President’s Message

President’s Message – Blessed and Honored

I’m so very proud to have been your president for a third term this past year and, although I am no longer the president, I will continue to be as engaged in volunteering for the OCWS as I’ve ever been. My heartfelt thanks go out to all of you who had confidence and trust in me leading the organization, for all your kind words of encouragement and appreciation and the smiles and hugs that sustained me.

On September 8th, I had the honor to help present the state of the organization by way of our annual business meeting on Zoom. For those of you who tuned in, thank you for your interest in the workings and for wanting to know where we have been and where we have now come to over the past two years.  If you were unable to join us, a recording of the meeting can be found on our website for your viewing.

One of the honors the president has annually is to present the President’s Award to an outstanding volunteer who has gone over and above during that year. This was, hands down, the hardest decision I had to make this year, and after much internal deliberation and debate, I just couldn’t decide between two people. Hence, at the end of my final term as president, I broke with precedence and awarded the President’s Award to two people who both gave so much of themselves during the 2022-23 board year and the years leading up to this past year.

Teri Lane undertook, what is considered, one of the most challenging, detailed, time-consuming and important roles in the workings of the Commercial Wine Competition, that of heading the wine cataloging. She, in addition, worked with hundreds of volunteers to assure their RBS certification and approval by the fair board to work at the 2023 Courtyard at the OC Fair.

Leslie Hodowanec, for the past five years, has been our scholarship chairperson, which is no small feat. Additionally, she devotes an extraordinary amount of time spearheading the set-up and tear-down of the Courtyard for the fair and, in her spare time, undertook leading the cleaning, purging and organizing of the society’s two 40’ storage containers.

It has been my pleasure to work with both Leslie and Teri and my honor to have awarded each of them the 2023 President’s Award.

I am but one of many presidents who have led the OCWS over the last 48 years and will always be proud to be associated with each and every person who has lent their hands to make us what we are today — a dedicated, talented, heartwarming, caring group of individuals that, as a whole, continue to move to successes and heights never imagined. THANK YOU all for giving me the opportunity to have the fortunate of being among the leaders of the OCWS!  I look forward to many more years of volunteering and crossing paths with all of you.

Fran Gitsham

President’s Message – Finding Purpose for Selfish Reason

As a three-time president of the OCWS, chair of The Courtyard for the past 12 years and now chair of the Commercial Wine Competition, among other things, one might think I am anything from passionate and committed to a workaholic to someone who should have her head examined. Although I am, in many ways, all of these things, the one description that comes to my mind is selfish.

Selfish because it makes me so happy to have been blessed with the opportunities this organization has afforded me.

I have been a member for 23 years, nine of which I have spent on the Board of Directors. I have crossed paths with hundreds of people I otherwise would never have met in life. I have laughed, cried, argued and worked side by side with the most amazing people from every walk of life, ages 20s through 90s; every race, religion, political affiliation and anything else you can think of; people whose hands and hearts I have had the pleasure and honor to hold and, in turn, they held mine. I have met people with whom I have spent only time volunteering with at OCWS events and people who have now become my dearest friends for, what I pray, is the rest of my life.

If the entire world could only be what this organization is—comprised of caring, loving, compassionate and dedicated people—the world would be a much kinder and happier place. This is what makes the OCWS a success. You, our members are what makes the OCWS a success in so many ways.

Although I am not going anywhere soon (that I am aware of!), my presidency is coming to an end and this is my chance to be selfish again and stand on a soapbox to express my heartfelt love and sincere appreciation for the wine society, all of you, and the opportunity to be so very fulfilled and happy.

THANK YOU for all your support and your confidence in me. And, please, don’t ever forget, I selfishly still love hugs.

—Fran Gitsham

President’s Message

Another One For The Record Books

The 47th Annual OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition was held June 3 and 4 at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa. The amazing weekend found upward of 90 professional winemakers and winery principals judging 2,260 wines.

The Competition Committee worked tirelessly for the prior nine months to make this happen and will now have just enough time to take a deep breath before beginning again this September in anticipation of the 2024 competition.

