July 2021

President’s Message

We are finally back and in the middle of the 2021 OC Fair! Can I hear a big YAY from the peanut gallery? It’s been a long two years, and although the Fair isn’t back to full capacity, we are hoping for a strong showing at The Courtyard. In addition to being the major annual fundraiser for the OCWS, this is a time where our members have a chance to meet and get to know other members, and some customers, which has often led to lifetime friendships. I hope we all have a lot of fun volunteering and pouring wines, and I look forward to seeing most of you there.

The past year and a half has been trying on all of us. We will never know how this isolation has impacted each and every one of us, and we all look forward to things getting back to, dare I say, “normal?” Since we have not generated income during this time, the OCWS Board of Directors has had to significantly cut back on our expenditures. I want to personally thank every one of you for hanging in there with us. We are now able to re-emerge and resume activities. And, I want to thank all of the former Board members for having the foresight to create a strong financial position in the event of an earthquake, fire, and other disaster; but who would have predicted the pandemic? Many similar organizations have folded because of their financial collapse over the past months, but the OC Wine Society continues to be strong, thanks to the sacrifice of all of us!

In the coming months, we look forward to many events in September, including our Annual Business Meeting over Zoom, and we start the on-site events with the Gold Medal Mini-Tastings at several homes throughout Orange County, and our long-delayed Wine Auction. In the planning stages is a  large social event to be held in The Courtyard in October. These events have been long delayed, and we all look forward to actually seeing our friends, and not just Zeeing them on a computer screen!

Cheers to you all, and see you at The  Courtyard!

Kevin Donnelly, President

OCWS’s Best Kept Secret . . .

But Not Any Longer! Why are we all members of the OCWS? For me, it’s for friendship and the love of wine. But, if you’re like me, after tasting thousands of wines over the years, I am still baffled about what to look for to buy at any given time. For some reason, our best wine resource, in my opinion, has been under wraps for way too long. If you don’t know about WineCompetition.com already, or have not taken the time to check out the website, now is the time!

WineCompetiton.com highlights the award-winning wines from the 2021 Commercial Wine Competition. You can search wines by medals, wineries, wine varietals, price levels, and sugar levels, as well as  have the ability to link directly to the individual wineries for more information. Besides using the site to elevate my wine knowledge, or lack thereof, I personally use the site as a marketing tool for the OCWS. I open my phone every time I visit a winery and share the site. I have also been known, on more than one (many, in fact) occasion to share the site with some unsuspecting and baffled wine purchasers in a store, always with great results and appreciation.

If you do nothing else after reading this article, I urge you to spend a few minutes checking out this year’s award-winning wines on WineCompetition.com. If you love wine, it will be the best few minutes you spend right now!

You can also access this site through the OCWS website under Competitions, OC Fair Commercial Wine tab.

– Fran Gitsham, Contributing Writer & Wine Lover

Summer Wine Tasting . . . Finally!

After a year and a half of not doing a lot, my wife, Manuela, and I got on the road for a 12-day road trip along the California coastline spending time in various favored and small-scale wine spots, and at just flat out beautiful locations that make California the place to be. Before reaching our goal of a timeshare retreat in Point Arena, just south of Mendocino, we stayed in Paso Robles and San Ramon. On the return, we spent three days in the Santa Cruz area.

All told, we stopped at some 20 wineries, at least that’s what the receipts say. Some of you may know that Manuela and I, and occasionally with family or friends, have spent hours enjoying the wines and the people that made them or served them at nearly every one.

What caught my attention, however, was at the very first winery we hit, I overheard a server mention to a table of guests that they had just won a gold medal “down south” for the wine he was serving. Curious, I asked him about it. Turns out they had entered our own OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition and had just received the results—a few gold medals for their efforts. The winery is Cass Winery of Paso Robles located out of town to the east. I inquired further and found out that among their medals, Cass Winery had received a double gold for its 2020 Roussanne, which was, in fact, outstanding! I was introduced to the winemaker by the name of Sterling Kragten, who told me more about the wines. I also learned that they were helping one of their young servers, Cole Stilson, and his family get started with their own wines!

I particularly liked the 2020 Viognier that had earned a silver medal. I left with a bottle of that wine and a photo for my memories.  My only regret: this was winery one on day one of our 12-day trip, and I could not purchase more for the road, but I will be back!

That’s Sterling and Cole in the photo above. All told, Cass Winery received 17 medals at the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition – four double golds that includes one best-of-class, six golds and seven silvers!  Nice work Sterling!

