Founding of the Orange County Wine Society
It all started at Brant and Kathi Horton’s wine retail store in Orange called Brant’s Wine Rack. They hosted monthly meetings of home winemakers and wine enthusiasts to informally discuss wine and winemaking. Starting in 1976, the group was called the Orange County Wine Guild and included Bud and D Aust, Judi (Collins) Brady, and Jim Graver among its nineteen founding members.
Brant Horton had always been disappointed with the entry criteria used by other wine competitions and wanted to conduct a judging of wines readily available in the Orange County marketplace. During a meeting on May 24, 1976, with Jerry Mead, a noted wine columnist, Brant proposed that the Orange County Fair would be an ideal host for a professional competition of Orange County marketplace wines made using only California grapes. On May 27, 1976, they met with the Orange County Fair’s General Manager, Ken Fulk, and with the support of Warren Finley, President of the OCF Board of Directors, all agreed that a jointly-sponsored Commercial Wine and Homewine Competition would be held starting in 1977.
Brant Horton also recognized that a volunteer organization was needed to provide the staffing to conduct such events. At a meeting on July 23, 1976, at Brant’s Wine Rack, he proposed an organization that would co-sponsor both Commercial and Homewine Competitions while also promoting the education and appreciation of wine, winemaking, and viticulture. Brant Horton, Jerry Mead, and others went to work to form such an organization that was to be called the Orange County Wine Society. Eventually, Articles of Incorporation were drafted in January 1978 by Brant Horton and William Owen to form a nonprofit charitable and educational corporation under the laws of California including plans for a Wine Scholarship Fund. Fred Basom, Jim Graver, Brant and Kathi Horton, Jerry Mead, William Owen, and Mike Collins signed the initial articles. The articles called for the establishment of bylaws to guide the organization and its membership. The articles were subsequently registered with the California Secretary of State in June 1978 and the Internal Revenue Service approved a tax-exempt status for the OCWS under Section 501(c)(3) in 1980. The group met once a month on the second Friday, a tradition that still continues today. As the membership grew, it was proposed that a logo be designed for the OCWS. Dick Hamm won the design contest and it is the same logo used today. A competing logo, the “Purple Foot”, was used to make stickers for distribution during the Fair. Early OCWS programs included wine tours at local wineries and food and wine tastings by Judi (Collins) Brady and Jane (McGrath) Goodnight.
In 1977, the first annual Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition was held on July 10 at the South Coast Plaza Hotel in Costa Mesa. A total of 92 wines were entered representing only two popular varietals—Chenin Blanc and Gamay Beaujolais. Brant Horton invited the wineries to submit their wines or planned to purchase them off the shelf of local retail outlets and confirmed their availability in the Orange County marketplace. Initially, only two varietals were selected due to the limited funds available to potentially purchase wines from the local market. Also, unlike other competitions, no entry fees were charged and wines were judged in three price categories—inexpensive, moderate, and premium. Wines were also separated into dry and off-dry categories. Jerry Mead invited 18 vintners, winery principals, or winemakers as judges. Many of the first judges included such recognizable names as Richard Arrowood, Steve Mirassou, John Parducci, Don Sebastiani, and Rodney Strong. Initial participants who are still judging today include Albert Cribari, Ray Krause, Jerry Lohr, and Phyllis Pedrizzetti. The tasting was done “blind” and scoring was done using the industry-wide Davis 20-Point System.
A Wine Steering Committee was appointed by the Orange County Fair to review the judges’ scores and award gold, silver, or bronze ribbons. The first Wine Steering Committee included Brant Horton and Jerry Mead and seven others including Jane (McGrath) Goodnight as a Commercial Wine Representative, Chuck Hanson as a Wine Retailer, and Jeri Wilson as a Restaurant Writer. Chuck Hanson still serves on the committee today and Jeri Wilson recently retired due to declining health.
A parallel Homewine Competition was also held on June 26, 1977, at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Jim Graver volunteered to chair the first Homewine Competition with the help of Brant Horton and the support of members serving as stewards. There were 36 entries in the first competition, mostly from the members, and it was followed by a potluck lunch and tasting of the entries. The Homewine Competitions were held for years in the Memorial Gardens Building and continue today at The Courtyard on the Fairgrounds. During the Fair, a booth was built and staffed by homewine members to display winners from both competitions and to educate the public with information about how home wines are made. As a result, several new members joined the OCWS and the membership gradually grew to become more wine enthusiasts than home winemakers.
Starting in 1978, Jim Graver was elected as the first President of the OCWS followed by Brant Horton in 1979 and Chris Cunningham in 1980. Other early members that are still active today include Steve Davis, Charley and Vivien Owen, Steve Schiffman, and Jim Stone. Subsequent Commercial Wine Competitions continued to grow in both number of entries and varietals judged. In 1980, the entries grew to 733 and 13 different varietals were judged including Sparkling Wine and Zinfandel for the first time. The number of judges grew from 24 to 36 adding such notables as Ken Brown, Charles Crawford, Bill Jekel, Tim Mondavi, Myron Nightingale, and Nils Venge.
