August 2023

Committed to Quality By Greg Risling

Tucked in a business park off Alicia Parkway in Mission Viejo, Chuck and Sheri Bellante have established one of the most reputable and welcoming wineries in Orange County.

While it still may stun some residents that they can visit a top-flight winery just a few miles from their home, Bellante Family Winery has made a name for itself by producing a stupendous slate of age-worthy, single-vineyard wines that has netted 90+ scores for roughly 85 percent of their offerings.

“Watching wines develop over time is part of the satisfaction of making wine,” says proprietor Chuck Bellante. “They are like my newborn children. I can’t pick a favorite.”

Chuck has spent nearly the last quarter century making wine. Once a garagiste who partnered with others to explore the world of wine, he and Sheri decided to open a tasting room in 2017 as a way to move into retirement doing something they love.

The retired chemical engineer credits his job for his meticulous approach. He knew he wanted his grapes to come from Santa Barbara County that has east-west coastal mountains that form valleys and balance the climate to help nurture the fruit to its maximum potential.

“It’s kind of intuitive; I let the fruit talk to me,” Chuck says. “I have the science background to do what needs to be done. I taste it as it matures to see what more needs to be done.”

He also wanted to provide his clients solely with single vineyard varietals, giving them the opportunity to experience the terroir and the nuances of that particular location.

Chuck prides his wine being single vineyard and racking up top scores by the likes of Wine Enthusiast. His wines have consistently medaled at the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

“Scores mean you are meeting a standard. You might not like the wine but it’s good from a technical standpoint,” he said.

His first vintage – circa 2000 – was a Syrah he calls “bullet-proof” because of the grape’s thick skin. Since then, Chuck has expanded his collection to Pinot Noir, Viognier, Grenache and Mourvedre.

As most wine aficionados know, making the very best wine is a blend of science and art. Chuck recounted a story during harvest one year when a fellow winemaker questioned why he hadn’t picked his fruit and was the last in the area to do so. Clearly, Chuck recalls, the winemaker thought it was too late and the end result would suffer. Waiting did just the opposite.

“I like to pick the fruit later. I’m not trying to be hip or cool,” Chuck said. “I just know what I’m trying to achieve. If everything tastes right, it’s time to pick.”

The winery also offers some unique options and events. First and foremost is their wine club where prospective members actually get to taste the wine before choosing which ones will be part of their allocation. Every month, the Bellantes host a tasting for the older library wines, giving clients the opportunity to sample the crème de la crème.

The winery claims to have the original wine bingo in Orange County. If you don’t have any plans on Halloween, there will be a murder mystery soiree for those novice sleuths. And a few days after Thanksgiving, the winery will host an exquisite lineup of delicious offerings by renowned chef Pascal Olhats.

All in all, Chuck and Sheri are enjoying the fruits of their labor and hope others have the opportunity to swing by and taste some hand-crafted, world-class wines from Santa Barbara County right here in Orange County.

“It’s about making a quality wine,” Chuck says. “The people who appreciate that – they are my kind of people.”

President’s Message – Finding Purpose for Selfish Reason

As a three-time president of the OCWS, chair of The Courtyard for the past 12 years and now chair of the Commercial Wine Competition, among other things, one might think I am anything from passionate and committed to a workaholic to someone who should have her head examined. Although I am, in many ways, all of these things, the one description that comes to my mind is selfish.

Selfish because it makes me so happy to have been blessed with the opportunities this organization has afforded me.

I have been a member for 23 years, nine of which I have spent on the Board of Directors. I have crossed paths with hundreds of people I otherwise would never have met in life. I have laughed, cried, argued and worked side by side with the most amazing people from every walk of life, ages 20s through 90s; every race, religion, political affiliation and anything else you can think of; people whose hands and hearts I have had the pleasure and honor to hold and, in turn, they held mine. I have met people with whom I have spent only time volunteering with at OCWS events and people who have now become my dearest friends for, what I pray, is the rest of my life.

