May 2023

Golden Opportunities

The OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition has long been a cornerstone of the Orange County Wine Society. What started out as a humble endeavor to feature California’s burgeoning wine industry has blossomed into one of the most revered competitions in the nation – due in no small part to the steady stream of volunteers who make each edition a success.

Now in its 47th year, the competition is more than winemakers anxiously waiting to see if their beloved handiwork will be rewarded with a medal. It’s a festive, yearly gathering of OCWS members that culminates with the big event the first weekend of June.

“It’s really very satisfying to see it all come together,” said Leslie Brown, who has served on the competition committee for 15 years. “I’ve never seen volunteers anywhere who have the devotion like ours do. It’s really enjoyable to be with all those people come competition weekend.”

The amount of time spent to successfully pull off the competition truly is a Herculean effort. Leslie estimates roughly 6,000 volunteer hours are needed from a couple of hundred volunteers along the way, beginning in the late summer/early fall when preparations begin for the next competition.

It wasn’t always that way. Only two varietals were judged at the first competition: Chenin Blanc and Gamay Beaujolais. At the time, the competition was created to mirror what was being done at the Los Angeles County Fair.

But while other competitions have wilted away, the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition has navigated its way through hardships, including a global pandemic, to continue to serve as a shining beacon in the world of winemaking.

“No one dreamed of this in the beginning,” said Jane Goodnight, a longtime OCWS member who has been on the competition’s steering committee that is primarily responsible for tallying the judges’ scores and determining if a wine receives a medal. “It’s amazing to me that it’s still here. It has survived and thrived.”

In planning any big event, details are crucial. For the competition, updating the computer program for data entry was a monumental task but has been tremendously beneficial. Swapping out traditional wine glasses with Austrian crystal several years ago clarified the scores of good wines going up and bad wines going down.

“Good wines showed better and we started seeing more Double Golds,” Leslie said.

Beside the camaraderie, one of the biggest benefits is getting to take home recently opened bottles of wine to taste. As Brown puts it, “People really work hard for a third to a half bottle of wine.”

“It’s like you get a sneak peek of what’s going to be poured at the fair,” said Ms. Courtney, who has been a steward at the competition over the past five to six years. “At the end of each day of the competition, it’s like a treasure hunt during the bottle grab.”

Jane suggests members who haven’t yet experienced competition weekend give it a try because you not only are rewarded with free wine and the opportunity to rub shoulders with winemakers but you can create new friendships.

“I always recommend doing it because the organization was put together to run this competition,” she said. “It’s fun, it’s work and you may be tired because you were on your feet most of the day but if you are really interested in wine, you become more interested after talking to people.”


President’s Message

The Ultimate Commitment to Judging

The title of wine judge conjures up an image of a triumphant taster proudly awarding a gold medal and brandishing a winning bottle. However, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

After a long day of judging hundreds of wines, with their tongues blackened by too much tannin and their teeth tingling from the acidity in the wine, ask any one of them and they will tell you that judging is not a glorious endeavor. But their passion has them looking forward to the next day and, subsequently at the end of each competition, the next year.

What sets the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition apart from and above the rest are the 90+ experienced judges each year who are qualified winemakers or winery principals. This group is a combination of elite seasoned professionals representing almost every AVA in California and the most qualified to fairly evaluate wines of diverse characteristics.

The competition is for wines produced from California grapes and is the largest of its kind in the world and the second largest competition overall in California. In the 47 years of competition, there has been over 460 judges for a combined total of 3,326 years of experience. It is the renowned list of judges and their associated wineries that has made, and keeps, the competition at the top of its game and the most widely revered competition of California wines anywhere.

We are proud that our competition, thanks to these committed professionals, continues the high standard of judging today led by a current list of elite judges such as Fred Weibel (35 years), Joseph S. Franzia (30 years) and Steve Lohr (15 years).

Just this year alone, four judges are seeing their 20th year with us; seven judges are reaching the 13-year point; six newer judges are seeing their third year; and there are any number of judges with years in between. Additionally, in working toward securing the future of the competition, we find seven guest judges this year with just their first year under their belts being mentored by the seasoned veterans.

The OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition would not be what it is without the entries to judge from wineries throughout the state; however, the quality and reputation of the competition itself is due in great part to the high standards set by the judges and their commitment year after year to supporting the OCWS’ efforts.