During the early 80s, the Orange County Wine Society continued to grow and began to offer new programs to the public, both with grand tastings and a wine booth at the Orange County Fair. The Wine Society membership grew to a few hundred members and the Board of Directors expanded from 7 to 9 members. The Commercial Wine Competition doubled entries and the varietals judged grew from 12 to over 55 in order to include all varietals and styles of wine made in California.
In 1981 and 1982, Bob Brooke served as President and Chuck Schroder was the Vice President. Then in 1983 and 1984, Chuck Schroder assumed the presidency with John Weatherwax our new Vice President. Finally in 1985, John Hardman was elected President with Chris Cunningham serving as his Vice President. Treasurers during this period included Steve Schiffman, Brant Horton, Jim Graver (2 years), and Terry Fyffe. Many of these early officers are now retired and have left the area but still maintain membership in the OCWS. Both Chris Cunningham and Jim Graver continue to take active roles in the Wine Society. The OCWS office in those early days was not located on the Fair Grounds but maintained a post office box in Orange.
In April 1981, the OCWS published its first newsletter entitled the “Free Run” to inform its membership about meetings, activities, goals, and accomplishments of the Society. This first issue included a history of the Wine Society, completed actions by the Board of Directors, a Treasurer’s report, plans for the Commercial and Homewine Competitions, and planned events during June and July. Also discussed was the award of two $500 scholarships to California State University at Fresno. The newsletter also reported on two winery tasting programs that included Joe and Alice Heitz of Heitz Cellars and Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills. Another issue of the Free Run was published in October 1981. That newsletter continued documenting the history of the OCWS and highlighted the year’s successes with both the Commercial and Homewine Competitions and the Summer Wine Extravaganza.
Two grand tastings were held for the first time by the Society; the Spring Wine Extraordinaire and the Summer Wine Extravaganza, both held at the new Marriot Hotel in Anaheim. The Extraordinaire was designed to introduce the public to small wineries which at the time was set at less than 10,000 cases produced annually. Thirty-seven wineries were invited to pour their wines and attendance was limited to 300 persons. Additionally, suppliers of gourmet foods were invited to complement the wines. Chris Cunningham was chair of this first event and continues today to solicit wineries to support the Extraordinaire and Classic. The Summer Wine Extravaganza was held during the Commercial Wine Competition in June. Over 100 wineries participated in this first grand tasting of wines that were also entered into the Competition. Jerry Mead served as Director of this event while also serving as Chairman of the Panel of Judges. Subsequent events approached 2,000 attendees from the general public. Today, this same event is called the Wine Classic and is held after the Competition has been completed.
At the annual ten-day Orange County Fair, the Wine Society for the first time in 1981 sponsored both a wine exhibit and wine booth called the “Wine Garden.” Dick Bird built the wine exhibit to display the winning wines from the Commercial Wine Competition. Following his untimely death in 1981, Charley and Vivien Owen assumed the responsibility of assembling and setting up the annual display. Wine Society members staffed both the wine exhibit and Wine Garden. Tastes of wines were served in the Wine Garden that was located outside of what is today the Fine Arts Building during the Fair. This Wine Garden facility was eventually abandoned and a new serving area and cellar was built at The Courtyard on the fair grounds.
The three-day Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition grew during the early years from 1,130 entries in 1981 to 2,590 entries of over 50 varietals and styles in 1985. The host hotel venue moved several times starting with the Anaheim Marriott, then Griswold’s Inn, followed for two years at the Balboa Bay Club, and finally the Disneyland Hotel. In 1983, the Competition was intentionally expanded to include any varietal or style of wine made from California grapes and in 1984 the “Four-Star Gold” notation was added to the Award Book to recognize those wines receiving a gold medal recommendation from four judges. The number of judges grew from 36 in 1981 to 70 in 1985 and included such notables as Jim Concannon, Bill Jekel, Myron Nightingale, Brother Timothy, Carolyn Wente, and Warren Winiarski. New participants who are still judging today included Fred Brander, Mitch Cosentino, John Daume, Joseph Franzia, Richard Longoria, Jim Prager, and Nils Venge.
The Orange County Fair’s Wine Steering Committee continued during this period with Jerry Mead serving as Chair and additional panel members included Chuck Hanson, Jane (McGrath) Goodnight, and Jerry Wilson. Chris Cunningham joined the Steering Committee as a Wine Retailer. The Homewine Competitions continued to flourish during these formative years and were typically held at the Fair Grounds in June prior to the start of the fair.
During the mid to late 80s, the Orange County Wine Society continued to grow and began to offer new types of events to its members in addition to the public grand tastings in the spring and summer. The Wine Society membership grew to over 500 members and the Board of Directors stabilized at nine members with each director serving three-year terms. Additionally, multiple wine booths and displays were built and staffed at the Wine Garden and Flower and Garden Building during the Orange County Fair. The Commercial Wine Competition entries averaged 2,500 and about 50 different varietals and styles of wine were judged each year.
