President’s Message

President’s Message

The Orange County Wine Society is known to the general OC Fair-going public for running the Courtyard at the OC Fair. Proceeds from the Courtyard, along with the annual Wine Auction, pay for running the wine competitions and sustaining the organization; however, this does not come from the OCWS alone.

The OCWS has a very important partnership with the Orange County Fair and Events Center (OCFEC) that affords us the opportunity to continue running the wine competitions and reaping the benefits. The Commercial and Home Wine competitions that we run each year are, in fact, owned by the OCFEC, not the OCWS.

It was a small group of home winemakers who not only began our organization 48 years ago but approached the OC Fair at the time with the thought of running wine competitions at the fair. Hence, with a single table and a handful of wines, the OC Fair wine competitions were born.

From that handful of wine-passionate people and one small table, the OCWS now runs one of the most prestigious commercial wine competitions in the country and the largest California wines-only competition in the world. The OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition, which is held over an entire weekend, finds entries of upwards of 2,500-plus California commercial wines each year that are judged by a distinguished panel of 90 judges comprised of renowned California winemakers and winery principals. The competition, which is traditionally held on the first weekend of June each year, enlists more than 300 volunteers working hard to make each competition more successful than the one before.

The Winemakers’ Group of the OCWS, which is comprised of about 80 die-hard home winemakers, many of whom are award-winning winemakers in their own right, and a couple of hundred more supporters, run the OC Fair Home Wine Competition the weekend following the commercial competition. Over 100 of these individuals are trained home wine judges who judge 650-plus wines entered.

The two competitions culminate with the Courtyard at the OC Fair, where the OCWS has the pleasure of serving tastes of that year’s award-winning commercial wines to the general public throughout the 23 days of the fair, pouring wine by the glass and hosting a number of wine seminars in an effort to continue our organization’s mission of wine education. All of this is accomplished by hundreds of dedicated volunteers without whom this organization would not be what it is today. You, our members, are what sustain the OCWS by volunteering at our various events throughout the year and who continue to make this the amazing organization we are!

For more information about the upcoming competitions and the Courtyard, please visit our website at

Fran Gitsham, President

Presidents Message

The cog in the wheel is one who holds a minor but most necessary post in a large organization. The cogs who run the Orange County Wine Society are our volunteers.

As a volunteer, I have had the privilege to meet and spend time and work side by side with amazingly wonderful people who, like me, love the OCWS not just for what it can give us, but what we can do to give back and help in the successes of an incredible volunteer organization.

For me, it took just raising a hand to volunteer at the courtyard at the OC Fair 23 years ago and I was hooked. I had so much fun and met so many kind, intelligent, heartwarming and fun-loving people that, most likely, I wouldn’t have crossed paths with in this life. Volunteering hasn’t always been fun, since I have the tendency, like many of us, to raise my hand just a bit too often. But it most certainly has always been fulfilling.

This brings me to the point that the OCWS runs on volunteerism and the old adage that “many hands make for light work.” There are a number of people who have the time to volunteer on a regular basis, but it is also the people who have but a few days or even just hours a year that we would not exist without.

With each new year, OCWS starts planning for the annual major events that make this organization what it is – the Commercial and Home Wine competitions, wine auctions, the Courtyard at the OC Fair and, lest we forget, the numerous other membership events throughout the year. All of these are successful because of volunteers.

One thing you can be assured of is that you will be asked repeatedly to volunteer. Volunteering is not a requirement of membership and solicitation to volunteer does not mean you are obligated. But I promise you, if you have not thrown your hat into the volunteer pool, try it; you will not regret it. You will meet people you otherwise might not meet; you will share stories and laughter; and, I hope, you will find as much enjoyment in volunteering as I have and that your heart will be equally filled.

I urge all of you who can make the time, even for just one hour at an event, to give volunteering a try. It is truly addictive; just ask anyone who has tried it. It is as much a social experience as any event you attend.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Every person can make a difference and every person should try.” I say every member should volunteer at least once and I hope you have as much fun as I do.

Fran Gitsham, President



President’s Message

“Where there is love, there is life” – Mahatma Gandhi

February is that time when we all instinctively think of “love” in one way or the other. Some of us celebrate with flowers, chocolates and champagne. Some think of loves lost and raise a glass in gratitude and celebration of precious memories. Some think of loves who have never been and dream that they are still yet to come.

Valentine’s Day and the thought of love has been ingrained in us from the time we were old enough to go to school, our moms making sure we made enough cards so as to not exclude anyone in the class.

Valentine’s Day is a part of our culture, from our earliest days of homemade cards to extraordinarily expensive Hallmark cards to Hallmark movies that now look to bring love to every season of the year. Love comes in many ways to warm hearts.

