April 2023

Bottles in the Birdhouse

Story & Photos by Greg Risling

Pay one visit to the home of Betty Jo and Jay Newell in Yorba Linda and you will know why they enjoy hosting mini-tastings, parties and other events.

They have a sprawling and inviting backyard made for outdoor gatherings that once was home to a stable of horses and even a sand volleyball court. But it’s the large structure in the corner of the backyard that houses one of the couple’s favorite spots.

Jay Newell (above) punches in the code to enter his cellar. (Right) The 800-square-foot cellar stores up to 800 bottles.

Known as the “Birdhouse,” – affectionately named after Jay found a weather vane that now sits affixed at the top of what looks like an oversized garage – the building serves several functions but none better than the wine cellar tucked away in the corner.

When Jay, a retired investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, he knew putting in a wine cellar was a priority “in case things didn’t work out.”

He got right to work, designing their dream cellar and doing much of the work himself. He arched the ceiling in an expressive manner, coated the space tightly with insulation (the cellar sometimes doubles as a backup refrigerator) and had the wine racks specially designed.

“I really researched it,” Jay fondly recalls. “I wanted it to be easily accessible and easy enough where you don’t have to search for that certain bottle. It is bigger than what I planned.”

The result is an 850 square-foot showpiece that can store up to 800 bottles. The rows are all numbered 1 to 46 and he meticulously keeps a binder of his inventory and cataloging that gives him quick access to find the right wine to serve to guests or to bring to their favorite restaurant.

“If we feel like drinking a certain type of wine, we go right to the cellar and grab a bottle,” Betty Jo said. “We always take a bottle with us to a restaurant. There is enough variety in the cellar that makes the decision easy for us.”

Mind you, the cellar isn’t completely stocked. Jay estimates there are somewhere between 400 and 500 bottles on average, worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $20,000. The Newells most expensive bottle is a $400+ 2013 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon.

When the couple first joined OCWS about six years ago, they stuck to drinking Cabernet Sauvignon and other popular varietals. But that all changed once they got involved, attended OCWS events and met new friends. Now, any OCWS member who has the fortune to visit their home, will get an added bonus of marveling at their cellar.

“Joining the wine society expanded our appreciation of different varietals,” Betty Jo said. “We have a whole circle of friends who are society members thanks to joining.”

President’s Message

Life is all about how you handle Plan B—this is what the coaster on my desk says and is a constant reminder to me that life has a way of totally screwing with my best intentions. I cannot recall a day in my life that went according to the way I had planned for it to go. Hence, you will hear me sigh and say just step back five yards and punt. But one thing I know for sure is that there are always reasons for changes (whether I understand them or not is another subject) and always solutions.

The workings within the OCWS are a perfect example of Plan Bs. In just the last year, we have weathered cancelled events, adverse weather conditions, illnesses, venue changes, ever-changing government-issued requirements, etc., etc., etc., and, in the long run, everything has worked out due to the ingenuity of our members and their willingness to go with the flow, step back those five yards and punt and enjoy what we are afforded. Namely, to be able to be a part of the love, camaraderie and fun.

This writing is really a THANK YOU message to all you adaptable OCWS volunteers, whether you are one of those die-hard people constantly spearheading events and acting as members of a committee, thereby working literally hundreds, if not thousands, of hours, and to those of you who are just able to help a few hours here and there. You are all what makes the OCWS run and without you we would not continue to be what we are. With our biggest volunteer events of the year, namely the wine competitions and the Courtyard at the OC Fair coming fast, THANK YOU in advance for your participation. Every hand, every hour counts!

Fran Gitsham, President

Chef of the Evening

Tamara Reddy says she had some creme de cassis on hand she had brought home from a trip around the wine regions of France and wanted to use it in something chocolate and decadent for a recent OCWS mini-tasting.

She had never made this recipe before, but she was 100 percent confident in her Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. So she searched for a dessert using Cassis, found one, and made it with confidence.

“Ina is the best, I use her recipes extensively,” says Tamara, who along with husband Michael has been an Orange County Wine Society member for eight years. “To date, the recipes have won me a good number of bottles of wine at our Mini-Tasting events.”

Chocolate Cassis Cake

For the Cake:
Baking spray, such as Baker’s Joy
12 Tbsp. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 Tbsp. crème de cassis liqueur
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

For the Glaze:
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 to 3 Tbsp. crème de cassis liqueur
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

To Serve:
2 (½ pint) boxes fresh raspberries
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup crème de cassis liqueur


PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with baking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray it again with baking spray.

MELT butter and chocolate together in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

WHISK in the cocoa powder, cassis liqueur and vanilla; set aside.

IN THE BOWL of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer), beat the eggs, sugar and salt on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until pale yellow and triple in volume.

POUR chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and carefully but thoroughly fold them together with a rubber spatula.

POUR batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until just barely set in the center. Allow to cool in the pan for 30 minutes and then release the sides of the pan. Invert the cake carefully onto a flat serving plate, remove the parchment paper and cool completely.

FOR THE GLAZE, melt the chocolate and cream together in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the cassis and vanilla.

COOL for 10 minutes and spread over just the top of the cake.

BEFORE SERVING (15 minutes), toss the berries gently with the sugar and cassis liqueur. Cut the cake in wedges and serve with the berries on the side.

Do you have something delicious to share? Please send your recipes to George Cravens at george@ocws.org for possible publication on the OCWS website.

Get Happy Together in The Courtyard

VOLUNTEER NEEDS Servers Sign-ups open May 1 on the OCWS website Managers, Stewards & Cashiers Invitations were sent to sign up for these positions Set Up/Take Down Dates for set-up, […]
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