In 1986, John Hardman served as President and Barbara Perez as Vice President. In 1987, Charley Owen assumed the presidency with John Hardman as Vice President. In 1988 and 1989, John Goodnight served as President with Barbara Perez as Vice President. Finally in 1990, Barbara Perez was elected President with Lloyd Corbett Jr. serving as Vice President. Treasurers during this period included Terry Fyffe, John Goodnight, and Arthur Croisette for three years. Many of these early officers are now retired and have left the area but still maintain membership in the OCWS. Charley Owen, Lloyd Corbett Jr., and John Goodnight continue to take active roles in the Wine Society. The OCWS office was permanently relocated to the Fair Grounds on March 1, 1986. During 1988, the OCWS Office started accepting credit cards and John Goodnight was instrumental in converting our “cigar box” paper accounting system with the introduction of a new computerized accounting program for the OCWS.
In April 1986, the OCWS published its second volume of the newsletter titled Free Run to inform its membership on the meetings, activities, and accomplishments of the Society. It was published by Jane Goodnight and edited by Ronnie Johnson. This issue described the 10th Anniversary of the OCWS and highlighted plans for the Orange County Fair exhibit in the Flower and Garden Building. Also featured, were plans for the Commercial and Homewine Competitions. Finally, the newsletter reported on the award of fourteen scholarships to California State University at Fresno and the University of California at Davis over the previous five years. Another issue of the Free Run was published in May 1987 and reported on the history of the Home Winemaking Group and highlighted the background and activities of the current Board of Directors. With the Presidency of John Goodnight, the OCWS started publishing monthly the OCWS Newsletter with Sharon Spaulding as the Editor. The Newsletter contained a schedule of events, a President’s Column, articles on the activities of the Wine Society, and sign-up forms for upcoming events. Starting with the October 1988 issue, the Newsletter became a multiple-page professionally-prepared monthly publication edited by John Goodnight who was also serving as the OCWS President. A contest was held to name the newsletter and the winner, Diane Block, was recognized in January 1989 for her prize-winning name, The Wine Press. This name remains and John Goodnight continues today after eighteen years as editor and publisher of The Wine Press.
Two grand tastings were continued by the Society; the Spring Wine Extraordinaire and the Summer Wine Extravaganza, both held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. The Extraordinaire was still limited to small wineries producing less than 10,000 cases annually. The limit was subsequently raised to 20,000 cases in 1990. Over 50 wineries were invited to pour their wines and attendance was limited to 500 persons. Additionally, food purveyors were invited to complement the wines. Over the years Barbara Perez, Lynn Pawlak, Lloyd Corbett Jr., and Sam Puzzo chaired the event. The Summer Wine Extravaganza was held in 1986 and 1987 during the Commercial Wine Competition at the Disneyland Hotel. Starting in 1987, the event was moved to July and was renamed the Wine Classic as it continues today. Over 100 wineries participated in these tastings. The Classics were chaired by Lynn Pawlak with the assistance of Ronnie Johnson and Paul Johnson.
The annual Orange County Fair expanded from ten to eleven and then twelve days and the Wine Society sponsored wine tastings at the Wine Garden and wine exhibits and a wine booth in the Flower and Garden Building. That building was subsequently replaced and the space is today occupied by the Fine Arts Building. The Wine Garden and other booths were eventually abandoned and a new serving area and cellar area was designed in 1990 by a committee chaired by David Hirstein and was to be called the “Wine Pavilion.”
The three-day Commercial Wine Competitions were reduced to two days in 1990 and entries stabilized at 2,400 entries with about 50 varietals and styles. The host hotel for 1986 through 1989 was the Disneyland Hotel. The Competition moved in 1990 to the Anaheim Marriott. During this period, coolers and non-alcoholic wines were first judged. While these types of wines faded in the late 1980s, Meritage wines were added. In 1988, the “Chairman Awards” notation was added to the Award Book to recognize those wines receiving three gold medal and one silver medal recommendations from the judges. The number of judges averaged 80 and included such notables as Jim Clendenen, Norm DeLeuze, Alison Green, Scott Harvey, Ed Sbragia, Ted Bennett, John Culbertson, Petros Lolonis, Chuck Ortman, John Scharffenberger, Victor Roberts, Daryl Groom, Peter Seghesio, Randall Grahm, and Dick Sherwin. New participants who are still judging today included Chuck Devlin, Larry Levin, Dan Lewis, Fred Weibel, Richard Longoria, Bruce McGuire, Barry Lawrence, Ken Volk, Stillman Brown, and Steve Rasmussen.
The Orange County Fair’s Wine Steering Committee continued during this period with Jerry Mead as Chair and long-term participation from Chuck Hanson, Jane Goodnight, and Jerry Wilson. The Homewine Competitions continued throughout this period and were typically held on the Fair Grounds in June prior to the start of the Orange County Fair.
