Behind the Counter

When the waft of funnel cakes hits your nose, the music lineups are all set and you see the giant Ferris wheel off the 55 Freeway, you know it’s time for the OC Fair.

An integral part of the fair is The Courtyard, where attendees get an experience they can’t quite find anywhere else – sampling an array of wines from across California all in one place.

Eighteen devoted OCWS members sit on a committee that gets The Courtyard’s wheels in motion months in advance of the fair.

“It takes an immense amount of planning, from the training to lining up volunteers to work the fair,” said Fred Heinecke, OCWS Director and Courtyard Chair. “Once it’s here, it’s like coming home and I enjoy getting to see all the excitement among the members.”

There are about 250 volunteers needed to work more than 1,200 shifts over 23 days, Wednesday through Sunday. Whether it’s being a server, cashier, steward or manager, each position is critical to The Courtyard’s success. The busiest times are usually on the weekend and depends on who is performing at the Pacific Amphitheatre and The Hangar.

Besides getting a fleet of volunteers to work behind the counter, one of the other biggest undertakings is having enough wine for the entire fair run. About 60 cases of wine and 40 cases of champagne splits are purchased every week to meet the demand, said Cellarmaster Bill Redding.

But for all that hard work during a three- or four-hour shift, volunteers are aptly rewarded. They receive a badge that allows free entry and parking during the fair and those highly valued drink tickets that get them a full pour, split or tasting of award-winning wines. That doesn’t even include the possibility of attending a wine-oriented seminar or brushing elbows with winemakers as part of the Featured Winery program every weekend.

If this is your first time volunteering at the fair or it’s been some time since you have, here are wise words from a few of our veterans:

Cashiers – Don’t leave your register unattended and if you have to step away; make sure a manager or assistant manager can fill in for you. Be accurate with your handling of money and encourage patience. And maybe best of all, you get to sit during your shift.

“Cashiers are the ringmasters of the courtyard,” said Cheryl Knapp. “They are the ones who keep the wine bar running smoothly by keeping track of which servers are next to be rung up, training servers how to relay sales to the cashier and to know when to call a manager.”

Servers – Make sure customers have wristbands. Look at what is available to pour before your shift starts. When all else fails, ask a manager.

“This is the main opportunity to share what OCWS is and how we’re different from other concessions at the fair,” said Marcy Ott. “Have a great attitude and a willingness to learn.”

Stewards – Make sure each station is stocked with wine and replace award-winning wines with the same varietal. The wine fridge also needs to be filled so volunteers don’t run out during a rush. Communication is key between servers and stewards to ensure that things run efficiently.

“My best advice is work with an experienced steward; that way they can help you when you need it,” said steward extraordinaire Kevin Lite. “Ask questions and enjoy yourself. Remember, we are a society and working together is fun.”

Managers – Ensure full staff is there for your shift. Check with the outgoing manager to see what duties still need to be done. Pass out those drink tickets to volunteers or you may have a mutiny on your hands.

“I enjoy the opening morning shift as it gives me time to discuss with volunteers any changes or updates in The Courtyard,” said Maia Pehrson. “The benefit of the weekend shift is you get an opportunity to talk to the volunteers and get to know them.”