Members Corner

OCWS’s Best Kept Secret . . .

But Not Any Longer! Why are we all members of the OCWS? For me, it’s for friendship and the love of wine. But, if you’re like me, after tasting thousands of wines over the years, I am still baffled about what to look for to buy at any given time. For some reason, our best wine resource, in my opinion, has been under wraps for way too long. If you don’t know about already, or have not taken the time to check out the website, now is the time! highlights the award-winning wines from the 2021 Commercial Wine Competition. You can search wines by medals, wineries, wine varietals, price levels, and sugar levels, as well as  have the ability to link directly to the individual wineries for more information. Besides using the site to elevate my wine knowledge, or lack thereof, I personally use the site as a marketing tool for the OCWS. I open my phone every time I visit a winery and share the site. I have also been known, on more than one (many, in fact) occasion to share the site with some unsuspecting and baffled wine purchasers in a store, always with great results and appreciation.

If you do nothing else after reading this article, I urge you to spend a few minutes checking out this year’s award-winning wines on If you love wine, it will be the best few minutes you spend right now!

You can also access this site through the OCWS website under Competitions, OC Fair Commercial Wine tab.

– Fran Gitsham, Contributing Writer & Wine Lover

Summer Wine Tasting . . . Finally!

After a year and a half of not doing a lot, my wife, Manuela, and I got on the road for a 12-day road trip along the California coastline spending time in various favored and small-scale wine spots, and at just flat out beautiful locations that make California the place to be. Before reaching our goal of a timeshare retreat in Point Arena, just south of Mendocino, we stayed in Paso Robles and San Ramon. On the return, we spent three days in the Santa Cruz area.

All told, we stopped at some 20 wineries, at least that’s what the receipts say. Some of you may know that Manuela and I, and occasionally with family or friends, have spent hours enjoying the wines and the people that made them or served them at nearly every one.

What caught my attention, however, was at the very first winery we hit, I overheard a server mention to a table of guests that they had just won a gold medal “down south” for the wine he was serving. Curious, I asked him about it. Turns out they had entered our own OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition and had just received the results—a few gold medals for their efforts. The winery is Cass Winery of Paso Robles located out of town to the east. I inquired further and found out that among their medals, Cass Winery had received a double gold for its 2020 Roussanne, which was, in fact, outstanding! I was introduced to the winemaker by the name of Sterling Kragten, who told me more about the wines. I also learned that they were helping one of their young servers, Cole Stilson, and his family get started with their own wines!

I particularly liked the 2020 Viognier that had earned a silver medal. I left with a bottle of that wine and a photo for my memories.  My only regret: this was winery one on day one of our 12-day trip, and I could not purchase more for the road, but I will be back!

That’s Sterling and Cole in the photo above. All told, Cass Winery received 17 medals at the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition – four double golds that includes one best-of-class, six golds and seven silvers!  Nice work Sterling!

Day two, still in Paso before heading north, we stopped at one of my favorites, Eberle Winery. In the past, we have taken the tour of its extensive cave system where its wines are kept perfectly. I’m a fan of their reds, but the 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was the top of the line. Our server knew it to be an award winner but was uncertain of what awards were received from various competitions. We discovered this Cab won the double gold – no surprise there. Just from OC Fair Wine Competition, Eberle Winery had earned a total of 12 medals.

Working our way up the coast, we continued to find some great wineries, including another OC Fair Wine Competition competitor and medal winner, Pear Valley Vineyards in Paso Robles.

Day four, along our route up the coast, we had made it to Santa Rosa, known for excellent wines but having suffered from prior years’ wildfires. Manuela found a winery that was just off our path. Carol Shelton Wines, located at the end spot of a business complex, was all charm once you walked in the door. And what did we see – two walls filled with medals and awards that Carol had received over the years at various wine competitions. Of course, I was drawn to the numerous awards she had received for her wines from the OC Fair Competition. We tasted several of these award-winning wines and got the chance to talk to Carol. Turns out, she also happens to be one of our tasting judges!

It was a great afternoon with Carol and her tasting room manager which ended with this photo of Carol and me in front of her many OC Wine Competition and other competition awards.

Four out of the first five wineries we had encountered were all successful award-winning ventures, and we had yet to reach our northernmost destination in Mendocino County!  It couldn’t have been better. I will save the remainder of our fantastic wine adventure for a second article.

Here is a summary of the great California wineries that we visited that won medals at this year’s OC Fair Wine Competition:

  • Cass Winery, Paso Robles, 17 medals, including four double golds and a best-of-class
  • Eberle Winery, Paso Robles, 12 medals including one double gold
  • Pear Valley Vineyards, Paso Robles, 11 medals including one double gold
  • Carol Shelton Winery, Santa Rosa, 16 medals including two double golds
  • Husch Vineyards, Philo, 12 medals including one double gold that was a best-of-class

Manuela and I look forward to sharing a second installment of our road trip experience which will be featured in the September issue of The Wine Press.

– Scott Harral, Contributing Writer

Chris Cunningham Memorial Bar—aka The Express Bar

With the opening of the Fair and The Courtyard last month, many members and patrons visiting The Wine Courtyard noticed a  change to the Express Bar.

During his 40 years as a member of the Wine Society, Chris Cunningham held various positions ranging from President, Vice President and Director. He had a tremendous passion for wine, wine education and, quite frankly, meeting both wine novices and connoisseurs who visited The Courtyard to enjoy a glass of wine or two. The Courtyard was his domain, and Chris never hesitated to share his vast knowledge of California wine regions, winemakers, wineries or varietals. His wine seminars were enjoyed by many over the years and sold out on numerous occasions.