THANKS is a small word to express our appreciation to the judges for continuing to gather year after year and keeping the competition elevated above the rest. Judges, if you are reading this, please know that our heartfelt thanks always go out to you with our admiration for your expertise and our pride in you being a most integral part of the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

Fran Gitsham, OCWS President/2023 Commercial Wine Competition Chair

Mini-Tastings – The Results Are In

The May Pinot Mini-Tasting was held at seven sites (members’ homes) across the county, with over 100 people enjoying 10 wines paired with dishes prepared by the attendees. The wines were served in five blind flights of two wines each and the attendees judged each wine and voted for their favorites.

The first flight was a pair of Pinot Blanc wines, one from Oregon and one from California. Pinot Blanc is not widely known but has been used as a white blending grape in France and Italy for many years. Pinot Noir is an unstable clone that occasionally produces white grapes (Pinot Blanc). The next four flights were all Pinot Noir, from different regions. Flight two featured a pair of Pinot Noir wines from Sta. Rita Hills.  The remaining three flights included Pinot Noirs from Oregon, Sonoma, Central California, Chile and France.

Pinot Noir is one of the wines where the “old world” style is noticeably different from the typical California style. The old-world style is typically less fruit-forward and more of a “food” wine.

The top four wines as rated by the attendees were an interesting mix, with one each from California, France, Oregon and Chile. The overall first place wine was in the top three at all seven sites, while the second place was in the top two spots at five of the sites. The wine from Chile finished fourth overall, but while it was chosen as the first, second or fourth place wine at three sites, two sites didn’t have a single guest place it in their top three.

The four favorite wines across the seven host sites:



Alma de Cattleya


Pinot Noir

Sonoma County, Ca


95 WE

(Wine Enthusiast)

2021 $34.00 Aromas of cinnamon, sumac and raspberry paste are juicy yet dark and serious on the nose. There’s a firm grip to the sip that frames the rich black raspberry core with flavors of thyme, sage and cracked pepper adding more nuance.
Editors’ Choice



Domaine Matrot Maranges la Fusslere


Pinot Noir

Premier Cru


Cote de Beaune,

Cote d’Or, Burgundy, France


90 RP

(Robert Parker)

2018 $42.99 The most southern appellation of the Côte de Beaune. The vines are planted on clay-limestone soil slopes facing southeast, giving a rich, full-bodied, and intense red wine. A blend of black fruits and spices, with soft and elegant tannins.

The 2018 Maranges Cru La Fussière wafts from the glass with aromas of cherries, raspberries and candied peel, followed by a medium to full-bodied, velvety palate with good depth at the core and refined tannins that assert themselves on the back end.


WillaKenzie Estate



Pinot Noir

Willamette Valley,



93 RP

(Robert Parker)

2019 $44.99 This expressive Pinot Noir offers notes of boysenberry, blackberry and red raspberry. Those flavors carry through to a juicy and intense palate that finishes with great vibrancy, purity and length.

Medium ruby color and scents of cranberries and orange peel with accents of potpourri, dried tobacco, shiitake mushroom and earth. The medium-bodied palate has an alluring, dusty texture, energetic bursts of acidity highlighting citrus and tea leaf character, and it closes with a very long finish.




Pinot Noir

Casablanca Valley,



95 RP

(Robert Parker)

2018 $40.99 This 100% bio-dynamic hand-harvested, single vineyard Pinot Noir is aged and fermented completely in concrete egg. Dark ripe cherry and black fruits jump out of the glass with underlying raspberry fruit notes. A condensed and dark spiraling mid-palate shows layers of minerality and complexity, with hints of wet crushed rock (granite), sage, clove and blueberry. Rich full fruit, mineral driven with a long, generous, smooth finish.

Chef of the Evening

In addition, attendees brought a delicious dish to share and then voted on a Chef of the Evening. The results of the Chef of the Evening at each host site are:

  • Hosts Chris & Hank Bruce

Scott Lewis – Smoked Ribs

  • Host Kim & Kristyn Grime

Cynthia Peterson – Turkey Southern Chile

  • Hosts Virginia & Karl Kawai

Dino Amico – Venetian Mac & Cheese

  • Hosts Betty Jo & Jay Newell

Irene Scott – Chicken Enchiladas

  • Hosts: Wendy & Stacey Taylor

Janet Riordan – Chocolate Pistachio Tart

  • Hosts Beverly Genis & Bob Topham

Shelly Cohen – Sweet & Sour Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs

  • Hosts Dave & Barb White

Deb Webber – First Lady Dip

Congratulations to all the winners!  A big thank you to the hosts!