Day two, still in Paso before heading north, we stopped at one of my favorites, Eberle Winery. In the past, we have taken the tour of its extensive cave system where its wines are kept perfectly. I’m a fan of their reds, but the 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was the top of the line. Our server knew it to be an award winner but was uncertain of what awards were received from various competitions. We discovered this Cab won the double gold – no surprise there. Just from OC Fair Wine Competition, Eberle Winery had earned a total of 12 medals.

Working our way up the coast, we continued to find some great wineries, including another OC Fair Wine Competition competitor and medal winner, Pear Valley Vineyards in Paso Robles.

Day four, along our route up the coast, we had made it to Santa Rosa, known for excellent wines but having suffered from prior years’ wildfires. Manuela found a winery that was just off our path. Carol Shelton Wines, located at the end spot of a business complex, was all charm once you walked in the door. And what did we see – two walls filled with medals and awards that Carol had received over the years at various wine competitions. Of course, I was drawn to the numerous awards she had received for her wines from the OC Fair Competition. We tasted several of these award-winning wines and got the chance to talk to Carol. Turns out, she also happens to be one of our tasting judges!

It was a great afternoon with Carol and her tasting room manager which ended with this photo of Carol and me in front of her many OC Wine Competition and other competition awards.

Four out of the first five wineries we had encountered were all successful award-winning ventures, and we had yet to reach our northernmost destination in Mendocino County!  It couldn’t have been better. I will save the remainder of our fantastic wine adventure for a second article.

Here is a summary of the great California wineries that we visited that won medals at this year’s OC Fair Wine Competition:

  • Cass Winery, Paso Robles, 17 medals, including four double golds and a best-of-class
  • Eberle Winery, Paso Robles, 12 medals including one double gold
  • Pear Valley Vineyards, Paso Robles, 11 medals including one double gold
  • Carol Shelton Winery, Santa Rosa, 16 medals including two double golds
  • Husch Vineyards, Philo, 12 medals including one double gold that was a best-of-class

Manuela and I look forward to sharing a second installment of our road trip experience which will be featured in the September issue of The Wine Press.

– Scott Harral, Contributing Writer

Chris Cunningham Memorial Bar—aka The Express Bar

With the opening of the Fair and The Courtyard last month, many members and patrons visiting The Wine Courtyard noticed a  change to the Express Bar.

During his 40 years as a member of the Wine Society, Chris Cunningham held various positions ranging from President, Vice President and Director. He had a tremendous passion for wine, wine education and, quite frankly, meeting both wine novices and connoisseurs who visited The Courtyard to enjoy a glass of wine or two. The Courtyard was his domain, and Chris never hesitated to share his vast knowledge of California wine regions, winemakers, wineries or varietals. His wine seminars were enjoyed by many over the years and sold out on numerous occasions.

Chris proposed the highly successful Express Bar at The Courtyard during the OC Fair, offering patrons an alternative option to purchase one of four popular varietals—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. The design of the bar was proposed by Express Bar Committee members Betty Jo and Jay Newall. Brian McDonald, Liz and Lloyd Corbett, Fran Gitsham, Irene and Ken Scott, along with the Newalls envisioned many other options to utilize the bar. Liz and Lloyd Corbett saw a unique opportunity to utilize this space by creating the very popular Featured Winery Program, always a sell out for wineries wanting to showcase their wines in this unique space and introduce their winery. The Express Bar Committee worked diligently and collaboratively to present a unique and functional Express Bar.

Chris passed away in March of 2018, however his legacy continues with the beautifully designed and very functional wine bar. The bar frame is made of steel and is on casters to make it easily movable. It was designed in three separate modules, each module latch connected. Separately, each segment is 6’ wide and 28” deep. A solid wood countertop provides easy cleaning, and the internal shelves allow for cases of wine to be stored on shelves as well as large trays for ice with wine for easy access. Outside of The Courtyard, this bar has multi-functional purposes.

This would not have been possible without the generous donation by the Cunningham family with funds earmarked for a new Express Bar. Cheers to Chris and to the Cunningham family.

– OCWS Board of Directors

Roadrunner Ridge Winery Donation

I want to personally thank long-time members Jim and Judi Brady for their donation to the OCWS of 218 cases of wine from their Roadrunner Ridge Winery. These wines will be served at the OC Fair and sold at the Wine Auction.

Thanks, Jim and Judi, and I hope to see you soon at our events.

