During the early 80s, the Orange County Wine Society continued to grow and began to offer new programs to the public, both with grand tastings and a wine booth at the Orange County Fair. The Wine Society membership grew to a few hundred members and the Board of Directors expanded from 7 to 9 members. The Commercial Wine Competition doubled entries and the varietals judged grew from 12 to over 55 in order to include all varietals and styles of wine made in California.
In 1981 and 1982, Bob Brooke served as President and Chuck Schroder was the Vice President. Then in 1983 and 1984, Chuck Schroder assumed the presidency with John Weatherwax our new Vice President. Finally in 1985, John Hardman was elected President with Chris Cunningham serving as his Vice President. Treasurers during this period included Steve Schiffman, Brant Horton, Jim Graver (2 years), and Terry Fyffe. Many of these early officers are now retired and have left the area but still maintain membership in the OCWS. Both Chris Cunningham and Jim Graver continue to take active roles in the Wine Society. The OCWS office in those early days was not located on the Fair Grounds but maintained a post office box in Orange.
In April 1981, the OCWS published its first newsletter entitled the “Free Run” to inform its membership about meetings, activities, goals, and accomplishments of the Society. This first issue included a history of the Wine Society, completed actions by the Board of Directors, a Treasurer’s report, plans for the Commercial and Homewine Competitions, and planned events during June and July. Also discussed was the award of two $500 scholarships to California State University at Fresno. The newsletter also reported on two winery tasting programs that included Joe and Alice Heitz of Heitz Cellars and Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills. Another issue of the Free Run was published in October 1981. That newsletter continued documenting the history of the OCWS and highlighted the year’s successes with both the Commercial and Homewine Competitions and the Summer Wine Extravaganza.
Two grand tastings were held for the first time by the Society; the Spring Wine Extraordinaire and the Summer Wine Extravaganza, both held at the new Marriot Hotel in Anaheim. The Extraordinaire was designed to introduce the public to small wineries which at the time was set at less than 10,000 cases produced annually. Thirty-seven wineries were invited to pour their wines and attendance was limited to 300 persons. Additionally, suppliers of gourmet foods were invited to complement the wines. Chris Cunningham was chair of this first event and continues today to solicit wineries to support the Extraordinaire and Classic. The Summer Wine Extravaganza was held during the Commercial Wine Competition in June. Over 100 wineries participated in this first grand tasting of wines that were also entered into the Competition. Jerry Mead served as Director of this event while also serving as Chairman of the Panel of Judges. Subsequent events approached 2,000 attendees from the general public. Today, this same event is called the Wine Classic and is held after the Competition has been completed.
At the annual ten-day Orange County Fair, the Wine Society for the first time in 1981 sponsored both a wine exhibit and wine booth called the “Wine Garden.” Dick Bird built the wine exhibit to display the winning wines from the Commercial Wine Competition. Following his untimely death in 1981, Charley and Vivien Owen assumed the responsibility of assembling and setting up the annual display. Wine Society members staffed both the wine exhibit and Wine Garden. Tastes of wines were served in the Wine Garden that was located outside of what is today the Fine Arts Building during the Fair. This Wine Garden facility was eventually abandoned and a new serving area and cellar was built at The Courtyard on the fair grounds.
The three-day Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition grew during the early years from 1,130 entries in 1981 to 2,590 entries of over 50 varietals and styles in 1985. The host hotel venue moved several times starting with the Anaheim Marriott, then Griswold’s Inn, followed for two years at the Balboa Bay Club, and finally the Disneyland Hotel. In 1983, the Competition was intentionally expanded to include any varietal or style of wine made from California grapes and in 1984 the “Four-Star Gold” notation was added to the Award Book to recognize those wines receiving a gold medal recommendation from four judges. The number of judges grew from 36 in 1981 to 70 in 1985 and included such notables as Jim Concannon, Bill Jekel, Myron Nightingale, Brother Timothy, Carolyn Wente, and Warren Winiarski. New participants who are still judging today included Fred Brander, Mitch Cosentino, John Daume, Joseph Franzia, Richard Longoria, Jim Prager, and Nils Venge.
The Orange County Fair’s Wine Steering Committee continued during this period with Jerry Mead serving as Chair and additional panel members included Chuck Hanson, Jane (McGrath) Goodnight, and Jerry Wilson. Chris Cunningham joined the Steering Committee as a Wine Retailer. The Homewine Competitions continued to flourish during these formative years and were typically held at the Fair Grounds in June prior to the start of the fair.
Subsequent articles will continue to highlight the history of the OCWS. I would like to thank Bud Aust, Chris Cunningham, and John Hardman for providing information in preparing this article.
Larry Graham - Past President
Orange County Wine Society P.O. Box 11059 Costa Mesa CA 92627
Phone: 714.708.1636 Contact:firstname.lastname@example.org
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