In addition to the above major events, the Wine Society Board of Directors introduced several new events to the membership. In 1986, Jim Graver held the first Wine Auction using wine from the Wine Competition to raise funds to help pay for the Competitions and fund OCWS Scholarships. Subsequent Auctions were planned and conducted by Charley Owen with auction revenues reaching over $9,000 in 1989. Charley still works in support of these annual auctions today. Both Chili Cook-offs and Annual Barbecues were held annually at Kiwanis Land in Garden Grove. The first wine cruise was held in November 1987 and included a seven-day visit to the Mexican Riviera. In 1988, the first Sparkling Elegance was held at the Holiday Inn, Bristol Plaza and was chaired by Sharon Spaulding and Barbara Perez. During 1989, many of our annual events moved from Kiwanis Land or other locations to the Fair Grounds. Also in 1989, the first Champagne Brunch was held under the aegis of Sam Puzzo and Diane Block. In 1990, Sparkling Elegance II was held with Sharon Spaulding and Jan Beale as Co-chairs and the second Wine Cruise was held with John Goodnight as Chair. Also during this period, Sam Puzzo introduced the concept of monthly Mini-Tastings which were held for the first six months of the year at either member homes or alternatively, at various restaurants in Orange County. The Chili Cook-offs, Barbecues, Champagne Brunches, and Mini-Tastings continue today as popular OCWS events.
During the first half of the 90’s, the OCWS continued to offer the usual events including the Auction, BBQ, Champagne Brunch, Chili Cook-off, Holiday Dinner and Dance, Installation Dinner, and Mini-Tastings. Further, the Wine Society continued to sponsor the Wine Extraordinaire and Wine Classic plus both the Commercial and Homewine Competitions. A new Spanish-themed wine serving area was designed and built at the Orange County Fairgrounds and many of the annual OCWS events moved to this new facility. The Wine Society membership grew to over 1,100 members and a full time Office Administrator was hired for our office upstairs in the Little Theater on the Fair Grounds. John Goodnight continued to edit and publish our monthly newsletter, The Wine Press.
During this period, October 1990 to September 1991, Ronnie Johnson served as President with Charley Owen as her Vice President and John Goodnight, Treasurer, and Sharon Spaulding, Secretary. During Ronnie’s administration, David Hirstein completed a total rewrite of the Bylaws with the help of Sam Puzzo and Al Barber. Ronnie was reelected as President for the board term October 1991 to September 1992, with Sam Puzzo serving as Vice President, and John Goodnight and Sharon Spaulding again serving as Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. During this year, the Wine Society expanded the Scholarship Fund to include five different colleges. One of our early recipients of a scholarship at California Poly-SLO, was Odine Chattan who is one of our judges today and a winemaker at Geyser Peak and has her own label. Also, recipes were collected and published into an OCWS Cookbook thanks to the efforts of Chuck Baldree.
The next year, Bob Prill was elected as President for October 1992 to September 1993, with Sharon Spaulding as his Vice President, Jan Beale as Treasurer, and Ronnie Johnson as Secretary. Highlights of this year included another Wine Cruise and Sparkling Elegance. Although newly elected to the Board, Ronnie Johnson reluctantly resigned in order to devote more time to her graduate studies and Carol Esslinger was appointed to serve the remaining portion of the term. Bob Prill was reelected the following year with Terry Majerski as Vice President, Jan Beale, continuing as Treasurer, and Lora Howard as Secretary. During this year, Mark DeWitt started to develop a series of new programs for the Commercial Wine Competition and related events. Terry Majerski was elected President for Board term October 1994 to September 1995, with Charley Owen as Vice President, John Goodnight returning as Treasurer, and John Johnson as Secretary. It was during this year that the newly-developed Competition computer programs were first used.
The two grand tastings, the Wine Extraordinaire and the Wine Classic were continued, however, they moved first to the Anaheim Marriott, then to the Red Lion, and eventually to the Anaheim Hilton. Serving as chairs of the Extraordinaire were Sam Puzzo, Rich Skoczylas, Terry Majerski, Al Barber, and Mark DeWitt. Bob Prill, Rich Skoczylas, Terry Majerski, and Lora Howard with Bob Trout, chaired the Classics. These events continued to attract large crowds averaging over 100 wineries and 20 food purveyors. Also during this period, either Sharon Spaulding or Charley Owen arranged the monthly programs. These tastings were not without their problems. At one tasting a winery mistakenly sent eight cases of the same wine and on three occasions the winery cancelled at the last minute leaving the Chair to find an emergency replacement.
During this period, the Orange County Fair expanded to 17 days. In 1991, a committee under the leadership of David Hirstein, designed a new wine booth that was to be located at the end of the Flower and Garden Building. David and his committee fabricated a model that incorporated expanded serving areas, an office, and a wine cellar. The Orange County Fair staff built the new wine area just in time for the opening of the Fair. It was initially called the Wine Pavilion. A great deal of thanks is owed to Clint Hoose of the Orange County Fair Board of Directors and Norb Bartosik, the General Manager of the Orange County Fair. This new facility has allowed the OCWS to increase its sales while providing an ideal environment for subsequent events on the Fair Grounds and a permanent storage area for its wines. The Wine Pavilion was managed by either day or night managers who worked every day of the Fair. The Day Manager was Marcia Brechtel and John Goodnight or Al Barber managed the night shifts. In 1992, the Orange County Fair celebrated its 100th Anniversary and the Wine Society donated the sparkling wine for a wedding that was held during the Fair. In 1994, Becky Bailey-Findley became the new CEO and General Manager of the Orange County Fair and remains in this position today. Also, in 1994, cheese plates were sold to accompany the wines but were subsequently discontinued due to the problems in assembling and packaging the trays.