And a special thanks to George Cravens,
Fred Heinecke, and Carolyn and Damian Christian for their hard work in transporting the wines to Building 15!

– Kevin Donnelly, President

OCWS History—Stories of our Vintage Members

The OC Wine Society was founded nearly half a century ago by a group of home winemakers looking to form an organization that supported their winemaking interests. The organization grew to encompass wine education and appreciation in addition to wine making. Over the years, we have had hundreds of longtime members (including myself). My purpose with this ongoing series is to celebrate our longtime members, which I prefer to call “Vintage Members,” as we are all young at heart!  Please join me in a journey back through the history of the OCWS with stories from some of our amazing members!

This month, to get us started, I will tell you a little about my three and a half decades with the OCWS and then introduce you to longtime members Walt and Dolorie Thurner. If you would like to nominate one of our “Vintage Members” to be featured in a future article, please drop me an email at

Carolyn Christian. I was just a few years old when the Wine Society was founded, and I probably walked by the OCWS booth at the OC Fair hundreds of times as a child. I did not think very much about wine back then, although my parents occasionally allowed us a small glass of wine with Italian dinners. It was not until I attended Fresno State in 1984 that my wine journey really began. While attending college as an anthropology major, I joined the Enology Society and helped the club raise money by making grapevine wreaths from the prunings of the local vineyards. On some weekends, we would often travel to the wine regions like the Alexander Valley, where we stayed at the wineries owned by the parents of the Fresno State enology students. We enjoyed the hospitality of many wineries and some of their finest wines, as they sought to recruit new winemakers from the students there. I knew a few of our wine competition judges in their younger years, when they were pursuing their enology degrees at Fresno State. That was an amazing introduction to the wine industry.

When I transferred back to Cal State Fullerton, I discovered the existence of the Orange County Wine Society and learned that they had a booth at the OC Fair. I joined the organization just a few days after my 21st birthday. Despite living in New Mexico and Mexico for several years, I have always maintained my membership. Whether it was working at the OC Fair, the Wine Classic or Extraordinaire, or a host of other events, much of my time was spent volunteering for the organization. I joined the Board in the 1990s (for 2 terms) and again in the 2000s. Just this past year, I joined the Board again.

Over my years with the OCWS, I have served on the Board as Secretary and Vice President, chaired nearly every event from the Wine Classic and Wine Extraordinaire, to the Membership BBQ, Holiday Dinner Dance, and even served as liaison for the Commercial Wine Competition. By far, my best memories are of our incredible Wine Extraordinaires and Wine Classics that filled the Anaheim Hilton ballroom to capacity with wineries, restaurants, and wine enthusiasts. Some of you may remember these events as well.

Every year, I look forward to the Commercial Wine Competition and catching up with a few winemakers who attended Fresno State with me, and dozens more that I have met over the years as part of the OCWS. To say that I have grown up with the OCWS is an understatement. So many of my life-long friendships have been formed here. This organization has been an integral part of my adulthood, and I am honored to be able to still serve this organization after so many years. I look forward to many new adventures that lie ahead on my journey with the OCWS!

Walt & Dolorie Thurner. We were members of Les Amis Du Van. It is an international wine tasting group headquartered in Paris, France. I (Walt) was the Executive Director of the Long Beach Chapter. We held our tastings at the Long Beach Convention Center. Normally we would attract 600 to 800 people. Our sponsor was a popular liquor store on Naples Island. Our last tasting was an international tasting with wines from all over the world. At the time, I was a management employee of the 1984 Olympic Committee. We held the tasting about three weeks before Opening Ceremonies. We had almost 1,000 people attend. After that, our liquor store sponsor felt that we were in competition with his business, and he stopped being our sponsor. That ended our organization.

After about two years Dolorie and I heard about the OCWS. I believe it was while we were at the Fair. Starting in 1986 or 1987, Dolorie and I worked the Fair every year until two or three years ago. Just getting too old.

Through OCWS we had a great time, and we met some wonderful people, many of whom are still friends today. We traveled with OCWS on several occasions. Dolorie and I ran the logo merchandise operation for five years until about 1999. I was a member of the Board of Directors for one term until I retired in 2005. I retired both from the Board and professionally that year. I was a judge for the Home Wine Competition for about 10 years. I had to stop being a judge when I was asked to start a BBQ group to serve lunch for the judges, and it expanded to many other events. We have truly enjoyed our experience with the OCWS.

Carolyn Christian, OCWS Board Member/Historian