George Cravens, OCWS Director

Chef of the Evening

Wendy Taylor took home accolades for her Cassoulet dish at March’s Rhone Mini-Tasting. It was Wendy’s first time making this recipe

“I also never had used Duck Confit before,” says Wendy,
who joined the OCWS with husband Stacey 20 years ago
when the newly married couple sought out an activity they
could enjoy together. “It was very flavorful and everything
including the fat of the confit was used. It was a perfect
complement to the Rhone wines served.”

Wendy says she loves this type of recipe for a potluck
because it is all in one dish.

“A casserole dish is awesome for keeping the heat in
the dish while traveling and waiting to be served at the
event location,” Wendy says.

The recipe is a variation of one she found online,
only Wendy altered the recipe by adding cooked,
chopped carrots, celery and onion to the dish prior to

1 lb dried white beans
8 1/4 cups cold water
2 cups beef broth
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups chopped onion (3/4 lb.)
3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic (6 large
1 (3”) piece celery, cut into thirds
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
3 whole cloves
3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs plus
1/2 cup chopped leaves
1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 (14-oz.) can stewed tomatoes,
puréed or finely chopped with juice
4 confit duck legs* (1 3/4 lb. total)
1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil (if necessary)
1 lb. cooked garlic pork sausage* or
smoked pork kielbasa, cut crosswise
into 1/3”-thick slices
2 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
(preferably from a baguette)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Step 1
Cover beans with cold water by 2” in
large bowl and soak 8-12 hours. Drain
in colander.

Step 2
Transfer beans to 6- to 8-quart pot
and bring to boil with 8 cups cold
water, broth, tomato paste, onion,
and 2 Tbsp. garlic. Put celery, thyme,
bay leaf, cloves, parsley sprigs, and
peppercorns in cheesecloth and
tie into bundle with string to make
bouquet garni. Add bouquet garni to
beans, then reduce heat and simmer,
uncovered, until beans are almost
tender (45 minutes to 1 hour). Stir
in tomatoes with juice and simmer
until beans are just tender (about 15

Step 3
Remove skin and fat from duck legs
and cut skin and fat into 1/2” pieces.
Separate duck meat from bones,
leaving it in large pieces, and transfer
meat to bowl. Add bones to bean pot.

Step 4
Cook duck skin and fat with remaining
1/4 cup cold water in a 10” heavy skillet
over moderate heat, stirring, until water
is evaporated and fat is rendered,
about 5 minutes. Continue to cook,
stirring frequently, until skin is crisp, 3-6
minutes more. Transfer cracklings with
slotted spoon to paper towels to drain,
leaving fat in skillet. (You should have
about 1/4 cup fat; if not, add olive oil.)

Step 5
Brown sausage in batches in fat in
skillet, then transfer to bowl with duck
meat, reserving skillet.

Step 6
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Step 7
Add remaining tablespoon garlic to fat
in skillet and cook over moderate heat,
stirring, 1 minute. Stir in breadcrumbs
and cook, stirring, until pale golden,
about 2 minutes. Remove from heat
and stir in chopped parsley, 1/2 tsp.
salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper and cracklings.

Step 8
Remove bouquet garni and duck
bones from beans and discard, then
stir in kielbasa, duck meat, remaining
teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 tsp.
Step 9
Ladle cassoulet into casserole dish,
distributing meat and beans evenly.
(Meat and beans should be level with
liquid; if they are submerged, ladle
excess liquid back into pot and boil until
reduced, then pour back into casserole
dish.) Spread breadcrumb topping
evenly over cassoulet.

Step 10
Bake in lower third of oven until bubbling
and the crust is golden, about
1 hour.

Wine Auction Enjoys Successful Turnout

It has been my privilege to chair the OCWS Wine Auction for the third year in a row.  Many hours of preparation went into our second largest fundraiser of the year and I would like to recognize a host of people who made the event a great success.