If the entire world could only be what this organization is—comprised of caring, loving, compassionate and dedicated people—the world would be a much kinder and happier place. This is what makes the OCWS a success. You, our members are what makes the OCWS a success in so many ways.

Although I am not going anywhere soon (that I am aware of!), my presidency is coming to an end and this is my chance to be selfish again and stand on a soapbox to express my heartfelt love and sincere appreciation for the wine society, all of you, and the opportunity to be so very fulfilled and happy.

THANK YOU for all your support and your confidence in me. And, please, don’t ever forget, I selfishly still love hugs.

—Fran Gitsham

Chef of the Evening

After Janet Riordan tried this Milk Chocolate Pistachio Tart at her women’s group dinner, she just had to share it with OCWS members at the last Mini-Tasting.

“I loved it immediately (I mean really, chocolate crust with a chocolate filling, toss in pistachios, damn, yum),” says Janet, a 20-year member. “I enjoy baking and always try to include new recipes.”

While this version calls for safflower oil, Janet substituted cannoli oil for its taste. When it comes to the chocolate, Janet uses Dove milk chocolate candies. She also notes that she made the tart the day before serving and it was just as fresh and delicious.

Milk Chocolate Pistachio Tart


Vegetable oil cooking spray for pan


¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, chopped

¼ tsp. salt

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pistachio Paste:

½ cup unsalted shelled pistachios

¼ cup sugar

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. safflower oil


5 oz. milk chocolate, chopped

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup whole milk

1 large egg, beaten


Finely chopped pistachios



COAT 9-inch fluted round tart pan with removeable bottom with cooking spray. Make the crust

WHISK together flour cocoa powder, chopped pistachios and ¼ tsp. salt.

BEAT butter on medium speed until fluffy, about three minutes.

ADD sugar and beat until pale, about two minutes. Reduce speed to low and add vanilla, then flour mixture until just combined and dough holds together when pressed between two fingers.

PRESS dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

ROLL out dough between two pieces of clear plastic wrap to create an 11-inch round, ¼-inch thick piece.

PRESS dough into bottom and up sides of tart pan. Trim excess dough flush with edges of pan using knife.

REFRIGERATE until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees.

BAKE until firm, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely; reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Pistachio Paste:

PULSE pistachios, sugar and ¼ tsp. salt in food processor until mixture begins to clump together.

ADD oil and pulse until smooth and paste-like.

SPREAD evenly into bottom of cooled tart shell, pressing firmly with the bottom of a measuring cup until flat and smooth.


PLACE chocolate in heatproof bowl. Heat cream and milk in saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling; pour over chocolate. Let stand 2 minutes.

WHISK slowly until smooth. Let cool 10 minutes.

STIR in eggs until combined.

PLACE tart shell on baking sheet and pour in filling.

BAKE until just set, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool.

GARNISH with finely chopped pistachios.

The Courtyard Tear-Down Dream Team

It was worth scrubbing, lifting, sweeping, stringing, hanging, moving around, setting up and tearing down to prepare for our largest OCWS scholarship-generating event at the OC Fair! The Setup and Teardown Crew was composed of 73 volunteers over 4 1/2 days for a total of 438 volunteer hours.

Thank you so much to our team for volunteering trucks and transportation, climbing up the ladders, crawling underneath spaces and setting up lunches and for all your extra talents. Now, The Courtyard has little wall space left to use. There are always minor glitches and it’s an obstacle course driving across the fairground to the containers the morning after. Plus, your ideas this year increased efficiency and The Courtyard Crew is already taking notes for setting up for the 2024 OC Fair.

Leslie Hodowanec, 2023 Courtyard Coordinator

New Member Mixer

Learn more about wine society The 2023 OC Fair Wine Courtyard volunteers had a wonderful impact that led to a very large increase in our new member memberships. They made […]
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Get involved—Run for OCWS Board of Directors

It is that time of the year and it is all in Article 4 of the bylaws – the procedure for election of the Orange County Wine Society (OCWS) Board of Directors!

