Napa Native

Scholarship Winners: Where Are They Now?

By Greg Risling

If you grew up in an area known for producing some of the finest wine in the world, are you pre-destined to work in that industry?

Being raised in the Napa Valley can definitely be a blessing for burgeoning oenophiles. For Gabriel Altamura, 35, he saw all the hard work that went into making a stellar wine time and again.

“I always was part of the workforce, growing up lower-to-middle income,” Altamura said. “To me, wine making is a testament to hard work. It forces you to be present in your environment.”

Altamura’s first passion was cooking. He was able to live and work in Melbourne as a chef for a year before returning back to the United States where he enrolled at Napa Valley College. While taking classes, he got his introduction into winemaking as a cellar worker at Laird Family Estate.

He then learned the trade and his interest grew while working part-time at Groth Vineyards & Winery. Imagine getting to walk among rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes – what some might say is an embarrassment of riches right at your fingertips.

“I felt a greater connection when I did my first harvest,” Altamura said. “You don’t need to be a super intelligent person to make wine. You just have to put in the hard work.”

Altamura eventually took courses at the University of California, Davis, one of the premier universities in the winemaking world. Taking classes at UC Davis afforded him the ability to be resourceful and answers to what seemed like complex questions were readily attainable.

It was at UC Davis where Altamura received a scholarship from the Orange County Wine Society. Getting the financial help alleviated the stress and allowed him to focus on his studies, he said.

“It was a really special moment for me and I will always be grateful,” Altamura said. “It’s nice to see people who you don’t know, rooting for you.”

In 2022, Altamura received his degree from UC Davis in enology and viticulture. Since then, he’s been busy working at JH Wine Consulting in the Bay Area. Founded by esteemed winemaker Jean Hoefliger of Alpha Omega fame, the company does a little bit of everything – managing vineyards, sourcing grapes for certain labels and helping build a brand.

Altamura’s days are definitely busy. He oversees five satellite locations, sampling and analyzing the grapes and controlling inventory to ensure JH customers get the best results. He said a year’s worth of experience at JH Wine Consulting feels like it would take three years somewhere else.

Altamura knows the stereotypes that comes with the Napa tag. He is somewhat conflicted because while Napa is so alluring for wine enthusiasts, as a native is can be somewhat constricting.

“It’s like if you grew up in Bordeaux – it’s all you know,” he said. “You need to put out a good Napa cab or what else are you doing here?”

He hopes to one day to run his own operation. He believes that his generation – and the generations who follow – will have to deal with the challenges of climate change and how to best grow grapes under those conditions.

For now, Altamura is focused on producing exemplary wine that is served in restaurants and homes across California and abroad.

“There is no shortage of good wine,” he said. “I think one of the big challenges is how do you get noticed?”

President’s Message

By Carolyn Christian

We are off to an amazing start for 2024 with several stellar OCWS events in January, including an amazing Bubble ‘n’ Brunch at the Citrus City Grille and the Winery Program featuring Once and Future Wine Company and veteran winemaker Joel Peterson.

Both events sold out! We also hosted two fun and informative Varietal Hours featuring new wines for the new year and hard-to-pronounce varietals. Our quality wine programs are reflective of our 48 years of experience and our dedicated volunteers who make our events such great successes. It truly warms my heart to lead this amazing organization!

February Events

February is the month dedicated to LOVE and nothing says LOVE like wine! This month promises to be another great month for OCWS events that you will just LOVE – with a winery program from award-winning Bella Grace Vineyards and a mini-outing at the local DeFalco Family Wines.

We highly recommend calling the OCWS to be put on the waitlist for our events, as we do have cancellations and try to accommodate as many people as possible. Our next mini-tasting—Old World Europe vs. California wines—still has spots available, so sign up soon. And everyone is always welcome to participate in our Monday evening Varietal Hours via Zoom. February’s themes are Bordeaux and Women of Color wines.

 Future Events

We have dozens of upcoming events beyond February, but they do sell out, so please check the newsletter for information on future events and sign up on our website as early as possible!

Future events include more Winery Programs (through May), the Spring Social on April 6, the Wine Auction on April 20 and the next Bubbles ‘n’ Brunch on May 5.

For those who want to try their hand at making wine, the Winemakers’ Group provides education, equipment and guidance.

Details for all the events mentioned can be found in this newsletter and on our website at OCWS.org (logon required). Trouble logging on? Please contact our office for assistance.

Volunteer Opportunities

Our organization is more than just fun wine events. We are an all-volunteer organization that puts on incredible wine events! On behalf of the OCWS, I would like to thank everyone who contributes their time to the organization each year.

The number of volunteer opportunities with OCWS are endless! Consider volunteering at one of our events for set up, check in, pouring wine or clean up. We have dozens of volunteer opportunities for our larger events as well. The Wine Auction, OC Fair Commercial Competition, OC Fair Home Wine Competition and Wine Courtyard at the OC Fair have both active and sedentary positions. These events provide unique experiences to learn more about wine, meet OCWS members and winemakers and share in the organization’s success.