In the case of the OCWS, love also comes in many forms and faces. People may initially join for the love of wine but, more often than not, I see people who just love life overall and extend that love to others. I have seen marriages and life-long friendships formed within the organization and have had the privilege of sharing more happiness than I could have ever imagined and, unfortunately, more sadness than I would have liked with people whose bonds have formed over that initial love of wine.

I have never met a less-than-loving heart within the OCWS. The people, and their loving hearts, is what has made the OCWS successful. The continuing success of the organization, in my mind, comes second only to the people who make our organization successful year after year.

I, for one, am grateful and my heart is warmed by the love I see in each and every member who crosses my path, whether their love be for each other or in the form of passion for a project, or as is usually the case, both. I LOVE that my path in life has brought me to the OCWS and wish that each of you experience passions that make your heart happy and many people for you to love and be loved by every day of the year!

—Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message

By Fran Gitsham

Every new year brings changes and the OCWS is no exception. We are an ever-evolving organization and changing with the times is a most necessary part of the success of the organization. We are so fortunate to have volunteers with amazing hearts who bring their talents to the group year in and year out.

Each person who has devoted themselves in one way or another and has lent their areas of expertise over the years has played an integral part in the past, the present and in setting the foundation of the future.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank an incredibly special volunteer who has dedicated herself in a quiet, behind-the-scenes capacity.

Kudos, standing ovations and tons of thanks go out to Linda Mihalik, who single-handedly created and elevated The Wine Press, our online monthly newsletter, month after month for the past five years. Her attention to detail, creative nature and never faltering enthusiasm brought life to the publication. She kept us informed and entertained, and managed to serve a full term on the board of directors during this time.

Although it is time for Linda to step down as editor, she will still
be an active member of the OCWS while exploring other exciting adventures in her life. THANK YOU to an amazing woman with a heart of gold for lending your hand, your heart and your talents to the OCWS!

Linda has chosen to hand over the reins of The Wine Press to Cathy and Greg Risling, a dynamic duo who will be bringing their areas of expertise to further the future of the publication. I, for one, am extremely excited to read The Wine Press under their caring hands and hearts. Thank you Rislings!

I wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year with hopes that our paths will cross often, while sharing wine, laughs and love.

President’s Message

Years ago, I was told by a very well-known winemaker that the best wine is the wine one likes best, whether it be a $150 bottle of Napa Cab or a bottle of Two Buck Chuck. However, as the years have gone on and there are more days behind me than ahead, I beg to now differ with him, as I’ve learned that the best wines are those shared with friends and loved ones. This is clearly evidenced at all OCWS gatherings throughout the year. The laughter and love that abounds within the group is palpable. This organization brings people together, initially, by their love of wine and thirst for wine knowledge but has the magic touch of creating family circles where otherwise there may not have been. Circles of friends, whose paths wouldn’t have crossed in life, through the OCWS become those “families” that share life all year long within and outside of the organization. For me this is high on my list of the best holiday gifts I’ve ever received and just simply hope for more of these gifts of the heart, gifts of friendship, and gifts of being surrounded by amazingly loving people.

During this holiday season, whether you trim a Christmas tree, light a Menorah or a Kinara, go to church, synagogue, or a mosque, or not, may you all be blessed with the gifts of the heart and be surrounded by loved ones, whether they be family or families of friends. May you have many blessings to count and share the wines you love with others.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a New Year filled with laughter and love.

Cheers and L’Chaim!

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message

Thankful for Paths Otherwise Gone

With the holidays fast approaching beginning with Thanksgiving this month, among my thoughts is just how grateful I am to be a part of the Orange County Wine Society. I am so blessed to cross paths with so many people that otherwise I would never have met. I have had the honor of knowing some of the founding members of the OCWS and to have been touched by their hearts and to know just how precious a gift their passions and foresight have given us to this day.

The ultimate gift of this organization was conceived by a small group of people who, for their love of wine, created the Wine Society. Beginning in 1976, a group of about sixteen like-minded people would meet the first Friday of each month in the back room of Brant’s Wine Rack, a wine and beer supply store on Tustin Avenue in Orange, where the owner advised the group on winemaking. Soon friends wanted to sample the wines and the wine drinkers began to outnumber the winemakers. It was then that Brant Horton suggested getting a booth at the OC Fair and offered his business as a sponsor. Horton proposed wine competitions to the OC Fair and, from there, the OC Fair Home Wine and Commercial Wine Competitions were born. At that time, the run of the fair was a grand total one week, finding the Home Wine Competition with forty-nine entries and the Commercial Wine Competition having a whopping three varietals to be judged. Certainly, a far cry from over 600 entries to the 2022 Home Wine Competition and over 2,500 entries in the 2022 Commercial Wine Competition.

