President’s Message

President’s Message – The Ultimate Gift

With the season of gift giving upon us I have already bought toys, books, wine gadgets, and even underwear (my son and son-in-law traditionally get just what a man wants from a mother in their holiday stockings … funny briefs, and not the legal kind, lol). But, seriously, my thoughts at this time of year turn to gifts from the heart and, having had the honor of knowing some of the founding members of this organization, I know just what a gift their passions and foresight have given us to this day.

The ultimate gift of the OCWS was conceived by a small group of people who, for their love of wine, created the Wine Society in the late 1970s. This amazing organization of over 1,000 members today was begun by a small band of like-minded people in 1976. A group of about sixteen 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 store’s owner advised the group on winemaking. Soon friends wanted to sample the wines and the wine drinkers, as today, began to outnumber the winemakers. Early in 1976 the group, out of necessity and wanting to be able to invite more people to share their passion, discussed ways to expand. Brant Horton suggested getting a booth at the OC Fair and offered his business as the sponsor. He went to OC Fair management. It just so happened that the OC Fair general manager had previously managed the Indiana State Fair, where fruit wines were made, and an amateur wine competition was held. Jerry Mead went on to become a renowned wine writer, and Brant Horton suggested the creation of a commercial wine competition. Thankfully for us, the OC Fair loved the idea so much that they gave the group a ten-foot booth at the Fair that year. The Fair also wanted a home wine competition and, hence, the forefathers of the current OC Fair wine competitions were born.

At that time, the run of the OC Fair was a grand total of one week, which found the newly created home wine competition with forty-nine home wine entries and the commercial wine competition having a whooping three varietals to be judged (sadly, the information of the total number of actual entries has long gone missing).

With interest having been generated from the exposure at the OC Fair, the Friday night meeting grew. Coupled with the love of home wines by the original founders and the OC Fair wanting to continue a commercial wine group, the Orange County Wine Society was formed in late 1977 and incorporated as a non-profit educational organization in 1978. The OCWS subsequently rented an office on the fairgrounds in 1980, which has been called home ever since.

Jim Graver, who spearheaded the home wine group for 38 years and is still a strong presence today, was the first president of the organization. Who could have imagined that what was started by a small band of wine lovers and makers would evolve into the OCWS as it is today? I, for one, am grateful to these people for laying the foundation of an organization of which I love being a part.

I thank those that came first for gifting us with their vision and commitment to their passions and I wish for all of you the gift of passions that make your hearts happy.

Happy Holidays, Cheers and L’ Chaim.

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” Oscar Wilde

I believe my kindness in volunteering is given for selfish reasons, however, we all volunteer for our own reasons. I love volunteering because it makes my heart happy. I recently came across the following list of skills of a volunteer and think each one is applicable to the hundreds of OCWS volunteers I have crossed paths with:

  • They Have a Fearless Approach
  • They Have Infinite Patience
  • They Think Creatively
  • They Are Eager to Take Initiative
  • They Stay Humble About Their Work
  • They Are Driven by Passion

The Wine Society seems to tend to create monster volunteers. For me, it took just raising a hand to volunteer at The Courtyard 21 years ago to get me hooked. I had such a great time and found so many people with amazing hearts. Kind, intelligent, fun-loving people that I otherwise would, most likely, never have crossed paths with during this lifetime. Please don’t get me wrong, volunteering for me hasn’t always been fun since I have the tendency, like many of us, to raise my hand just a bit too often and very seldom is the word “no” in my vocabulary, but volunteering most certainly has always been fulfilling.

One thing you can be assured of as a member is that you will be asked repeatedly to volunteer. Volunteerism 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 won’t 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 as fulfilled.

This brings me to the point that this organization runs on volunteerism and the old adage that “many hands make for light work.” There are a handful of dedicated people who have the time to volunteer on a regular basis, but it is the many members who have but a few days or just a few hours a year that we would not be able to exist without. With each new board year begins the planning for our annual major events and social programs, as well as an extensive list of administrative functions. I urge you all to look at the 2021/22 List of Responsibilities posted in this edition and see if you can find a bit of time to lend a hand here and there. If you have interest or expertise in any of the areas listed, please contact me or the Chairs listed and, at the very least, see what things are about. You might just be pleasantly surprised!

I urge all of you who can make the time, even for just an hour at an event you consider attending anyway, to try volunteering. It can be truly addictive; just ask anyone who has tried it. Within our organization, it seems to be as much a social experience as any event you attend. In closing, I quote John F. Kennedy when he said: “Every person can make a difference, and every person should try.” I look forward to an incredible year ahead!