To volunteer for an event, please check the event articles posted online for instructions on how to volunteer or contact the event chair.


It is important to stay informed of our upcoming events. We communicate with our membership through Constant Contact, the announcement of our monthly newsletter, weekly upcoming event reminders and emails on specific events. If you are not receiving these announcements, please check your spam folder or contact our office for assistance. While your logon to our website is only available using the primary member’s email, our eblasts are sent to both members and co-members, if we have emails for each on file. Please log on to your OCWS account to check your member and co-member emails listed in your profile.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our future events!  Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!


OCWS History & Fun Facts

The OC Wine Society has been around since the mid-1970s and was founded by a group of home winemakers. Over the years, we have developed into one of the largest wine enthusiast groups in the nation. As we approach our 50th anniversary, the History Committee is gathering information to share about our organization’s history.

The number of entries in the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition has varied over the years. In the 1980s, we even had 16 wine coolers entered into the competition.

The committee is asking members to share their historical photos, event programs and fond memories. This month we would like to encourage long-time members to help us gather old paper issues of our newsletter, The Wine Press, from 1976 to 2005. You can either scan a good-quality copy of the newsletter or bring it to us to scan for you. Please contact us if you have any historical information to contribute.

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

Spotlight on Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

 California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo has a wine and viticulture program in their College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. This program is the largest in the nation and combines the study of cultivating wine grapes with the study of wines, winemaking and the wine business.

 The campus has a 14-acre vineyard for students to practice successful strategies needed to understand all aspects of winemaking in the fertile California coastal region. Students also learn about beverage compliance and understanding the many complex rules and regulations of the industry.

 Many of Cal Poly’s students have gone on to work as winery founders and owners, viticulturists, enologists, production assistants and cellar workers, as well as, many other areas of management and marketing associates.

 The OCWS support of the Cal Poly Program is greatly appreciated and in 2023 the OCWS contributed $5100 to their general scholarship fund in the wine and viticulture program.

 Each month we will be highlighting one of the colleges or universities supported by the OCWS scholarship fund.

Just a friendly reminder there is always time to make a donation to the OCWS Scholarship Fund for 2024. There are two ways to donate:

1.     Mail a check – Complete your check using the same instructions as above, and mail it to the OCWS office at OCWS  P.O. Box 11059  Costa Mesa, CA 92627  Attn: Scholarship Fund. A donation letter will be sent to you.

2.     Donate Online – Log on to your account at OCWS.org and go to the scholarship donation page: OCWS.org/product/scholarship-donations/. You can make your donation online and print a receipt for tax purposes at the same time.

 –Damian J. Christian, OCWS Scholarship Chair

Chef of the Evening

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, OCWS member and self-proclaimed chef Denise Scandura got busy in her kitchen. She started a blog, titled it Dishes by Denise and aspired to post a recipe every day. Her Chicken Pot Pie was one of them. The dish also garnered Chef of the Evening honors at the Gold Medal Mini-Tasting last fall.

Chicken Pot Pie


1 1/2 lb. chicken breasts

3/4 stick of butter

7 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

3 cups chicken broth (left over from cooking chicken in the crock pot)

1/2 cup of heavy cream 12 oz. frozen vegetables (carrots, peas, corn and green beans)

Salt and pepper



Premade pie crusts (2)


ADD chicken breasts to slow cooker in a single layer. Cook on low 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Let cool then shred. Be sure to save the broth from the chicken.

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees.

MELT butter in an oven-safe pan, then add the flour, stirring constantly until it becomes a roux. This takes a few minutes; wait until it becomes slightly brown.

SLOWLY add the warm broth and cook until the mixtures thickens, then add heavy cream (or half & half).’

HEAT vegetables in microwave on high 4-5 m

What does “% ABV” on my Wine’s label mean?

Winemakers are required by federal and state laws to list the alcohol level of a wine on the wine’s label. And “% ABV” stands for percentage alcohol by volume. Since wine labels get printed before final alcohol levels can be measured, California laws permit some leeway on the stated alcohol level.


If your wine’s label states 14% ABV or less, the allowed variance is 1.5%, and if the label states 14.1% ABV or higher, the allowed variance is 1%. So, a wine labeled 14% ABV can be as high as 15.5% or as low as 12.5% and a wine labeled 12.5% ABV can be as low as 11% and as high as 14%, while a wine labeled 14.1% ABV can be as high as 15.1% and as low as 13.1%.


Too much math? Nevermind. If you like the wine then enjoy it. Cheers!


Do you have a question on wine, submit it to us at office@ocws.org?


Linda Flemins, CL Keedy, Wine Education Committee


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!