As the competition chair, as well as the current organization president, THANK YOUs from me are not worthy enough words to express my appreciation, coupled with my awe and respect for the following committee members who put their hearts, sweat and tears into making this competition a reality and a raving success:

  • Kevin Coy, Director of Judges
  • Rochelle Randel, Judges’ Liaison
  • Teri & John Lane, Wine Cataloging Leads
  • Bill Redding, Facilities Coordinator
  • Robyn & Dean Strom, Volunteer Coordinators
  • Chris Bruce, Scoring Verification Supervisor
  • Dave Stancil, Data Entry Supervisor
  • Stacey Taylor, Competition Software and Results Website Creator and Mentor
  • Greg Hagadorn, Wine Sort and Move Coordinator
  • Dave White, Wine Bagging Coordinator
  • Carol Frank & Sam Puzzo, Label/Bottle Competition Coordinators
  • Carolyn Christian, Marketing
  • George Cravens, Assistant Extraordinaire in Everything

Although, not technically on the committee roster, I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to:

  • Helga Hrowel, Judges’ Scoring Coordinator
  • Jane Goodnight, Assistant to Director of Judges

And to the hundreds of volunteers who stewarded, manned the kitchen, dried glasses, verified scores, verified and entered data, coordinated judges’ food, etc., etc.

Every year I continue to be amazed at what a cohesive, accommodating and hard-working committee we have and one that makes me feel great about what we accomplish as a team. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to everyone who had anything to do with the resounding success of the competition and for personally holding mine and each other’s hands and hearts!

For competition results check out and look to enjoy the fruits of the winemakers’ labors.

Fran Gitsham, President & 2023 Commercial Wine Competition Chair

President’s Message

The Ultimate Commitment to Judging

The title of wine judge conjures up an image of a triumphant taster proudly awarding a gold medal and brandishing a winning bottle. However, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

After a long day of judging hundreds of wines, with their tongues blackened by too much tannin and their teeth tingling from the acidity in the wine, ask any one of them and they will tell you that judging is not a glorious endeavor. But their passion has them looking forward to the next day and, subsequently at the end of each competition, the next year.

What sets the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition apart from and above the rest are the 90+ experienced judges each year who are qualified winemakers or winery principals. This group is a combination of elite seasoned professionals representing almost every AVA in California and the most qualified to fairly evaluate wines of diverse characteristics.

The competition is for wines produced from California grapes and is the largest of its kind in the world and the second largest competition overall in California. In the 47 years of competition, there has been over 460 judges for a combined total of 3,326 years of experience. It is the renowned list of judges and their associated wineries that has made, and keeps, the competition at the top of its game and the most widely revered competition of California wines anywhere.

We are proud that our competition, thanks to these committed professionals, continues the high standard of judging today led by a current list of elite judges such as Fred Weibel (35 years), Joseph S. Franzia (30 years) and Steve Lohr (15 years).

Just this year alone, four judges are seeing their 20th year with us; seven judges are reaching the 13-year point; six newer judges are seeing their third year; and there are any number of judges with years in between. Additionally, in working toward securing the future of the competition, we find seven guest judges this year with just their first year under their belts being mentored by the seasoned veterans.

The OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition would not be what it is without the entries to judge from wineries throughout the state; however, the quality and reputation of the competition itself is due in great part to the high standards set by the judges and their commitment year after year to supporting the OCWS’ efforts.

THANKS is a small word to express our appreciation to the judges for continuing to gather year after year and keeping the competition elevated above the rest. Judges, if you are reading this, please know that our heartfelt thanks always go out to you with our admiration for your expertise and our pride in you being a most integral part of the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

Fran Gitsham, OCWS President/2023 Commercial Wine Competition Chair

President’s Message

Life is all about how you handle Plan B—this is what the coaster on my desk says and is a constant reminder to me that life has a way of totally screwing with my best intentions. I cannot recall a day in my life that went according to the way I had planned for it to go. Hence, you will hear me sigh and say just step back five yards and punt. But one thing I know for sure is that there are always reasons for changes (whether I understand them or not is another subject) and always solutions.

The workings within the OCWS are a perfect example of Plan Bs. In just the last year, we have weathered cancelled events, adverse weather conditions, illnesses, venue changes, ever-changing government-issued requirements, etc., etc., etc., and, in the long run, everything has worked out due to the ingenuity of our members and their willingness to go with the flow, step back those five yards and punt and enjoy what we are afforded. Namely, to be able to be a part of the love, camaraderie and fun.

This writing is really a THANK YOU message to all you adaptable OCWS volunteers, whether you are one of those die-hard people constantly spearheading events and acting as members of a committee, thereby working literally hundreds, if not thousands, of hours, and to those of you who are just able to help a few hours here and there. You are all what makes the OCWS run and without you we would not continue to be what we are. With our biggest volunteer events of the year, namely the wine competitions and the Courtyard at the OC Fair coming fast, THANK YOU in advance for your participation. Every hand, every hour counts!

Fran Gitsham, President

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