Chris proposed the highly successful Express Bar at The Courtyard during the OC Fair, offering patrons an alternative option to purchase one of four popular varietals—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. The design of the bar was proposed by Express Bar Committee members Betty Jo and Jay Newall. Brian McDonald, Liz and Lloyd Corbett, Fran Gitsham, Irene and Ken Scott, along with the Newalls envisioned many other options to utilize the bar. Liz and Lloyd Corbett saw a unique opportunity to utilize this space by creating the very popular Featured Winery Program, always a sell out for wineries wanting to showcase their wines in this unique space and introduce their winery. The Express Bar Committee worked diligently and collaboratively to present a unique and functional Express Bar.

Chris passed away in March of 2018, however his legacy continues with the beautifully designed and very functional wine bar. The bar frame is made of steel and is on casters to make it easily movable. It was designed in three separate modules, each module latch connected. Separately, each segment is 6’ wide and 28” deep. A solid wood countertop provides easy cleaning, and the internal shelves allow for cases of wine to be stored on shelves as well as large trays for ice with wine for easy access. Outside of The Courtyard, this bar has multi-functional purposes.

This would not have been possible without the generous donation by the Cunningham family with funds earmarked for a new Express Bar. Cheers to Chris and to the Cunningham family.

– OCWS Board of Directors

Roadrunner Ridge Winery Donation

I want to personally thank long-time members Jim and Judi Brady for their donation to the OCWS of 218 cases of wine from their Roadrunner Ridge Winery. These wines will be served at the OC Fair and sold at the Wine Auction.

Thanks, Jim and Judi, and I hope to see you soon at our events.

And a special thanks to George Cravens,
Fred Heinecke, and Carolyn and Damian Christian for their hard work in transporting the wines to Building 15!

– Kevin Donnelly, President

OCWS Board of Directors Election—Last Call

Just a reminder, to declare your candidacy for a position on the Board, the candidate must present their Declaration of Candidacy in writing, by mail or via electronic media to the Election Chair no later than fourteen (14) calendar days prior to the scheduled Annual Business Meeting which is Friday, August 27, 2021. During the […]
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2021 Wine Auction

The Wine Auction Committee would like to update the OCWS membership with the latest information on the 2021 Wine Auction. We, like so many of you, look forward to this event every year. With the closure of the Fairgrounds in 2020, we were forced to cancel the Auction last year. Over the last several months, we were anxiously awaiting the confirmation that the OC Fair and the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition would be held as scheduled. With both the Fair and Competition just around the corner, we are all focused on making both events a success for the OCWS.

While we were not able to hold the Auction in the spring, which is our typical timeframe, we still plan to have a Wine Auction in 2021. Stay tuned for more details on the upcoming Wine Auction which we plan to hold in person this fall, if at all possible. We look forward to seeing you there!

If you are interested in being on the Wine Auction Committee, we are still looking for more committee members. Please reach out to me at

– Carolyn Christian, Wine Auction Committee Chair

In Memoriam

February 23, 1940 – April 12, 2021

We regret to inform the membership of the recent passing of Eric Martens, a many-year member of the Orange County Wine Society.

Eric can be remembered by his willingness and enthusiasm to work The Courtyard every year serving wine, managing, and acting as Wine Steward. He was also an avid member of the Cooks’ Caucus, where he delighted in cooking delicious meals for our members during many of our events.

In his life outside the OCWS, Eric was a prominent attorney who practiced law in both Orange and Los Angeles County. Additionally, as an avid patriot and historian, Eric was a professional officer in the California State Guard, recently retiring as a full colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

Eric’s wife, Barbara, preceded him in passing. He is survived by his daughters, Erin and Elise, as well as four stepchildren, Zane, Zach, Zale, and Kim, and many grandchildren.

He will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him.

– John Goodnight, OCWS President Emeritus

Sign Up & Get Your VRPs

The re-opening of the OC Fair is providing our members many opportunities for volunteering, and we need your help. Now is the time the OCWS can use help from our members in a variety of areas for which you may find yourself well suited! VRPs, or Volunteer Recognition Points, are incentives designated to members who volunteer, and now that we are getting re-established, there are many ways your time and effort will be greatly appreciated and rewarded.

Consider signing up to serve at The Courtyard. The Courtyard is also a nice place to enjoy the Fair from the other side of the counter—get there before your shift or come on your day off using your OCWS pass. However, before we can open The Courtyard, we need a set-up and tear-down team in order to pass the inspections to serve our award-winning wines at the Fair. Wines need to be judged at the Commercial Wine Competition, and volunteers are needed several days prior for sorting, bagging and transporting to the Hilton hotel and back. Coinciding with these activities, the OCWS Winemakers’ Group also requires members access to The Hangar for this year’s Home Wine Competition. And looking further ahead, volunteers will be needed for the Wine Auction.

Volunteers are always welcome to engage with hosting a Zoom evening of Varietal Hours and other educational and entertaining tastings. Our OCWS production team will help set it up. As you can see, there are many ways for members to stay involved, contribute and earn VRPs.

We encourage our members to get involved and back together with each other. We can always count on you to help the OCWS set an example for success this special 45th Anniversary year.

You can do it all and sign up for upcoming activities on the website. And remember to wear your OCWS name tags during all events. We will be happy to see you and be able to serve together again.

– George Cravens, Volunteer Recognition Chair
– Leslie Hodowanec, Director

Commercial Wine Competition Volunteers Needed

We’re still calling all volunteers! The 2021 Commercial Wine Competition will be held early June 2021 (June 5-6) and volunteers are crucial to its success! Please note the date change this year and save the date! This event offers many opportunities to enjoy getting to know your fellow OCWS members and experience some great California […]
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