The Commercial Wine Competition averaged 2,300 entries and 800 awards with over 50 different varietals and styles of wine. In 1991, the host hotel for the Competition was moved by myself to the Red Lion in Costa Mesa, and remains at the same facility today under its new owner, the Costa Mesa Hilton. Jerry Mead remained Chair of the Steering Committee and Director of the Panel of Judges for 1991 and 1992, but resigned in 1993. As a result, the Orange County Fair established a new position of Director of Judges and selected John Hardman who served in this capacity from 1993 through 1995. The Chairs of the Competition included myself, John Hardman, Jan Beale for two years, and Bob Prill. During this period, various Rhône and Italian type varietals were added and Sparkling Wines were subdivided into five separate categories. It was also during this period, that the first Label Competition was planned and conducted thanks to the efforts of Carol Esslinger and Carol Stiglbauer. The number of judges averaged 75 and included such notables as John Nemeth (Silverado), Robert Blue (Fetzer), Christian Roquenant (Maison Deutz), John Crandall (Cambria), Hugh Chappelle (Madrona), Greg Gessner (Korbel), Greg Fowler (Mumm Napa), Bob Foley (Pride Mountain) and Nancy Steel (Perry Creek). New participants who are still judging today include John Eppler, Joe Franzia, Mitch Cosentino, Nils Venge, Fred Brander, Alfred deLorimier, Fred Payne, Steve Hagata, Randle Johnson, Marty Mathis, Kent Rosenblum, Gideon Beinstock, Thomas Coyne, Jeff Runquest, Linda Trotta, David Cofran, Virginia Cole, Don Galleano, Jim Klein, Jeff McBride, Leon Santoro, Jerry Seps, and George Troquato.
The Steering Committee continued during this period with Jerry Mead as Chair in 1991 and 1992 and John Hardman 1993 through 1995. Jane Goodnight served until 1992 and Chuck Hansen and Jerry Wilson continued their long-term support of the committee. During this period, both the OCWS President and Competition Chairs joined the committee each year.
The Homewine Group continued during this period under the leadership of Jim Graver and the annual Homewine Competitions continued to be held on the Fair Grounds. The group also sponsored several events for home winemakers to allow them to test and assess the progress of their wines.
Through this period, the typically OCWS annual events continued. Charley Owen again chaired the Wine Auction and Chairs of the Champagne Brunch included Sam Puzzo, Rich Skoczylas, and Lora Howard. Bob Prill, Terry Majerski, and Lora Howard chaired the Mini-Tastings. Sharon Spaulding, Jan Beale, Bob Prill, Tony Marino, and Rich Skoczylas chaired the annual BBQs. Finally, Ronnie Johnson, Sam Puzzo, Tony Marino, Terry Majerski, and John Johnson chaired the Chili Cook-Offs.
During this period, the Wine Society unfortunately lost four of its long-term active members. They are remembered for their contributions and will remain in our memories.
History of the OCWS 1996 – 2000
During the late 90’s, the OCWS continued to offer the usual events such as the Auction, BBQ, Champagne Brunch, Chili Cook-off, Holiday Dinner and Dance, Installation Dinner, and Mini-Tastings. New events were added and an additional college was added to our Scholarship Program during these years and we started co-sponsoring events with Zinfandel Associates and Producers (ZAP). Further, the Wine Society continued to sponsor the Wine Extraordinaire and Wine Classic, plus both the Commercial and Homewine Competitions. A web site was designed and developed to publicize the OCWS. The Wine Society membership stabilized at about 1,000 members and a new full time Office Administrator was hired for our office. John Goodnight continued to volunteer as our Editor of the monthly newsletter, The Wine Press.
During this period, Lora Howard (October 95 to September 96) was elected President with Charley Owen as her Vice President, John Goodnight as Treasurer and Terry Majerski as Secretary. During Lora’s administration, the Orange County Fair Wine Pavilion name was changed to The Courtyard, dues were raised, a Wine Cruise was held to Mexico, OCWS identification cards were printed for the membership, and the Bylaws were changed to limit the terms of the Board of Directors to two consecutive terms. Bob Trout was elected President the next year (October 96 to September 97) with Charley Owen again serving as Vice President, and John Goodnight and Terry Majerski again serving as Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. During Bob’s Presidency, another Wine Cruise was held to the Yucatan and the Western Caribbean. During this period, Judy Fox launched our first OCWS “home page” on the Web in April. Judy volunteered to design the web site and has maintained and expanded its services each year since its conception. Janet Hammond was hired to serve as our Office Administrator and still serves the Board of Directors and the membership today.
