December 2023

Flavors of Italia

In Our Own Backyard:  DeFalco Family Wines

Winemaking has long been a family tradition for Gus DeFalco. Growing up in Toronto, a young Gus remembers waiting at the train station for the precious cargo – California grapes – an event that became a family tradition.

His family hailed from Italy and relocated to the popular Canadian city. There, Gus learned the tools of the trade but it also instilled in him the communal aspect of the hobby he grew to love. There was the backyard crush, fermenting in the basement and then pressing the grapes before they were placed into barrels.

He eventually landed in Southern California as a teen, living with his aunt. So enamored with the area, he decided to stay and his family followed thereafter.

Gus and a friend opened a pizzeria in Alhambra before he was drafted into the Army. When he returned, his interest in winemaking only intensified – hence he joined home winemaking groups in the Orange County Wine Society and Cellar Masters.

He improved his skills at UC Davis and Fresno State. During this time, he connected with growers who he still has relationships with today.

“I’ve known some of them for 20 plus years and I get grapes from the same rows,” Gus said. “It really is about the people and who you know. That’s how it all begins.”

He credits the home winemaking groups for refining his craft and propelling his to another level.

“You can’t fail making wine with the OCWS home wine group; there’s like 500 years combined experience and when you combine that with getting great grapes, making wine is a piece of cake,” he said. “I would have made wine regardless but I wouldn’t have gotten to this point. The support has been tremendous.”

Gus decided to venture out on his own and started Orange Coast Winery in Newport Beach more than a decade ago. The winery has been a mainstay in Orange County and Gus is proud of what he accomplished. He later passed the reins to Doug and Debbie Wiens, who have their own well-known winery in Temecula.

Although Gus never thought he would be winemaking for a living, he still wanted to have a hand in the game. This past April, he and his wife, Jennifer, opened DeFalco Family Foods & Wines in Fountain Valley. He calls it a “winery with an Italian mini-mart,” equipped with homemade Italian foods and wines.

Winemaker Gus DeFalco shares his pride and joy with a group of customers at his Fountain Valley establishment.

Only open for five hours on Saturdays – similar to a farmers market — the store has an intimate tasting room that can hold 16 people around a large table in the center of the room. Gus is both winemaker and server as he tells guests about each of the 12 varietals – six whites and six reds – he pours.

“I love the people part of it and sharing what I made with them,” he said. “People are probably coming in here not thinking much of the wine but they are pleasantly surprised.”

One recent afternoon, a group of women were enjoying the wine and the camaraderie when Gus asked one of them as they left what they thought of the wine.

“I’d give the wine a 9 (out of 10),” she replied as Gus beamed in appreciation.

It would be hard to escape the tasting room without picking anything up from the store. There are a host of sauces, heat-and-eat entrees, pastas, salad dressings, cookies and even a limoncello tiramisu (see sidebar for recipe). The couple offer three wines, three sauces, three pastas and three packages of cookies for $125.

Gus says he plans to produce about 1,000 cases of wine in 2024 and hopes that word of mouth helps drive customers to his store. He envisions that reservations will be needed every Saturday for his intimate tasting room.

“I’m at my pinnacle right now,” he said. “This is exactly what I wanted.”

Happy New Year to all of you! It’s hard to believe that it is 2024! As we begin another amazing year, I am reminded how truly fortunate we all are. This year promises to be an exceptional year for our organization, as we continue to embrace our traditions and look for ways to improve on what we already do so well. Last year, we welcomed over 300 new members to the organization, including 252 during the OC Fair, and a new steady stream of additions each month thanks to our outreach efforts. And thanks to our New Member Mixers, hosted by Linda Flemins, these new members are volunteering and participating from the start.

Events in 2024

Our first event of the year is part of the Varietal Hour series, now being co-chaired by Don Phillips and George Cravens. This fun-filled happy hour via Zoom began during COVID and has survived with a great group of people attending and sharing their wine knowledge. Regardless of where you are on your wine enthusiast journey, everyone has something to contribute.

We are kicking off the new year with the return of our winery programs, which take place each month, January through May. Rich Skoczylas has done an outstanding job bringing in award-winning wineries from the OC Fair Competition such as Once & Future Wine Company, Bella Grace Vineyards, and more. These events are truly unique to our organization and provide members with an opportunity to hear directly from winemakers and winery owners.

Bubbles ‘n’ Brunch events also begin in January with a visit to Citrus City Grille, an OCWS favorite. This event always sells out and Rochelle Randel has done a great job finding locations for us to enjoy an amazing brunch with our favorite sparkling wines.