– Fran Gitsham, President

New President’s Message

I am thrilled and proud to be President of the OCWS for the coming Board year. A year that I am hopeful finds us coming out from under, at least, a small portion of the cloud of COVID restrictions and finding a new normal, to include in-person events and virtual gatherings. My heartfelt thanks go out to the Board of Directors for having the faith in me to take the reins in hand. As I was writing this article, I thought about all the things I can say to you, the OCWS membership, over the next 12 months. I thought about questions I have been asked as a Past President and Director in knowing that I have a platform to tell you things about the organization and people involved that you may otherwise not know and, just maybe, answer some of those questions that have crossed your mind at one time or another. Please consider reading the President’s article each month and reaching out to me should you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.

First and foremost, it is important for me to acknowledge what I consider to be the toughest Board year in the recent history of the OCWS. I suspect we all know that it’s easy to be in the spotlight when things are going well and to gather accolades happily and gratefully, but to run the business of the organization in a financially and emotionally depressed time is not an envious task. I hold this past year’s Board in high esteem as they made difficult decisions in an unprecedented year of unknowns. Decisions were based on “what-ifs.” What if there were no Commercial and Home Wine Competitions or no Courtyard at the OC Fair? Decisions were made taking our members into consideration, hence the suspension of membership fees for a period of time when we were unable to provide education and entertainment in manners that we have all come to expect. Decisions were made intelligently, albeit unpopular at times, to assure the financial viability of the OCWS into 2022 had no major events taken place again after nothing was able to take place the year prior. Fortunately for us, the stars came back into semi-alignment and afforded us the opportunity to hold the competitions and our major fundraiser of the year, The Courtyard, which has now begun slowly replenishing diminished coffers and gives us a bright outlook for the coming year.

If you see any of this past year’s 2020/2021 Board members, please thank them for a difficult task well done, now knowing we are solvent and heading upwards thanks to their commitment and dedication. My personal standing ovation goes out to the 2020/2021 Board of Directors:

Kevin Donnelly, President

Sara Yeoman, Vice President

Mel Jay, Treasurer

George Cravens, Secretary

Carolyn Christian, Director

Fred Heinecke, Director

Leslie Hodowanec, Director

Linda Mihalik, Director

Rich Skoczylas, Director

I look forward to an incredible year ahead!

– Fran Gitsham, 2021/2022 President

President’s Message

We are finally back and in the middle of the 2021 OC Fair! Can I hear a big YAY from the peanut gallery? It’s been a long two years, and although the Fair isn’t back to full capacity, we are hoping for a strong showing at The Courtyard. In addition to being the major annual fundraiser for the OCWS, this is a time where our members have a chance to meet and get to know other members, and some customers, which has often led to lifetime friendships. I hope we all have a lot of fun volunteering and pouring wines, and I look forward to seeing most of you there.

The past year and a half has been trying on all of us. We will never know how this isolation has impacted each and every one of us, and we all look forward to things getting back to, dare I say, “normal?” Since we have not generated income during this time, the OCWS Board of Directors has had to significantly cut back on our expenditures. I want to personally thank every one of you for hanging in there with us. We are now able to re-emerge and resume activities. And, I want to thank all of the former Board members for having the foresight to create a strong financial position in the event of an earthquake, fire, and other disaster; but who would have predicted the pandemic? Many similar organizations have folded because of their financial collapse over the past months, but the OC Wine Society continues to be strong, thanks to the sacrifice of all of us!

In the coming months, we look forward to many events in September, including our Annual Business Meeting over Zoom, and we start the on-site events with the Gold Medal Mini-Tastings at several homes throughout Orange County, and our long-delayed Wine Auction. In the planning stages is a  large social event to be held in The Courtyard in October. These events have been long delayed, and we all look forward to actually seeing our friends, and not just Zeeing them on a computer screen!

Cheers to you all, and see you at The  Courtyard!

Kevin Donnelly, President

President’s Message

After more than a year of almost no activities, we have just been through two of the hardest events of our “normal” OCWS year, our two Competitions! And yet as hard as we work to accomplish these monumental events, they are also the most rewarding for our members, both in the feeling of accomplishment at the end, and also in the ability to actually see each other, and not just “Zee” each other over the computer screen. We saw a lot of hugs and heard “It’s so good to actually see you!” greetings, and it was so good to again see so many of our members! Our Commercial Wine Competition was held June 5-6 at the Hilton Orange County Costa Mesa hotel on Bristol Street, and we were ecstatic to receive 2,440 entries! We welcomed back many of our returning judges, and a few new ones. Congratulations to Liz and Lloyd Corbett for your months of work beforehand, Leslie Brown and Kevin Coy for your leadership, and to all of you who volunteered to make this such a wonderful event. Visit for results from the Competition.

