Are you oenophilically challenged? Do you dread that moment of indecision when selecting a wine to bring to a nice dinner party? Does the question nag at you: “Will the host/hostess like it, or will they use it to remove rust and loosen bolts; all the while thinking (knowing?) that I’m a philistine?”
Of all the things some of us left behind when we moved from the big city, one thing we can still rely on here at the beach is a great selection of wines. People around here have been known to take a sip or two, and a small army of knowledgeable entrepreneurs has stepped up to the plate to help us make a good impression for every occasion.
One of those oenophiles is the always accommodating Dave Hill. Whether you know him from his occasional workdays tending the Ward Ellinger Gallery on Baltimore Avenue or from the “Dave’s Picks” shelf at Outlet Liquors on Coastal Highway, he can always be counted on for an informed and delicious recommendation.
Dave Hill was born into a farming family in Phoenix, Arizona. They had moved there to be with Dave’s grandparents who preferred the weather to that of their native Illinois. But the University of Illinois was known for its math and computer science curriculum, so Dave followed his computer-laced dreams back to that school. But he hit the wall—and that wall was differential equations. For Dave, there was no scaling that wall, so he switched his majors to public speaking and psychology to pursue his other dream, politics.
Dave eventually found himself in the Washington, D.C. offices of Paul Fannin, who served as U.S. Senator from Arizona from 1965 to 1977. A college connection there was instrumental in Dave’s landing a job in the Senate Library. Located in the U.S. Capitol building, the facility serves as an onsite CRS (congressional research service) for the Senate, providing and verifying material for speeches and other correspondence. But Hill’s true desires were down on the Senate Floor; and he eventually took the job of bill clerk; tracking Senate legislation and providing Bill Status Reports. Interestingly, even in this highly digital age, the primary accounts of the Senate Floor goings-on are still recorded by hand.
The opportunity presented itself for Dave to become a legislative clerk; calling roll, taking votes and tracking administrative functions on the Floor, but he made the decision to run for Congress in Illinois. He lost in the primary, but that experience catapulted him into the position of lobbyist for the Farm Bureau. That status opened a plethora of doors, and it wasn’t long before Hill became a legislative aide and an agricultural specialist for the Republican Study Committee, eventually ending up as majority staff member for the Senate Agricultural Committee.
When Texas Sen. Phil Gramm was elected, Dave was brought in as the agricultural assistant. But bigger things were to come when he was appointed by President Reagan to be chief of staff for the Farm Credit Administration. This highly sought-after Schedule C position was reserved for those who made or approved substantive policy recommendations.
But things change quickly in Washington, D.C.—especially every four years. When George H. W. Bush took over the presidency, Hill moved to the office of Larry Pressler, the U.S. Senator from South Dakota from 1979 to 1997. When Pressler was not re-elected, Dave did a short stint with FEMA, only to receive yet another Schedule C appointment from President Clinton to USDA Rural Development. Hill finally retired from the USDA in 2004.
Rehoboth Beach has long been known as The Nation’s Summer Capital, and Dave had been involved in arranging for government employee vacation “Beach Houses” when he was with the Republican Study Committee. In fact, he was known as “The Social Chairman” because of his ability to set up the accommodations and to stock them with delicious wines. “I did a lot of drinking in D.C.,” Dave states, “and when I drank, I drank the good stuff. I’m fortunate that my palate for wine appeals to a lot of folks.”
Dave moved to Rehoboth in 2006, and has lived the single life here ever since. When Alex Pires unveiled his plans for a sprawling liquor outlet, complete with lounges, chandeliered bathrooms, scheduled entertainment and tastings, Hill was hooked. He started work at Outlet Liquors on the day it opened and has since carved out a place for himself in the wine department. “There’s a lot of alcohol consumed in Sussex County, and we’re pleased to sell a lot of it.”
Dave has garnered hundreds of loyal followers, and one of the highlights for his fans is the series of Friday evening wine cruises that he hosts on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Forty-five people embark from Lewes to enjoy the Delaware Bay and the vintages he has personally selected. This year’s voyages are scheduled for September 12, 19, 26 and October 3.
Dave sums it up: “Good wines, good food, good friends…good times.” When I asked him how he likes living alone, he laughs, “It’s great. I win every argument.”
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek