March 2022

President’s Message-Competition Time is Fast Approaching

I mention often enough that we are in an especially important partnership with the Orange County Fair & Events Center which affords us the opportunity to run the Commercial and Home Wine Competitions each year. What I have not touched on is the behind-the-scenes workings that make these Competitions a reality. Unless you’ve volunteered for these amazing, professionally run, and labor-intensive events, I assure you, it is mindboggling as to just what it takes to run successful Competitions. And the fact that volunteers do everything is truly unbelievable!

By the time you read this, preparations for the 2022 Commercial Wine Competition have been well under way for over seven months. The Competition, which is traditionally held the first weekend of June each year, isn’t technically completed until the last bottles are sorted and the award medals are mailed by the end of June. Planning for the next Competition begins barely two months after the prior Competition has been put to bed. Hardly time for a short nap and a glass of wine in between.

The hotel contract for each year is negotiated three years prior. The first of a number of communications to over 4,000 wineries are sent in September in preparation for the next Competition, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Commercial Competition Committee is comprised of a number of people from the Chairperson, who heads the Committee, to the Head of Judges, who contacts and coordinates 90+ professional winemakers and winery principals who judge the Competition, to the Tech Coordinator, who oversees the software programs and equipment, to the Facilities Coordinator, who handles rooms and meals, invitations, etc., to the Volunteer Coordinator, who schedules and directs over 300 volunteers in two days, to Scoring and Verification Coordinators, and so on and so on. Impressed yet? No? Just keep reading.

How about the most vital of roles as Head of Cataloging, who oversees upwards of 2,700 entries? That is 16,200 bottles, as each entry consists of 6 bottles. Then take into consideration the bagging coordinators, as the Competition is a blind tasting; one bottle of each entry has to be bagged and labeled for pouring at the Competition. Then think about not only transporting the wines to the hotel, but the glassware, racks, trays, towels, and computer equipment, too. Also take into consideration that everything that is done has to be undone upon closing of this year’s Competition – then prepared for the next. No sooner does the Competition conclude, a Steering Committee of six compiles and reviews all the information and confirms the awarding of medals. This is followed by each and every entry being photographed for publication on our results website ( and mailing notifications to the award-winning wineries, followed by mailing of their medals.

This is just a brief glance into the Commercial Wine Competition.

On a smaller scale, the Home Wine Competition is run with basically the same dynamics and is held on the Fairgrounds the following weekend and receives well over 600 entries a year.

Have I provided you with enough information yet to have your head spinning? I could easily continue to bore you with more statistics, positions, lists of the names of people who, out of their passion for this organization and goodness of their hearts, take the lead positions. Rest assured, this is just the tip of the iceberg wherein you hear about volunteers running this organization.

All of this is accomplished at the hands of hundreds of dedicated volunteers without whom the OCWS would not be what it is today. Utterly amazing in my opinion! I am so proud to be your President and, as of this year, Chair of the Commercial Competition Committee, and to have the opportunity to share stories of incredible people and events with you.

If you are new members or have never worked at either of the Competitions, I promise you, you won’t regret trying!

– Fran Gitsham, President

A Trip Around the World Must Always Include Wine!

Retirement is GREAT!!! If I had known retirement would be this great, I’d have done it sooner. OK, probably not, as there is a reason that we do work.

But I am enjoying it now. And so far I have shared with you, through my submissions to The Wine Press, a few of my experiences traveling that, most importantly, have included the delight of wine from many parts of the world. Allow me to do so again.

On Christmas Eve, now two months ago as I write this, Manuela and I embarked on a venture of a lifetime, to cruise around the world. We left from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, heading south to the Panama Canal, with planned stops in Mexico, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica and then to Los Angeles, before heading west to Hawaii and southern Asia. Well, thanks to COVID, we never made it to Nicaragua nor Columbia. And when we got to LA, guess what? We could not leave the ship the three days we were there. More importantly, we were no longer going to go west to Asia. Instead, we were to go back south to sail along the western coast of South America, around Cape Horn, up to Uruguay – sadly, no stops in Argentina – and then over to the Mediterranean where we resumed our original itinerary in Saudi Arabia. We had just spent the day in Cape Verde, a country of ten islands off the coast of Senegal and we were about halfway through the trip.

Enough about our trip though. The good news about the changes and what I want to share with you is the incredible wineries and wines that we experienced in Chile and Uruguay. Plus, there is another little wine adventure I will tell you about.

I am sure most of you know and enjoy Chilean wines. They are extraordinary and becoming very popular in California restaurants and wine circles. On this trip, we got to go more in depth and learn about Chilean winemaking history and what it means to their wines. For one, did you know that Chilean wine is organically grown and processed? There are strict laws in place that require the vineyards to be managed without chemical treatment. And in further support of this condition, Chile also imposes restrictions on any food or plant materials coming into the country. They enjoy a very healthy grape growing environment in Chile, and they strive to keep it that way.