It always amazes me to see the “OCWS machine” that receives, prepares, and transports the wines to the hotel, and then the organization and execution of the Competition.

This was followed by our Home Wine Competition on June 12, where wines were judged from amateur winemakers. 624 wines were judged, which actually exceeded the number of wines we received in 2019. Thanks to Bill Forsch, David Rutledge, Rob Romano, Jim Downey, and Sam Clark for your leadership, and to all of the volunteers for your hard work. Congratulations to all of our entrants, both commercial and amateur, who submitted their wines. Without you, there would be no OCWS.

Next up is the OC Fair from July 16 through August 15, and all the efforts we are currently putting forth, our latest major work activity to make the OC Wine Society what it is today!

The Courtyard will be looking a little different this year, but we’ll make it happen! Thanks to Fran Gitsham for your leadership on The Courtyard Committee, Rich Skoczylas for organizing the volunteers, Rochelle Randall for leading the TIPS training, and all the other committee members who are backing them up. We are still looking for more volunteers to staff the wine bar!

Because of the great work you have all put in during past years, we were able to survive the past year with no income or in-person activities. We look forward to welcoming you all back and seeing all of our friends, as we will be beginning our social events this coming fall!

Kevin Donnelly, President

President’s Message

June has arrived, and we enter the most important three months of the OC Wine Society’s calendar from a business perspective. On June 5 and 6 we host the OC Fair’s Commercial Wine Competition, on June 12 we host the Home Wine Competition, and from July 16 to August 15 we host the OC Fair’s Wine Courtyard. The Commercial Wine Competition is when the OCWS brings in the wines, and The Courtyard at the OC Fair, our largest fundraiser of the year, coupled with income from our Wine Auction, sustains the organization financially for the following year.

During these months, we appreciate all of the time you, our members, volunteer to work at these events. But these are also the times when we get to know other members, and many of these members will become your lifelong friends. The bonds we make at our events are what gives the heart to the Orange County Wine Society and are the reason so many of our members have stayed as members for 10, 20, 30, and even more than 40 years! If you haven’t worked at one or all of these events in past years, I encourage you to explore openings and see where you can fit in, and I hope you all become long-term members!

Looking out into the future, we are hoping to start resuming our social activities this fall. The upcoming relieving of the COVID19 restrictions by the State and the Orange County Health Department and scheduling The Courtyard during the OC Fair are issues we are currently dealing with. We will also look at the ability to conduct our long-delayed Wine Auction sometime in the fall, so keep your eyes open for our upcoming announcements once we get past the OC Fair.

I hope to see many of you over the next few weeks and months! Social time is coming, cheers!

Kevin Donnelly, President

President’s Message

May has arrived, and the OC Wine Society is moving closer to both the Commercial Wine Competition and the Home Wine Competition. Because of the cancellation of last year’s Competitions and the pandemic delays which extended into this year, we were late in starting our marketing and as a result, we are not sure how many entries we will receive for both events.

Several of our members have put forth a fabulous effort to contact 1,400 wineries by phone to remind them that our entry deadlines are approaching and to please submit their wines. Thank you to everyone involved in this great effort!

This month we will be looking to get our members to volunteer to help with the receiving, sorting, and bagging of wines in preparation for the Commercial Wine Competition to be held at the Hilton Hotel June 5 through the 6, and the Home Wine Competition at The Courtyard on June 12. Our two Competitions and the upcoming Courtyard at the OC Fair are critical to our core mission of supporting wine education and the financial success of the organization.

And some fabulous news, Governor Newsom has announced that if we continue with our decreasing COVID numbers, California will “open up” on June 15 for full activities!

Since this date is after our two Competitions, it will not affect our social distancing and mask restrictions. But it will be in time for the OC Fair, and hopefully the OCWS can start resuming our social activities after the Fair this coming fall.

This will be welcome news for all of us, for the state, and soon for the country.

Stay healthy everyone, and I hope to actually see you over the coming months!

Social time is coming, cheers!

Kevin Donnelly, President

President’s Message

As we enter April, our summer activities are coming more into focus. Although the COVID pandemic is still affecting our lives every day, we are beginning to focus on our OCWS summer activities. Our Board members and Committee Chairs have been working with OCFEC, and we were glad to hear an OC Fair executive confirm that “the Commercial Competition is very important to our program.” The OCWS Commercial Wine Competition is on track for June 5-6, and our Home Wine Competition is scheduled to be held on June 19. Marketing materials have gone out, and we will be contacting our members over the next few months asking for volunteers.