The organization is run by a nine-member Board of Directors. Intelligent, innovative, open minded, problem-solving and result-oriented people are the key to the leadership of the group. Many of our members have these skills, so it is time to consider stepping up to help lead the way. If you know the organization; are a seasoned volunteer; and are dedicated to its purpose and objective of promoting the knowledge of winemaking, viticulture and wine appreciation, then you may be a suitable candidate to take a lead position.

The beginning of a three-year term on the Board of Directors shall be staggered such that three members’ terms expire each year. The three vacated positions are filled by a vote of the OCWS membership, following the Annual Business Meeting that will be held Sept. 8, 2023. The overall time commitment for a member of the board varies and is based upon assignments and participation. In addition to running the business of the organization, the goal of the board is for members to run OCWS programming, with the board acting as mentors and liaisons regarding budgets and event planning. Also, the board functions as an oversight committee, focusing on compliance with the bylaws, OC Fair compliance, liability exposure, etc. A candidate, ideally, should possess some of the following skills:

  • General knowledge of the OCWS events and activities
  • Prior experience as a volunteer
  • The ability and time to help organize events throughout the year
  • Selected event and budget management skills
  • Be a member in good standing

To declare candidacy for a position on the Board of Directors, a candidate must present a Declaration of Candidacy, in writing, by mail, or via electronic media to the Election Chair no later than 14 calendar days prior to the scheduled Annual Business Meeting. A written Statement of Qualifications is required to be presented to the Election Committee no later than five calendar days after receipt by the Election Chair of a Declaration of Candidacy. Statements of Candidacy will be posted on the OCWS website. During the Annual Business Meeting, declared candidates will have an opportunity to address the membership.

The OCWS continues to thrive thanks in great part to the leadership of the organization over the last 48 years. If helping to take the helm of this amazing group is of interest to you, please submit your Declaration of Candidacy and Statement of Qualifications to Election Chair Sara Yeoman at  For any questions related to Director Responsibilities, the election process or anything else, please contact OCWS Director Linda Flemins at

Linda Flemins, OCWS Director

OC Fair Roundup – Happy Serving Together At 2023 OC Fair

It seems like the five weeks at the Orange County Fair flew by.  Leslie Hodowanec waived her magic wand and the set-up crew started right after July 4th. By Friday July 14, it looked like Cinderella’s carriage.

The wine started to flow at The Courtyard opening and the volunteers kept pouring until the clock struck 10 p.m. on Aug. 13. By the next day, The Courtyard was returned to the loveable pumpkin.

The final accounting is not yet completed, but the summer of 2023 came to be another very successful year by any measure. One metric that takes the forefront is new memberships.

Patrons see OCWS members having a great time at The Courtyard and want to get in on the fun. The new member bell rang 144 times during the fair for 108 dual and 36 single memberships for a total of 252 new Orange County Wine Society members!

The Courtyard is our largest fundraiser of the year and cannot be successful without volunteers. This summer 235 members volunteered and worked a total of 1,440 shifts. Together they filled over 30,000 8-ounce cups!

Liz and Lloyd Corbett worked each Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Featured Winery Bar and added over $16,000 to the Scholarship Fund. The donation jars brought in an additional $17,000. This should be celebrated with Sparkling Splits, of which we sold 3,645.

Bill Redding and Kevin Coy kept the cellar full. We sold 1,906 of Cuvee Coy house wines. Sara Yeoman and Ed Reyes headed up the very popular Saturday and Sunday wine seminars.

Thank you to each member who volunteered during the run of the Happy Together year at the fair. Giving new meaning to, “will work for wine,” members used 3,654 wine tickets!

I want to give a special note to Courtney, who worked 32 shifts; Kevin Lite, who worked 28; Kelly Haggard, who worked 20; and Kevin Coy, who worked 20.

I want to express my gratitude to Co-Chair Fran Gitsham. Fran brings an extraordinary amount of institutional knowledge and worked tirelessly to coordinate with the fair and keep all the pieces in place from the planning through the operation of The Courtyard.

See you at The Courtyard next summer!

—Fred Heinecke, OCWS Director