morning, just
as I was cresting the hill and got my first view of the Pacific that trip and this huge sun was sinking into the ocean. It was pretty moving.

Anyway…that’s my story of the LOTR…and I’m stickin’ to it. More than you wanted to know.


There should have been a motto posted in the room:

“At LOTR, We’re Not Happy, 'Til You’re Not Happy.”

I too had a poor experience there some years ago and never returned.

E 2 The A, good to see you posting, man.

One room to rile them all.

You are one funny f*ck.

He’s got nothing to do all day but sit around and annoy his wife and come up with one line zingers like the one above.


A great read and thanks for sharing. Never met Bob Senn but have heard so many stories, and of course, have read your piece on him. Bummed I didn’t have the chance to sit down with him and visit his shop . . . .

Chris B is certainly an interesting guy. I remember visiting his shop shortly after it opened. They were pouring a bunch of stuff, including some Bonny Doon wines back in the day. The visit was not memorable, but not as bad as many others have experienced.

Flash forward a number of years and I remember walking in hoping to share some of my wines with him. He asked if I made Pinot and I of course said I did not - he then gave me a surly look and said, ‘Well, that’s the only stuff that sells and that’s the only stuff I’m looking for.’ He turned away and started to talking to friends on the other side of the bar. Yep, that’s the last time I’ve been in there - and his shop is about 500 yards from my tasting room.

That said, if you HAVE to have your bottle of Sea Smoke when you come to town, he’ll have it - for a pretty penny, of course.


Only 1/3 of that is true. Why don’t you get off your duff and get some permissions.

I used to visit Los Olivos Tasting Room once a year or so in the '90s but probably hadn’t been there in at least ten years before early last year when I was with friends who wanted to stop in, even after I told them about my experiences there. Surprisingly, Chris recognized me and asked me in a not-so-friendly way where I’d been all these years…nice way to make me feel welcome. As I noted in my report on that visit, one of the wines that was poured was very oxidized, probably had been open several days and I guess he didn’t want to open a fresh bottle until that one was empty. The wines were hit-and-miss, and they used those small thick wineglasses you used to see in lots of tasting rooms but seldom see any more. It’s a place that could and should be a much better experience than it is.

I miss Bob Senn too - he was gruff at first but after I kept coming back to his shop he lost the attitude (unlike Chris) and from then on it was always a fun visit.

“Anyway…that’s my story of the LOTR…and I’m stickin’ to it. More than you wanted to know.”

By no means, Tom,

Fascinating. I think I was in LOTR at least once in the 90’s when we used to live in CA. In fact bought my first Jaffurs Syrah there. I had to argue with Chris in order to buy it, as he was down on the “American oak,” they were then using, if I recall. But it’s true he had the hard to find bottles.

On Bob Senn, the very first time I walked into his shop, he was friendly and warm. He sold me some Alban and made me a happy guy. He did things his own way. I recall I later ordered some more Alban from him over the phone and he shipped them to me wrapped in newspaper like dishes in one big box. Maybe he was out of shippers. I too miss the guy. As to the LOTR, I have been around at least ten times and have never gone inside. Guess I haven’t missed much.

Mitch, once at holiday time, we ran out of styro and I told the crew to go get a couple of dozen Sunday LA Times to help pack up a bunch of single bottle gifts. AFTER we had shipped everything, my stock guy gives me the $20 I had given him back and said “I used LA Weeklys…they’re free!”. He was all cocky about how smart he was till I asked him “Did you take all the ads for escorts, strip clubs and massage parlors out of the back first?”…“um…no…”. “Well then, YOU get to answer all the phone calls we’re gonna get…”