Our first stop in Chile was in the port city of Valparaiso. From here, some of us took an excursion to a winery in the region known as Casablanca. Know that this region is in central Chile and is in the same latitudes south as the wine-growing regions of California, France, Italy and other wine regions of Europe are to the north, between the 30th the 38th parallels. Thus, this is an ideal growing region for wine grapes. The winery we visited was called Viñamar. While Chile grows and makes the usual vitis vinifera (old world) reds and whites, Chile is known for its Carmenere. Like Argentina’s Malbec, Carmenere originated in France, transferred to Chile and flourished there. Some of the great wines we had in Chile included Carmenere from Viña Tarapacà (my top pick) and San Pedro Castillo de Molina Pinot Noir Reserva. There were so many more.

After several more days of visiting Chile and sailing around Cape Horn, we stopped in Uruguay. Have you heard of Uruguayan wine? Well, I hadn’t either, but it was fantastic.

From our port stop in Montevideo on the mouth of the Plate River that separates Uruguay and Argentina, we visited a winery inland near a town called Canelones. Some more background, the wine region of Uruguay is between the 30th and 35th parallels. It is in the same latitudes as Mendoza, Argentina, and of the Chilean wine region we had just visited a few weeks earlier. That should tell you something!

Once there we were given the grand tour of Familia Deicas Winery. Because we were in the southern hemisphere, it was approaching harvest time, so we observed the field labor teams organizing to hand pick the grapes. In Uruguay, the grape of choice is Tannat, but the usual varietals were grown there as well. One unusual grape was called Lacryma Christi or the Tears of Christ. The fruit was sweet and had a bright red juice. See the picture.

Back in the cellar we enjoyed seven of their wines that included the Tannat, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and another popular white, Albariño. Some were sold under the name Don Pascual. It was a great day and memorable experience!

If you should ever get the opportunity to travel to South America in search of great wine (or otherwise), you will find it in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, for sure.

After departing Uruguay, we headed for the African coast. Along the nine-day voyage I was given a wonderful opportunity. Some background, while we were in the Port of Los Angeles, though we could not leave the ship, I did arrange for several bottles of my homemade Nebbiolo to be brought onboard.

The day after we departed LA was my birthday. So, we celebrated in style sharing my wine with some of the passengers and crew. Well, somehow, I was asked to make a presentation on home winemaking. “I would love to!”  Not knowing exactly what to do though, I reached out to Kevin Donnelly. Wow, he was great! He provided me with his 110-page PowerPoint presentation on home winemaking!  After a few modifications and including a few photos of my own winemaking experience both at home and in Italy, I made the presentation. Wine was provided by the Viking Bar Manager Andrej and Sommelier Dejan while I made the presentation to a packed theater of about 45 people. It was a great success. I have even been made an honorary sommelier on board the Viking Star, and I have the badge to prove it.

We still have 2½ months to go, and we will be hitting many Mediterranean ports which will include more visits to wineries such as in Malta.

So a follow up to this story just might be in order.

– W. Scott Harral,
Contributing Writer

2022 Courtyard at the OC Fair

Feel the Sunshine – July 15 through August 14

It will be time again to Feel the Sunshine at the 2022 OC Fair while helping the OCWS continue to rebound from these past few years of COVID by volunteering at our major fundraiser of the year, The Courtyard at the OC Fair.

Volunteer opportunities will be here before you know it! So, plan accordingly, as all willing hands and wonderful hearts will be needed and greatly appreciated.

  • Servers – Sign-ups open May 1 on the OCWS website
  • Managers, Stewards and Cashiers – Check your inbox (and spam folders) for invitations to sign up for these positions
  • Dates for set-up, decorating and tear-down will be announced soon

We are sure you are all wondering what this year will look like. Well, so are we!  At the writing of this article, we had been advised that we should plan on running The Courtyard the same as we did last year, which means we may only be serving wine by the glass again. However, the final determination is yet to be made by the Fair. Therefore, depending on COVID numbers and State and County guidelines as we get closer, we may, and are hopeful to, be able to have wine tastings and in-person seminars, but will not know this until a later date.

The Featured Winery Program will be returning! More details will follow as we get closer to Fair time and receive OCFEC confirmation of any parameters and restrictions at that time.

If you have any questions regarding volunteer sign-ups, please contact our Courtyard Scheduling Coordinator, Rich Skoczylas at, or reach out to me at

We look forward to seeing you at the Fair and continuing to get back to sharing fun, great laughs, and wine together in person!

– Fran Gitsham, Courtyard Committee Chair

Commercial Wine Competition Volunteers

This year is speeding by so quick, it is hard to believe we are preparing for the 46th Commercial Wine Competition this year!!  The sign up is on our website, (must be login), released Friday, March 11.

We appreciate your flexibility in w/2022-commercial-competition-volunteers/orking 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 a handful of positions for 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 that you to sign up for a minimum of two additional work parties. We offer bagging and moving of wine to and from the Competition site, and including sorting day later in June. We 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.

As 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. Please dress accordingly, using your OCWS apron is recommended. Sneakers or shoes you can walk (forward, always forward…not against traffic) comfortably in all day.

If you have any questions, please feel free to phone me at 562.822.3382 or email me at We look forward to your participation in making this very important event as successful as ever.

.– Robyn Strom, Volunteer Coordinator