February 2022

President’s Message – The Vines Our Grapes Thrive On

The Orange County Wine Society is known for running The Courtyard at the OC Fair each year and reaping the benefits, but most people don’t know how this came to be. Income from The Courtyard, along with the Wine Auction each year, pay for the running of the Commercial and Home Wine Competitions and sustaining the organization; however, this does not come from the OCWS alone. We are considered a non-profit partner to the Orange County Fair & Event Center (OCFEC) which affords us the opportunity to run the competitions and realize the benefits. The Competitions that we run each year are, in fact, owned by the OCFEC, but it was a small group of home winemakers that not only began our organization 46 years ago, but also approached the OC Fair with the idea of running wine competitions in tandem with the Fair each year. Hence, with a single table and a handful of wines, the OC Fair wine competitions were born.

From that handful of passionate people and one small table, the OCWS now runs one of the most prestigious commercial wine competitions in the country. The OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition, which is held offsite over the first entire weekend of June, finds entries upwards of 2,800+ California commercial wines each year that are judged by a distinguished panel of nearly 90 judges comprised of mostly renowned California winemakers and winery principals. The Competition finds over 300 OCWS volunteers working hard to make each competition more successful than the one before.

The Winemakers’ Group of the OCWS, which is comprised of about 80 die-hard home winemakers, many of whom are award-winners in their own right, and a couple of hundred more supporters, run the OC Fair Home Wine Competition on the second weekend of June on the OC Fairgrounds. Over 100 of the volunteers at this Competition are trained home wine judges who judge upwards of 650+ wines that are served by about 80 stewards.

The Competitions ultimately bring us to The Courtyard at the OC Fair, where we have the pleasure of serving commercial wines to the public throughout 23 days of the Fair. All of this is accomplished at the hands of hundreds of OCWS dedicated volunteers without whom this organization would not be what it is today.

I urge anyone who has not had, nor taken, the opportunity to volunteer at these events  to give it a try this year. It’s more fun than you can imagine! For more information about the Competitions and The Courtyard, please visit our website at ocws.org.

– Fran Gitsham, President

Commercial Wine Competition Volunteers

We are headed toward the 46th Commercial Competition this year!! As in previous years, we will have signups online in March.

We understand that these are changing times and conditions, so we appreciate your flexibility in working together to make this another fun event. There are many areas where volunteer help is needed such as stewarding, glass washing and drying, as well as computer verification. Continuing the efficiency of the past, the computer input positions will be assigned. A sign-up form is included on the website that identifies stewarding days, bagging nights, and other work parties with times and dates. In order to qualify for stewarding, it is required of you to sign up for two additional work parties.

We offer bagging and moving of wine to and from the Competition site, including sorting. We definitely need your support for our work parties in order to run a successful competition. The good news is that we will have some hired help for heavy lifting. No training is necessary as newer members will be teamed with competition veterans.

A heads up, if you volunteer to steward, it means carrying trays of glasses. It’s physical and can get tiring. Along with stewarding, you need to be prepared to assist your Steward Captain with opening wine bottles, preparing glasses for tags and cleanup of the judges’ tables as needed, under the direction of your designated Steward Captain.

If you have any questions, please feel free to phone me at 562.822.3382 or email at Strompharms@earthlink.net.

We look forward to your participation in making this very important event as successful as ever.

– Robyn Strom, Volunteer Coordinator

In Memoriam—Jim Graver

The OCWS Winemakers’ Group and the OCWS Society has lost a dear friend, Jim Graver. As one of the originators of the Orange County Wine Society and the founder of the OCWS Home Wine Group in 1980, Jim passed away on February 6.

Jim Graver was the first President of the OCWS and continued to lead the Winemakers’ Group and the OC Fair’s Home Wine Competition for many years, until he finally retired from these positions after 36 years in 2015.

In 2016, the OCWS recognized him by naming him an OCWS President Emeritus. He was a really good overall winemaker, but he was a fabulous fruit winemaker. Jim won the 2019 and 2020 Best of Show for fruit wines.

Legendary stories of Jim “taking” his wines out of consideration for Best of Show when he was the Home Wine Competition Chairman are retold often! Jim was so humble he did not feel that a wine that he had submitted should overshadow others!  He simply made his own wines ineligible to receive any Best of Show consideration!

View a short clip of an impromptu interview of Jim taken during a Home Wine Competition conducted by Wendy Taylor at:

He was a friend and a mentor to every single one of us, teaching us the intricacies of winemaking and bringing us up from mediocre quality from those early days to wines we are highly proud of in today’s Home Wine Competitions, matching and exceeding many commercial wines.

Jim was an avid photographer and nearly all of us through the years have received copies of photos Jim took of us at some event or competition that served to remind us of those wonderful times we had and allowed us to recall those fond memories.

As great a leader and mentor as Jim was for so many of us, he was also one of the finest “men” that we’ve ever met. Truly humble, genuinely sincere, and always engaged and interested in “you.” Jim will be so much missed, but will never be forgotten!

– Kevin Donnelly & Bill Forsch,
Thoughts and comments contributed by two friends

In Memoriam—John David Hirstein

November 26, 1943—December 24, 2021

We regret to inform the membership of the recent passing of Dave Hirstein, a 39-year member of the Orange County Wine Society.

David can be remembered by his past services to the Wine Society as a Director and Past President during Board years 2000-2002. During this time, he was most instrumental in designing the construction and layout for The Courtyard. He chaired many events including the Commercial Wine Competition for several years.

In his life outside the OCWS, Dave was a very talented engineer and senior business manager in the aerospace industry. He spent many years with Rockwell International and then the Boeing Corporation when they acquired Rockwell. He was the owner of seven patents while in the employ of Boeing. David was a life-long member of Orange County and graduated from Cal State Long Beach with his BS and MS in Electrical Engineering.

David had numerous hobbies and avocations. He enjoyed fine wines, fine dining, and had a huge collection of  Disney memorabilia, LGB trains, among others. His best passion was cruising the high seas of which I had the pleasure of accompanying him on 42 cruises alone!

David once told me he always wanted to be remembered as a “true gentleman.” As such, I can personally attest that you, Dave,  were in fact, always a perfect gentleman.

David’s first wife, Betty, preceded him in passing. He is survived by his current wife, Gail. He will be deeply missed by me and all who knew and loved him.

John Goodnight, OCWS President Emeritus