With interest being generated from the OC Fair exposure, the original tasting group formed the Orange County Wine Society in late 1977 and was incorporated as a non-profit educational organization in 1978. We have called the OC Fairgrounds home since 1980.

Who could have imagined that what was started by a small band of wine lovers would evolve into a 1,000-member strong group today, having granted over $740,000 to date in college scholarships? I thank those that came first for gifting us with their visions and commitments to their passions.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving with many blessings for which to be grateful and for the gift of passions that make your hearts happy.


– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message

With a New Year Comes New Challenges . . .

Any number of articles have been written over the years about the OCWS and the fact that we, amazingly, run on volunteerism. With the exception of office staff, accounting and website administration, every integral position within the organization is managed by volunteers. With a new Board year beginning, also comes new responsibilities for the ensuing year, and there are lots of them. Every year I have been on the Board, which is seven to date, your Board of Directors has discussed and discussed and discussed again how to go about encouraging more volunteers to take integral roles in the organization. The Board runs the business but, sadly, it still seems to fall upon their shoulders to chair major events as well.

It is not necessary to be a Director on the Board in order to help spearhead programs and, unless the next generation of volunteers start undertaking and supporting some of the programming, we just may find ourselves in a position of having to consider letting some things go by the wayside, and that would just be a shame.

Although volunteering is not a requirement of membership, I urge all members who can make the time, even for just one hour at an event you consider attending, to try volunteering. Within our organization, it is as much a social experience as any event you may attend. It is not only the people who undertake major roles, but it is the many volunteers who have but a few days or just a few hours a year that we would not be able to exist without.

I urge, and beseech, all members to take a look at the current List of Responsibilities on the OCWS website under “About – Our Organization.”  It’s mind boggling just how much goes into running the business of the organization, two wine competitions, wine auctions, The Courtyard at the OC Fair, all the while maintaining our level of educational and social programming throughout the year which, again, is done solely by volunteers.

If you see anything of interest to you, please reach out to me or any of the Chairs listed to inquire about helping just a bit.

In closing, I again, as in the past, quote John F. Kennedy when he said: “Every person can make a difference, and every person should try.”  Thank you.

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message

Beautifully Hard Decisions

As President, I have the honor and challenging task of presenting the President’s Award at the Annual Business Meeting to a person whose commitment to the OCWS is on a scale par to, almost, none. It seems the list of potential candidates is the same each year, but mostly with people whose names show up all year long in one volunteer capacity or another. These people are the glue of the organization and what keeps us functioning at what on the surface seems to be effortless, which is as far from the truth as you can get. Many of these people are past directors and well know what they have gotten themselves into by volunteering on an almost full-time basis and taking responsibility for major portions of the organization. These are the people who, besides your Board of Directors on any given year, play an integral part in running the business of the OCWS.

This accolade is due to many, and many of the people whose names you see below have already received this honor in the past, but I would be remiss if I didn’t publish a list of people who put their hearts and souls into the Orange County Wine Society just this year.

Just 2022 alone, the following people have my thanks for more reasons than there is room to list:

  • Liz & Lloyd Corbett – Head of Cataloging for the Commercial Wine Competition and creators of the Featured Winery Program at the OC Fair, which brought in almost $17,000 this year for the scholarship fund.
  • Kevin Coy – Head of Judges for the Commercial Wine Competition, CWC Move and Sort, and Wine Cellar Supervisor throughout the year, among anything else he sees that needs to be done.
  • Leslie Hodowanec – Chair of the OCWS Scholarship Fund, Set-Up and Tear-Down Coordinator for The Courtyard at the OC Fair.
  • Teri & John Lane – Successors to the Corbetts in Cataloging for the Commercial Wine Competition, Lead Coordinator and trainer for ABC RBS training for The Courtyard at the OC Fair (Teri), Head of Judges for the Home Wine Competition (John).
  • Bill Redding – OCWS Cellarmaster, which is a year-round job coordinating wines and all associated event functions, i.e., sorting wine lots for the Auction, etc., and Facilities Coordinator for the Commercial Wine Competition.
  • Stacey Taylor – Technology oversight and creator of and Commercial Wine and Home Wine Competition software programs.

And, although current Board members, the following people well deserve acknowledgement:

  • Carolyn Christian – OCWS Marketing, which is a year-round job for the overall organization and wine competitions. Carolyn did an amazing job this year on implementing social media campaigns.
  • Rich Skoczylas – Winery Program Coordinator, Volunteer Scheduler for The Courtyard at the OC Fair, Cooks Caucus member, among other things.