We also now have our OCWS in-house office once again staffed Monday through Friday by Lynda Edwards and Rochelle Randel, and Liz and Lloyd Corbett will be working in Building 15 to receive wines for both of our Competitions. Thank you for continuing to work with us and helping us move back into the OCWS groove

During April, we are continuing our virtual seminars, with several Monday night “Varietal Hours,” starting April 5 with Sangiovese. On April 9, we have our Winery Webinar program with Russian River Vineyards, and on April 21, we have a Wine Education Seminar on “Wines of Central Coast.” Further information is available in articles in this edition of the newsletter and on our website at under the Events tab. 

As I have discussed in the past two months, after suspending annual fees for the past year, we are resuming asking for annual membership fees of $40 for singles or $60 for doubles this month. I hope this will not inconvenience anyone, and I look forward to seeing everyone “re-upping” when your month comes up and participating in our events this year and next year!

Thank you all for your continued support during these difficult times, and I look forward to actually SEEING you in the not-too-distant future.

Kevin Donnelly, President

President’s Message

February has flown by despite most of us still being locked down from the COVID pandemic. The OCWS has been doing their best to keep our social connections by hosting not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different seminar tracks with our Sunday Winter Seminars, our Monday night Varietal Hours, our monthly Friday night Webinars, and the Winemakers’ Group seminars. We have several new and free “zoominars” coming up this month, so be sure to check out the Events page on our website, and the “Save the Date Calendar” at the end of this newsletter. 

We also plan to start more of our Wine Education Webinars this month with our certified Sommelier, starting on March 24, Wines of Mexico.

As I mentioned in my last month’s President’s Message, after suspending OCWS membership renewal fees for the past 12 months, we will resume asking for annual membership fees next month. Your renewal will be two years since your last fee, so If you renewed last time on April 1, 2019, we will request you renew on April 1, 2021. If your renewal was May 1, 2019, we will request you renew on May 1, 2021. We appreciate all of you for helping to maintain the Orange County Wine Society during one of the most trying years of our lives.

Update on our 2021 Commercial Wine Competition, Home Wine Competition, and our Courtyard at the OC Fair—the OC Fair & Event Center (OCFEC) is still waiting for finalization of direction from both the State and the Orange County Health Department. We are making preparations for all of these activities, but we haven’t received the final “go-ahead” from the OCFEC. I will keep you all informed as we get updates.

The Los Angeles County Fair has been canceled for 2021, so we hope we do not suffer the same fate.

Hopefully, many of you have received your COVID vaccinations or have plans to do so in the near future. This will be the key to OCWS conducting more activities in conjunction with the OC Fair, and we all want to get back to work. (And by that, I really mean PLAY!)

I wish everyone a healthy and happy March!

Kevin Donnelly, President

President’s Message

January has sure started off with a “bang,” and not just with New Year’s fireworks! We have a new United States President, and time will tell how this will all play out over the next months and years.

During the past 10 months, the Wine Society has been paying a lot of ongoing expenses, which has tapped into our financial reserves. We understand that since we have not had in-person activities, members have not had the usual events that our membership offers. Last March, the Board of Directors chose to suspend membership renewal fees starting April 1, 2020, and as a result, we have retained all of our members. The Board has now decided that after 12 months, we will resume requesting renewal fees starting April 1, 2021. If your renewal was April 1, 2020, we will request you renew on April 1, 2021. If your renewal was June 1, 2020, we will request you renew on June 1, 2021. 

The Wine Society continues to have our social events virtually since we are still under pandemic restrictions. We know that several of our OCWS members have contracted COVID-19, and we wish them all fast and complete recoveries.

We have several Sunday sessions planned, which are always entertaining and well attended. In January, we added new events, our “Varietal Hours,” which are conducted as Zoom meetings (as opposed to Zoom webinars), allow us to see everyone on the screen. Our first two Varietal Hours were on January 11 and January 18 and were well received by everyone. We can all use more social interaction in these trying times, and we hope to see a lot more of you in the coming weeks! 

We are still making preparations to conduct our Commercial Wine Competition and Home Wine Competition in June, pending opening up our environments as we approach these events. The Orange County Fair & Event Center (OCFEC) is making their plans for the 2021 OC Fair, and we plan to be fully involved, so keep the dates open. I will keep you informed as we hear more information from the State and the OCFEC for any updates to the situation.

The vaccinations for COVID-19 are now available for many people, with more of us becoming eligible every week. We hope that as more and more people get vaccinated, the OCFEC and the whole world will start opening up, and we can begin to resume our OCWS activities. 

In the meantime, I hope everyone stays healthy and safe in these trying times.   

 Kevin Donnelly, President