The next year, Julie Burnett was elected President. However, due to a career relocation, she reluctantly resigned from the office. Charley Owen, who had been serving as Vice President, was elected to serve the remainder of the term and has been credited as President for the entire term (October 97 to September 98). Mark DeWitt was elected as his Vice President, John Goodnight again as Treasurer, and Carolyn Schoff as Secretary. Jim Hume was selected by the Board to serve the remainder of Julie’s term. Highlights of this year included a bus trip to Orfila and Witch Creek wineries arranged by Judy Fox, and the start of a new OCWS event at sponsoring restaurants by Judy Fox that was subsequently called “Grub and Groggers.” These events continued in subsequent years under the supervision of Judy Fox with members selecting the restaurant and hosting the event. Judy was also busy expanding the services of the OCWS web site that was experiencing hundreds of “hits” monthly. Mark DeWitt was elected President the following year (October 98 to September 99) with Dennis Esslinger as Vice President, John Goodnight continuing as Treasurer, and Carolyn Schoff again as Secretary. During this year, Tim Morgan started selling merchandize to the membership and Bob Trout organized wine donations for the Orange County Fair’s Centennial Farm Foundation fundraisers. Judy Fox organized another bus trip—this time to Paso Robles that included a cave dinner at Eberle Winery. Judy also started another annual tradition with a trip to Catalina Island to attend the Women’s Forum Annual Wine Festival. This annual trip still continues and has become a personal favorite of many members.
John Goodnight was elected President (October 99 to September 00) with Dennis Esslinger as Vice President, Tim Morgan as Treasurer, and myself as Secretary. It was during this year that a new college, John Hancock, was added to the Scholarship Program and our OCWS Office was remodeled. Judy Fox and Sam Puzzo organized an eventful spring wine trip to Napa and the sixth Wine Cruise hit the high seas with a trip to the Mexican Riviera. Judy expanded the web site again this year to give us the ability to handle secure, on-line credit card processing services for members. George Hammond, a member of the Board, was seriously hurt in an auto accident in March and due to his injuries and long-term recovery, he reluctantly resigned and was replaced by Larry Fox. Just prior to his accident, George started another new OCWS event, Wine Educational Seminars featuring either white or red wines. These White Wine 101 and Red Wine 101 seminars continue today and are a key part of our educational program for the membership.
The two grand tastings, the Wine Extraordinaire and the Wine Classic continued. However, they moved from the Anaheim Marriott and Disneyland Hotel to the Anaheim Hilton where they remain today. Serving as chairs for the Wine Extraordinaire were Terry Majerski, Julie Burnett, Carolyn Schoff, and Tim Morgan. The 1999 Wine Extraordinaire, thanks to successful radio advertising, broke attendance records and the committee ran out of glasses to give to the attendees. Terry Majerski, Mark DeWitt, George Hammond, Carolyn Schoff, and Judy Fox chaired the Wine Classics. The 1997 Wine Classic also broke records with over 850 attendees. These events continued to attract large crowds averaging over 100 wineries and 20 food purveyors. During this period, Charley Owen, Mark DeWitt, or Dennis Esslinger arranged the monthly programs. The programs included our 20th Anniversary Tasting with Kent Roseblum in May 1996, and a record crowd at our January 1998 tasting featuring three wine makers from Paso Robles. Another sold out program was held in March 1999, with the two “First Ladies of Napa”, Rosa Lee DeLeuze from ZD Winery and Margaret Duckhorn of Duckhorn Winery
During this period, the Orange County Fair remained open for seventeen days. The Wine Pavilion name was changed in 1996 to “The Courtyard”, and has remained that same name since. The Courtyard Chairs included Bob Trout, Charley Owen, Al Barber, Bob Prill, John Goodnight, Jim Hume, and myself. Two managers were added to each shift and separate positions were added for cashier and wine steward. Also seminars were added on weekends featuring either wine varietals or wine regions.
The Commercial Wine Competition ranged from 2,200 to 2,500 entries and over 1,000 awards given for 80 to over 100 different varietals and styles of wine. The host hotel for the Competition remained at the Red Lion, Costa Mesa, including a name change to the DoubleTree Hotel and remains at the same facility today under its new owner, the Costa Mesa Hilton. During the period, Dennis Esslinger was Chair of the Competition for all five years while John Hardman and Sam Puzzo served as Director of Judges. In 2000, the shape of the Award Book was changed and we started using a color picture on the cover. The number of judges averaged over 80 and included such notables as Stephen Bedford (Bedford-Thompson), John Culbertson, Ken Deis (Flora Springs), Daryl Groom, Mick Schroeter, and Ondine Chattan (Geyser Peak), Scott Harvey (Folie á Deux), Dave Wodehouse (Witch Creek), Paul Ahenainen (Korbel), Signe Zoller (Meridian), Kirby Anderson (Gainey), Earl Ault (Cedar Mountain), Chuck Carlson (Curtis), Mike Dashe, Richard Matranga (Sonora Winery & Port Works), Marcello Monticelli (Gallo Sonoma), Carol Shelton, Time Spencer (St. Amant), Dave Muret (Mirassou, and Joel Peterson (Ravenswood). Many of these judges still continue to judge for us during the Commercial Wine Competition.
The Wine Steering Committee continued during this period with either John Hardman or Sam Puzzo as Chairs. Chuck Hansen and Jerry Wilson continued their long-term support of the committee. During this period, both the OCWS President and Competition Chairs started sitting as committee members each year.