These people are just the beginning when it comes to the magnitude of volunteerism it takes to make things run smoothly and continue to bring you, our members, events to enjoy. Every member who volunteers, whether it be on a full-time basis or just a few hours a year at one event makes a major contribution to the functioning of the OCWS and are desperately needed to continue our success in the future.

My thanks to these people for what they do and to all of you for considering helping in some small way.

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message – From the Heart

I have had the pleasure of being President of the OCWS twice now, four years apart, and have tried to use this column wisely as a forum to share some of the history of the organization, to give you a peek into the workings behind the scenes, and to highlight the magnitude of just what it takes to run this amazing organization. This article is a reaffirmation of something I wrote in 2018 and is different from other articles I have written in that I want to tell you why I think the OCWS is so incredible and why it holds a huge place in my heart.

To me, the Orange County Wine Society is a microcosm of what the entire world should be. We have members ranging from their 20s to their 90s, members of all races, religions, political affiliations, and sexual orientations. We have doctors, lawyers, professors, law enforcement, salespeople, white and blue-collar workers. We have people that live from check to check and multi-millionaires. But none of this matters because what everyone in this organization has is heart and passion, and they don’t care about the trimmings or the labels. They care about the success of the OCWS, its educational mission and fundraising, and the camaraderie that nowhere else in my life has been found elsewhere. This group has hundreds of people willing to go out of their way to hold others up and come together for a better cause than oneself. Absolutely amazing in my estimation!

I have watched the people around me circle and embrace those in need of support as often as I have seen them laugh, dance, occasionally drink (okay, so that’s a bit of an understatement), and work their tails off to make every aspect of our eclectic group a raving success. On a personal note, this group has held my heart at the highest points in my life, the years after my husband and I joined, and at the lowest point, when I was widowed. It was people within the OCWS that encouraged me to get back out into the world again, lifted me up and gave me the courage to help lead this organization, not once, but twice. I am so proud to be a Director and having had the opportunity to be your President.

With every new member, we continue to make more friends, have more fun, feel more fulfilled. The last couple of years left a hole in my heart in that I missed all the smiles and hugs, but they are back with a vengeance at the OC Fair this year and I could not be happier. I hope the Orange County Wine Society makes each of you as happy as it makes me and that our paths, and new ones, continue to cross often in the future, all while working for a common goal.

Until we next meet again. Cheers and L’Chaim.

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message

Pandemic of Kindness—An Organization Full of Resilience

There is no doubt that the pandemic brought darkness, and that in times of crisis we tend to focus on the negative. But there are positives, too, that have provided optimism, promoted resilience, and increased our ability to adapt to challenges and, although we are still facing albeit a somewhat diluted COVID crisis, our ability to accept that which we cannot change, and to handle each situation as it arises, never ceases to amaze me. My favorite saying (and printed on a coaster on my desk) is: “Life is all about how you handle Plan B.” I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t recall a day in my life that everything has gone according to the way I envisioned it upon waking.

We have now seen both the 2022 Commercial and Home Wine Competitions come and go and, unless you were a part of the crews that made them happen, they both appeared to run relatively flawlessly and easy. Little do many of you know the trials and tribulations of the Committee members who worked tirelessly for months on end that made them look that way, and the hundreds of volunteers who ultimately brought the Competitions to fruition.

This is the story of the workings of the OCWS all year long (and for over four decades now), and the commitment and kindness of all the volunteers that make it happen. Someone very high in the ranks of the OC Fair & Events Center once asked me how we manage to run such a highly successful organization on volunteer power and could we teach their other non-profit partners to do the same. My response was that good, kind hearts can’t be taught and that, although, the majority of us originally joined because of our love, and often curiosity of wine, we stay because of the love and camaraderie that abounds within the OCWS. It’s infectious and makes us want to participate more.

I have seen kindnesses within the group like nowhere else. Volunteering becomes addictive and makes one want to work to lift up the organization and those within. I wish I could list all the people who I have witnessed who selflessly have supported and helped lift others up, while devoting themselves to the OCWS for no other reason than they are kind and we share a common goal…..the success of a truly phenomenal organization, with amazingly kind and loving hearts.

We now have The Courtyard at the OC Fair ahead of us in the near future and, again, we are looking at over 300 volunteers to make it happen. I have no doubt that this too will follow suit and rank among the many successes of the OCWS.

I hope you all know that whether you volunteer all year long, or for just a few hours a year at one event, you are what drives the success of the OCWS. I am so grateful to be a part of something so amazingly special and thank each and every one of you who make the Orange County Wine Society what it is!

– Fran Gitsham, President