With the season of gift giving upon us I have already bought toys, books, wine gadgets, and even underwear (my son and son-in-law traditionally get just what a man wants from a mother in their holiday stockings … funny briefs, and not the legal kind, lol). But, seriously, my thoughts at this time of year turn to gifts from the heart and, having had the honor of knowing some of the founding members of this organization, I know just what a gift their passions and foresight have given us to this day.
The ultimate gift of the OCWS was conceived by a small group of people who, for their love of wine, created the Wine Society in the late 1970s. This amazing organization of over 1,000 members today was begun by a small band of like-minded people in 1976. A group of about sixteen would meet the first Friday of each month in the back room of Brant’s Wine Rack, a wine and beer supply store on Tustin Avenue in Orange, where the store’s owner advised the group on winemaking. Soon friends wanted to sample the wines and the wine drinkers, as today, began to outnumber the winemakers. Early in 1976 the group, out of necessity and wanting to be able to invite more people to share their passion, discussed ways to expand. Brant Horton suggested getting a booth at the OC Fair and offered his business as the sponsor. He went to OC Fair management. It just so happened that the OC Fair general manager had previously managed the Indiana State Fair, where fruit wines were made, and an amateur wine competition was held. Jerry Mead went on to become a renowned wine writer, and Brant Horton suggested the creation of a commercial wine competition. Thankfully for us, the OC Fair loved the idea so much that they gave the group a ten-foot booth at the Fair that year. The Fair also wanted a home wine competition and, hence, the forefathers of the current OC Fair wine competitions were born.
At that time, the run of the OC Fair was a grand total of one week, which found the newly created home wine competition with forty-nine home wine entries and the commercial wine competition having a whooping three varietals to be judged (sadly, the information of the total number of actual entries has long gone missing).
With interest having been generated from the exposure at the OC Fair, the Friday night meeting grew. Coupled with the love of home wines by the original founders and the OC Fair wanting to continue a commercial wine group, the Orange County Wine Society was formed in late 1977 and incorporated as a non-profit educational organization in 1978. The OCWS subsequently rented an office on the fairgrounds in 1980, which has been called home ever since.
Jim Graver, who spearheaded the home wine group for 38 years and is still a strong presence today, was the first president of the organization. Who could have imagined that what was started by a small band of wine lovers and makers would evolve into the OCWS as it is today? I, for one, am grateful to these people for laying the foundation of an organization of which I love being a part.
I thank those that came first for gifting us with their vision and commitment to their passions and I wish for all of you the gift of passions that make your hearts happy.
Happy Holidays, Cheers and L’ Chaim.
– Fran Gitsham, President