The Homewine Group continued during this period under the leadership of Jim Graver and the annual Homewine Competitions continued on the Fair Grounds. The group also sponsored several events for home winemakers to allow them to test and assess the progress of their wines. These events included Wine Labs, Judging Seminars, Home Winemakers Day, Pre-Crush, and Winemaking Seminars.
Through this period, the typically OCWS annual events continued. Charley Owen again chaired the Wine Auctions with the help of the Cellar Masters. Chairs for the Champagne Brunch included Terry Majerski, Julie Burnett, Carolyn Schoff, Tim Morgan, and Larry Fox and each year several members competed in the dessert competitions. John Johnson, George Hammond, or myself chaired Mini-Tastings. Terry Majerski, George Hammond, Jim Hume, and Larry Fox chaired the Annual Barbecues. John Johnson, George Hammond, Judy Fox, and Larry Fox chaired the Chili Cook-offs. In addition to the above, we joined ZAP in presenting two tastings at the Mission in San Juan Capistrano. Both events were coordinated by Charley Owen and presented 40 wineries and food catered by OCWS members.
During this period, the Wine Society unfortunately lost more of its long-term active members. They are remembered for their contributions and will remain in our memories.
Subsequent articles will continue to provide a history of the OCWS. I would like to thank past Historians, especially Vivien Owen, for her photo albums, and John Goodnight for providing me copies of the newsletters for the past five years. These materials and the many pictures have been invaluable in preparing this article and keeping a record of the Wine Society.
During the early 2000s, the OCWS continued to offer the usual events such as the Wine Auction, Annual Barbecue, Catalina Island Wine Festival, Champagne Brunch, Chili Cook-off, Grub & Grogger, Holiday Dinner, Installation Dinner, and Mini-Tastings. New events were added and an additional college was added to our Scholarship Program. Further, the Wine Society continued to sponsor the Wine Extraordinaire and Wine Classic plus both the Commercial and Homewine Competitions. Our web site continued to grow allowing members to sign-up and pay for events using credit cards thanks to the efforts of Judy Fox. The Wine Society membership stabilized at about 1,100 members and Janet Hammond continued as our full-time Office Administrator and our office moved to a new building on the Fair Grounds. John Goodnight continued to volunteer as our Editor and Publisher of the monthly newsletter, The Wine Press.
Board Year 2000 to 2001
During this period, Dennis Esslinger (October 2000 – September 2001) was elected President with myself as Vice President, Tim Morgan as Treasurer, and Karen Ward as Secretary. During Dennis’ administration, the OCWS celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary and the winning logo designed by Marjorie Trout was displayed on various items including the Commercial Wine Competition Award Book. Also during his term, the grand Napa Wine Odyssey Tour was held during April 5-8, 2001, thanks to the planning efforts of Judy Fox and Sam Puzzo. This sold-out trip included winery tours, tastings, and elegant winery diners.
Board Year 2001 to 2002
J. David Hirstein was elected President the next year (October 2001 – September 2002) with myself again serving as Vice President, and Tim Morgan again serving as Treasurer, and Ronnie Johnson as Secretary. During David’s term, the attendance at most OCWS events quickly sold out, for the first time, Wine Courtyard revenue exceeded $150,000. Our Scholarship funding increased to $28,000 and Sonoma State University was added to our list of schools.
Board Year 2002 to 2003
Dennis Esslinger was again elected as President the following year (October 2002 – September 2003) and myself again served as his Vice President. Tim Morgan returned as Treasurer and Karen Ward assumed the duties as Society Secretary. Highlights of this year included several new proposed by-laws managed by Larry Fox relating to membership status and election of officers to the Board of Directors. Judy Fox was busy expanding the services of the OCWS web site that was experiencing nearly 1,000 “hits” per month. Jim Burk volunteered to serve as our official photographer as George Hammond announced his move to the East Coast.
Board Year 2003 to 2004
Larry Fox was elected President the following year (October 2003 – September 2004) with myself again serving as Vice President, Tim Morgan continuing as Treasurer, and Craig Rowe serving as Secretary. During this year, additional major OCWS trips were planned with the assistance of Barbara Greenfield. Craig and Ronna Rowe organized and conducted an awesome trip to Yosemite National Park for the Vintner’s Holiday at the Ahwahnee from November 28 to December 1. In the spring, Walt Thurner planned and directed an eventful Wine Tasting Tour of Sonoma County on March 25 to 28, that included winery tours, tastings, and dinners with the winemakers. Also Tim Morgan planned and hosted the first Riedel Stemware 101 Program with Dana Ginavan of Riedel Crystal of America presenting a glassware comparison program. Finally, our Scholarship program was increased again and for the first time a Competition Judge’s Scholarship was awarded using funds donated by the Judges during the Commercial Wine Competition.
Board Year 2004 to 2005
Larry Fox was again elected President (October 2004 – September 2005) with Craig Rowe as Vice President, Walt Thurner as Treasurer, and Carolyn Schoff as Secretary. Another Riedel Stemware Seminar was held in September thanks to the efforts of Tim Morgan and we had the rare opportunity to have George Riedel present the stemware comparison program. During this year, the OCWS office moved from the Little Theater to our new facilities in the second floor of the Memorial Gardens. A contest was held to design the logo for our upcoming 30th Anniversary and again Marjorie Trout won the contest. Wine Courtyard revenue for the first time exceeded $200,000 and we had to conduct alcohol server training for all Courtyard volunteers and managers. Thanks to the efforts of Craig Rowe and Karen Ward, we conducted TIPS training over a three month period and were able to successfully certify over 250 members.