I can’t thank my 2023 Wine Auction Committee enough for the amazing job they did this year:

  • Chris Bruce – Data Entry
  • Hank Bruce – Wine Distribution
  • Damian Christian – Event Food & Wine
  • Kevin Coy – Wine Pulling & Wine Moving
  • Sue England – Volunteers and Workers
  • Ellen Flynn – Check-in
  • Fran Gitsham – Verbal Auction
  • Scott Green — Computers
  • Rochelle Randel – Check-in
  • Janet Riordan – Check-out
  • Tricia Shelton – Check-out

A special thank you to Bill Redding and his dedicated team who catalogued and prepared the wines prior to the event.


Hats off to our top 10 spenders for their generous bids that made this event successful.

  • Kathy & William Schymick
  • James & Pamela Clauss
  • Gloria Franklin
  • Will Holsinger & Lynelle Hustrulid
  • Mike & Cathy MacKenzie
  • Dorothy Pemberton
  • Bob & Judy Koeblitz
  • Lou & Shelley Cohen
  • George Euan
  • Ed Reyes & Debbie Renne


We could not do the Wine Auction without an army of volunteers. My sincerest thanks to each and every person who donated their time.This year we held a prize drawing for the volunteers. Congratulations to the following winners:

  • Greg Basile – Pair of tickets to ZD Tasting Program
  • Maleia Leiter – Pair of tickets to Jimmy Buffet Party
  • Lorraine Hammonds – Pair of tickets to any 2023 OC Fair Wine Seminar
  • Mike MacKenzie – $50 voucher to be used for future OCWS Event
  • Dorothy Pemberton – Wine gift basket
  • Tina Chan Fornadley – 1-hour massage
  • Monica McCarthy – 1-hour massage

Again, many thanks to everyone who made the 2023 Wine Auction a huge success.  Look for details about a new online auction to be held later this year featuring artwork, wine and wine experiences.

Carolyn Christian, OCWS Vice President

Courtyard Transformed Into Tropical Paradise

Twice a year, the OCWS holds events for the membership of the Orange County Wine Society. This year, the spring event was held April 30 at The Courtyard on the OC Fairgrounds. The theme was “Jimmy Buffett Party”. Despite being a long way from Margaritaville, the 150+ members and guests came out to enjoy the beautiful afternoon, tremendous music and outstanding food.

The Cook’s Caucus prepared a sumptuous selection of delicious Cheeseburgers from Paradise, Parrot Legs, grilled pineapple, mango salsa, plantain chips, Caribbean-style beans and rice, quesadillas and Frito green salad. As if those island fares left any room for dessert, a delectable key lime sheet pie rounded out the platefuls. Aye, there was plenty to go around as many of the motley crew found themselves returning for additional helpings of the mouthwatering spread.

The Three 2 Sevens filled the afternoon with great music and lots of dance tunes and the dance floor was packed all afternoon. Despite refraining from donning coconut bras or grass skirts, the band serenaded their audience with Jimmy Buffett songs to keep with the theme of the party.

The wine servers were busy pouring California wines from the cellar. A margarita machine was rented to make strawberry Roseritas. The frozen concoctions were so delicious none of the 100 that were made had a chance of wasting away again in Margaritaville. Speaking of which, has anyone seen my lost shaker of salt?

As each guest entered The Courtyard, they were given a ticket for a chance to win a door prize. Three lucky people won a bottle of wine plus either a wine carrier or tropical “It’s 5:00 o’clock Somewhere” shirt.

Over $1,800 was raised for scholarships through the Wine Wall, run by Rochelle Randel, and via a silent auction and wine-related items donated by members Lynda Edwards, Jay and Betty Jo Newell, Richard Ward, Linda Flemins, Fran Gitsham, Glenn and Alice Polser and

items purchased by OCWS. The bidding was fierce but friendly and all lucky winners were delighted with their prizes.

The Courtyard was transformed into a tropical paradise worthy of Buffett himself. Some people claim there is a woman to blame but under the tremendous work of Betty Jo Newell, the individual table settings and centerpieces, hanging decorations and palm tree coolers for water and beer captured the perfect equatorial atmosphere. Additionally, many of the guests wore their brightest tropical shirts or parrots to fit the oceanic ambience.

Thank you to all the volunteers and attendees for making this party so much fun. As Jimmy Buffett says, “Life is a journey not measured in miles or years, but in experiences.” The afternoon spent with Jimmy as our inspiration was a truly enjoyable experience!

Alice Polser – Event Chair