Aug. 23, 1948 – Nov. 6, 2012
Michael F. Whelan, of the City of Tonawanda, a master sommelier who was a longtime wine-tasting judge at the New York State Fair, died Tuesday in Buffalo General Medical Center after a long battle with cancer. He was 64.
Born in Buffalo, Mr. Whelan attended St. Amelia School, Calasanctius School of Buffalo and then went on to Canisius College for two years before being called to serve in the U.S. Army in 1968.
That same year, he received his associate’s degree from the Community College of the Finger Lakes before moving on to attend the University at Buffalo.
While attending night school, Mr. Whelan began work at Premier Liquor and developed, in his own words, “a sincere passion for the wine industry.”
He worked at Premier for 20 years, serving as a wine manager, where he supervised wine sales personnel and purchasing.
He taught a wine appreciation course at Erie Community College in the 1970s and, in 1987, founded his own wine and spirits consulting business where he worked with restaurants in training personnel and designing wine lists.
Mr. Whelan went on to own and manage Michael’s Landmark Tavern, a small neighborhood restaurant, on Peoria Street in Buffalo from 1991 to 1997.
From there, he went to work as a wholesale representative for Letchworth Wines and Spirits Inc. in Mount Morris.
He was transferred back to Buffalo in 2004, and the company was taken over by Southern Wines and Spirits of Miami.
Mr. Whelan was employed there until his retirement last spring.
Mr. Whelan served as an active-duty sergeant in the 206th Military Police Unit of the New York State Army National Guard from 1970 to 1976. There, he worked as a police officer and counselor for prisoners incarcerated by the U.S. Army.
An avid golfer, Mr. Whelan was a past member of Transit Valley Country Club.
In 1976, he founded the wine society Friends of Bacchus, which boasted 450 members.
Mr. Whelan enjoyed extensive experience in the wine industry. He visited wine-producing areas in Germany, Austria, France and Italy as well as throughout Northern California.
In February 1986, Mr. Whelan was one of a select group of Western New Yorkers to pass the qualification exam for the Wine Judge of Intervin International, an international judging organization.
Two years later, he was appointed chief U.S. judge for Intervin International.
He judged wines at the New York State Fair from 1991 to 2002.
He is survived by a sister, Barbara Slootsky; five brothers, Dr. C. Douglas, John, Kenneth, Dr. Lawrence P. and Paul.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 150 Broad St., City of Tonawanda.