The two grand tastings, the Wine Extraordinaire and the Wine Classic continued and both were held at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers where they remain today. Serving as chairs of the Extraordinaire were Karen Ward, Larry Pierce, Ronnie Johnson, Jerry Williams, and Carolyn Schoff. The Extraordinaire continued to grow in attendance and Riedel stemware was added to showcase the wines. David Hirstein, Ronnie Johnson, Larry Pierce, Walt Thurner, and Carolyn Schoff chaired the Classics. The Classics also grew in attendance and featured over 100 wineries and 30 food purveyors.
During this period, Dennis Esslinger, Carol Frank, or myself arranged the monthly programs. These programs included our 25th Anniversary Tasting with Kent Roseblum in May 2001, and a unique wine and cheese pairing conducted by Beringer Winery. Recently, Carol Frank was able to find a new hotel to host our Winery Tasting Programs that was more centrally located for the convenience of our members.
In 2005, the Orange County Fair started at 17 days, but soon expanded to 21 days (closed Mondays) where it remains today. The Courtyard Chairs included Jim Hume, Craig Rowe, and myself. Major revenue increases continued each year paralleling increases in Fair attendance culminating in over 1 million people attending the Fair in 2005 and Courtyard revenue exceeding $204,000.
The Commercial Wine Competition ranged from 2,700 to over 3,300 entries and over 1,100 awards with 80 to over 100 different varietals and styles of wine. The host hotel for the Competition remained at the Hilton, Costa Mesa, and is scheduled to remain at the same facility until at least 2010. During the period, Dennis Esslinger served as Chair of the Competition for one year while I served for four years and continue as Chair today. Sam Puzzo served as Director of Judges for one year and Dennis Esslinger was selected to serve as the next Director of Judges and continues in this position today. The Award Book format was continued in its new book form and used a color picture on the cover page selected by a photo contest from among members. The number of judges averaged over 90 and included such notables as David Cofran (Silver Oak/Strata), Etienne Cowper (Mt. Palomar), Karen Ernsberger (Benziger), Massinmo Monticelli, Oded Shakked (J Winery), Michael Silacci (Opus One), Stephen Tebb (Clos La Chance), Gideon Beinstock (Renaissance), Jon Emmerich (Silverado), Steve Lohr (J. Lohr), Michael Beaulac (St. Supery), Lum Eisenman (Belle Marie), Justin Weibel, Norman Yost (Flying Goat), Phil Baily, Erica Mandl (Korbel), and Paul Clifton (HRM Rex Goliath). Many of these judges continue to help us each year during the Commercial Wine Competition.
The Steering Committee continued during this period with either Sam Puzzo or Dennis Esslinger serving as Chair. Chuck Hanson continued his long-term support on the committee and remains as the only member of the Steering Committee to serve every year since the establishment of the Competition. Jeri Wilson retired in 2004 after serving every year since the Committee’s founding in 1977. During this period, both the OCWS President and Competition Chairs joined the committee each year.
The Homewine Group continued during this period under the leadership of Jim Graver and annual Homewine Competitions continued on the Fair Grounds. The group continued to sponsor several events for home winemakers to allow them to test and assess the progress of their wines. These events included Wine Labs, Judging Seminars, Home Winemakers Day, Pre-Crush and Winemaking Seminars, and tours of Santa Barbara and California State University at Fresno.
Through this period, the typically OCWS annual events continued. Charley Owen continued to help organize the Wine Auctions under the supervision of the Cellarmasters. The number of silent and verbal lots continued to grow and John Goodnight continued as the Auctioneer during the verbal lot bidding. The Grub & Groggers were chaired by Carolyn Schoff, Tim Morgan, and Karen Ward and were subsequently renamed Dine With Wine. Chairs for the Champagne Brunch included Ronnie Johnson, Karen Ward, and Carol Frank and both entrée and dessert competitions were held at the events. Karen Ward, Jim Beard, or myself chaired Mini-Tastings. An average of six Mini-Tastings were held each year including the annual tasting of gold medal-winning wines in June and Zinfandel wines in October. Ronnie Johnson, Tim Morgan, Walt Thurner, Larry Fox, Jim Beard, and Carolyn Schoff chaired the Annual Barbecue. In 2004, the Barbecue was combined with the Chili Cook-Off due to several conflicts in dates among competing events. David Hirstein, Larry Pierce, Larry Fox, and Walt Thurner chaired the Chili Cook-offs.
During this period, the Wine Society unfortunately lost more of its long-term active members. They are remembered for their contributions and will remain in our memories.
This is the final article on the history of the OCWS. I would like to thank past Historians, especially Vivien Owen, for her photo albums, and John Goodnight for providing me copies of the newsletters for the past five years. These materials and the many pictures have been invaluable in preparing this article and keeping a viable record of the Wine Society.
Larry Graham – Past President