In 2023 we started organizing outings at local wineries in the OC, which will continue this year with a visit to DeFalco Family Wine in February and March. Space for these events is limited and the events sell out, so sign up early!

Mini-Tastings are also an OCWS favorite, with culinary delights from our own members, and a special curated wine selection, expertly organized by George Cravens, all hosted at members’ homes, for a truly intimate and amazing experience. George has already scheduled a tasting for February to compare old world and new world wines.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for April 20, our annual Wine Auction, featuring entries from the 2023 OC Fair Commercial Competition. Wine can be purchased for a fraction of the retail price, and the event is a fun way to spend the day with your OCWS friends! This is one of our major fund-raisers for the year and supports our educational programs and scholarship program.

The OC Fair Commercial and Home Wine competitions are our two flagship events. 2024 will be our 48th year hosting the events! Fran Gitsham and Kevin Donnelly, respectively, will be leading dedicated teams that run these events like well-oiled machines. Watch the newsletter and emails for your opportunity to volunteer and participate in these events. If you have never volunteered for the competitions, I highly recommend doing so. Both competitions are unique experiences that will deepen your wine knowledge while having fun!

On the heels of the wine competitions is the Wine Courtyard at the OC Fair, our top fundraiser of the year. The Courtyard is the place where a majority of our members learned about the OCWS, and it continues to be a great place to do outreach. Fran Gitsham and Fred Heinecke will be chairing the Courtyard, with Rich Skoczylas handling volunteers. We always need hundreds of volunteers to pull off this event, so please sign-up when you see the information posted.

The Winemakers’ Group has been an integral part of the OCWS since its inception. Watch for articles on upcoming events such as their Quarterly Potluck or Winemaking Classes. Ed Reyes chairs this group that loves to share their winemaking knowledge and home wines with others.

OCWS has its share of social events, including the Spring and Fall Socials and Holiday Dinner Dance (already scheduled for December 6th). These events bring together what OCWS does best, food, wine, music, and dancing! Alice Polser and Betty Jo Newell will be co-chairing the socials.

We also will continue to participate in public wine events in the OC area, under the coordination of Sue England and Kevin Donnelly. If you hear of upcoming wine events, feel free to let them know.

New in 2024, we are working on a volunteer recognition event to show appreciation for all of the hours our members donate to the organization. Stay tuned for more information in the near future.

Call to Action

So what does all of this mean for you?  Check the newsletter, website and weekly reminders, and sign-up early for our events, including our amazing volunteer opportunities, which you won’t find anywhere else! If you find an event is sold out, please contact our office to be placed on a waiting list.

I look forward to working with you all in 2024 to continue this organization’s amazing journey on our way to our 50th anniversary!

2024 Courtyard Fair Volunteers

With a new year upon us, preparations for the largest OCWS fundraising event of the year are already under way. Mark your calendars now for the Courtyard at the 2024 OC Fair, which runs from July 19 through Aug. 18. With a commitment of only four shifts, you receive a pass which affords you access to the fair any day, without restrictions, and a parking pass.

We are looking for new managers, cashiers and stewards. Many members have expressed an interest in volunteering for a new position and, if you are one of these, we would like to hear from you now. Previous experience is helpful, but training will be provided.

If you are interested in one of these positions, please contact Rich Skoczylas at

Keep an eye out for future articles in The Wine Press that will provide more information about required RBS (Responsible Beverage Server) certification, training for Courtyard positions, benefits, schedules and when sign-ups for the Courtyard will open.

This year’s fair theme is “Always a Good Time.” Ask any Courtyard volunteer and they will tell you that’s exactly what happens when you work a shift and help people learn more about OCWS.

It’s the hands of many that make the Courtyard a success year after year and we need YOU!

OCWS History and Fun Facts

The OC Wine Society has been around since the mid-1970s and was founded by a group of home winemakers. As we approach our 50th anniversary, the History Committee is gathering information to share about our organization’s history.  Here are a few fun facts about the organization:

1976 – Orange County Wine Guild formed (now called Orange County Wine Society)

1977 – The 1st OC Fair Commercial Competition (hosted by OCWS) included two varietals: Chenin Blanc and Gamay Beaujolais

1981 – OCWS first began serving wine at the OC Fair in the Wine Garden

1997 – OCWS first began their website in 1997

Look for more exciting historical facts about the OCWS in the newsletter.  The committee is currently gathering historical information and would also like to ask members to share their historical photos, event programs and fond memories. Please contact us if you have any information to contribute.

OCWS History Committee: Carolyn Christian, Hank Bruce, Jane Goodnight, Linda Flemins