President’s Message

President’s Wine Snips – Gearing Up For Fair Fun

With the Commercial and Home Wine Competitions now just fading memories, the 2018 OC Fair is fast approaching, and the OCWS is geared up to run our most important fundraising effort of the year—The Courtyard at the OC Fair. This year’s Fair theme is “Free Your Inner Farmer,” and the Fair runs Wednesdays through Sundays, […]
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President’s Wine Snips – Behind the Scenes

Last month I wrote that we are in a very important partnership with the Orange County Fair & Events Center (OCFEC) which affords the OCWS the opportunity to run their wine competitions each year. What I didn’t touch on was the behind the scenes workings that make a competition a reality. Unless you’ve volunteered for […]
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President’s Wine Snips – “The Side Our Bread Is Buttered On (or more appropriately…The Vines Our Grapes Thrive On)”

The Orange County Wine Society is known for running The Courtyard at the OC Fair each year and reaping the benefits, but most people don’t know how this came to be. Proceeds from The Courtyard, along with the Wine Auction each year, pay for running the Competitions and sustaining the organization; however, this does not come from the OCWS alone. The OCWS is in a very important partnership with the Orange County Fair and Events Center (OCFEC) which affords us the opportunity to continue running the Competitions and realizing the benefits.

The Commercial and Home Wine Competitions that we run each year are, in fact, owned by the OCFEC, not the OCWS. However, it was that small group of home winemakers that I wrote about just a few months ago in The Wine Press that not only began the organization 42 years ago, but also approached the OC Fair with the thought of running wine competitions at the OC Fair. Hence, with a single table and a handful of wines, the OC Fair wine competitions were born.

From that handful of passionate people and one small table, the OCWS now runs one of the most prestigious commercial wine competitions in the country. The OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition, which is held offsite over an entire weekend, finds entries of upwards of 2,500+ California commercial wines each year that are judged by a distinguished panel of nearly 90 judges comprised of mostly renowned California winemakers and winery principals. The Competition, which is traditionally held on the first weekend of June each year, finds over 300 OCWS 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 on the second weekend of June each year. This Home Wine Competition, which is held on the Fairgrounds, finds approximately 220 volunteers to make this event a success. Over 100 of these individuals are trained home wine judges who judge approximately 650 entered wines that are served by about 80 stewards. Behind the scenes finds scorers and glass washers, among many other supporting roles, as well as both breakfast and lunch created and served by the OCWS Cooks’ Caucus.

All of this culminates in The Courtyard during the OC Fair, where the OCWS has the pleasure of serving tastes of that year’s award winning commercial wines throughout the 23 days of the Fair, pouring glasses of other commercial wines and hosting a number of wine seminars in an effort to continue our organization’s mission of wine education. All of this is accomplished at the hands of hundreds of dedicated volunteers without whom this organization would not be what it is today. Truly amazing in my opinion!  I am so proud to be your President this year and have the opportunity to share stories of incredible people and events with all of you.

For more information about the Competitions and The Courtyard, please visit.

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Wine Snips – “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the HEART” by Elizabeth Andrew

When looking for motivation for this month’s article, I came across the above quote which made me think of all the people in the organization that I have had the privilege to meet and spend time with, mostly while volunteering at one event or another, and for the amazing friendships I have found. The Wine […]
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President’s Wine Snips – A Labor of Love

February is the time that we all instinctively think of “love” in one way or another. Loves that we currently celebrate with flowers, chocolates and champagne. Loves lost that many of us raise a toast to celebrate precious memories. Loves that have never been and great dreams that they are still yet to come. Love […]
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President’s Wine Snips – New Year’s Resolutions

It is that time of year again when I traditionally start out with all good intentions of losing those extra 15 pounds and spending less money on frivolous things. But, with all the years of breaking those very same resolutions, I have decided to become realistic for a change—chuck it all and focus on where […]
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President’s Wine Snips – The Power Behind the Organization

I’m going to open this article with the closing paragraph and, after reading it, if you choose to read through to the end, you’ll hopefully have a better understanding as to what it takes to run this organization. The OCWS is a volunteer, non-profit educational corporation. Although volunteering is not a requirement of membership, it is most certainly encouraged to help make us a success. I ask all of you to please take a look at the 2017-2018 Director Responsibility list posted in this edition of The Wine Press and consider becoming a part in running an event this coming year. Unfortunately, over a period of time, the Board has assumed the responsibility of not only running the affairs of the organization with just a small handful of other dedicated member volunteers, but also run most of the events as well. The end. Now, I would greatly appreciate you continuing to read from what was to be the beginning of this article.

As I suspect you all know, the business of the OCWS is overseen by a Board of Directors made up of nine OCWS members who are die-hard volunteers. The only paid positions within the organization are those of the office staff, bookkeeper and Website Administrator, which are all hourly paid, part-time positions. Although the nine Directors each put in thousands of hours a year to run the engine, it’s the unsung and often unrecognized heroes of the organization that are the other hundreds of members who choose to volunteer and help run events throughout the year for whatever reason. Be it for the camaraderie, the feeling of knowing that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves or, maybe, just for the love of wine leftovers, these 400 or so volunteers are the ones to be thanked for running the entire vehicle when needed.

Take, for example, our biggest fundraiser of the year, The Courtyard at the OC Fair. In addition to a core committee group of roughly 20 people, we had 322 volunteers overall that worked any number of positions before, throughout and after the 2017 OC Fair that made The Courtyard a raging success. The OCWS is afforded the opportunity to run The Courtyard and realize the profits in order to run the Commercial Wine and Homewine Competitions on behalf of the Orange County Fair and Events Center. Now, take into consideration that preparation for the competitions, both held in the beginning of June each year and both requiring as much help to run as The Courtyard, begins almost as soon as the prior year’s competitions are complete. All run by volunteers!

Now, add into the equation our own cooking group, the Cook’s Caucus, who cater three OCWS events a year, the many pursuits of the Winemakers’ Group, the Marketing Committee, the wine sort, the wine auction, mini-tastings, monthly winery programs, Dine with Wine, the annual Spring and Fall membership events, etc., etc.  All run by volunteers!

We are an organization of almost 1,000 members, with approximately 40% of members volunteering. I’ve personally been approached more times than I care to recall with critiques of programs and events. Knowing there are lots of great ideas floating around in an organization with highly intelligent and motivated people, I would love to see those of you with new creative ideas, and the energy to help incorporate them step up to help keep the OCWS fun, informative and appealing. Your Board of Directors is here to encourage and support all efforts and is just waiting to hear from you. Please consider taking all those thoughts and ideas you’ve had and kept to yourself and put them into action.

I truly hope to hear from you. Thank you.

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Wine Snips – Those Who Came Before

As I sat down to write my first Wine Press article as President, I thought about all the things I could say to the OCWS membership over the next 12 months. I could easily recap events that have just taken place, or I could highlight upcoming events. These are things that, if you read this newsletter every month, each Chair of these gatherings is sharing with you in their articles with far more interesting detail than I can. I also thought about all the questions I have been asked as a Director over the past five years and realized that I have been given a platform to tell you things about the organization and the people involved that you otherwise might not know and, just maybe, answer some of those questions that have crossed your mind at one time or another.

As the incoming President of the OCWS, I would be remiss if I didn’t use this first article to pay homage to those who came before me and set the tone for this amazing organization. After being a member for 17 years and a Director for the past five, I thought I knew a lot about the OCWS. After studying the list of Presidents beginning in 1978, I realized the one thing I didn’t know as well as I could is the history and commitment of the 24 people who served as President before me. Many of them served multiple terms, and through their encouragement and kindness, have held my hand and heart on my journey to the presidency.


With that being said, we honored one of those individuals at our recent Annual Business Meeting with the designation of President Emeritus. The title denotes the perpetual status of an individual who has helped move the organization to new heights as a former key member on the Board of Directors. In this case, as President an unprecedented four terms (2000-01, 2002-03, 2008-09, 2013-14), with none of those terms consecutive. This year Dennis Esslinger joined the ranks of just a few who have garnered the President Emeritus title. He joins a small, elite group of past Presidents who not only gave their time and effort over a number of years, but continue to do so and for that I, for one, am grateful.

The other eight Presidents Emeriti are Jim Graver (1978-79), Lora Howard (1995-96), Bob Trout (1996-97), Charley Owen (1997-98), John Goodnight (1999-2000), David Hirstein (2001-02), Larry Graham (2005-06, 2006-07), and Leslie Brown (2009-10, 2010-11). I want to thank these people, along with the other past Presidents for laying the foundation of the OCWS. I can only hope to continue in their footsteps and do good for the organization this next year. When your paths cross with theirs, please thank them for their commitment and hard work in bringing us to where we are today.

My heartfelt thanks go to the current Board of Directors for electing me to this office and having the confidence in me to lead the organization for the next Board year.

BOD 2018

In closing, if there is anything you would like to see answered in this column over the next several months, please email me at I can’t promise everything will be addressed in this column, but I will do my best to answer everything asked of me in one way or another.

– Fran Gitsham, President