President’s Message

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

President’s Message

10 Ways To Be Happier

People ask me why I volunteer as much as I do and I always reply because it makes me happy. I just recently read an article on WebMD about 15 ways to be happier and as I ticked each one off the list, I realized that 10 of them had me immediately thinking about the OCWS and how it makes me happy. I hope you all say the same.

  1. Slap on a Smile – How can you not smile and be happy when your paths cross with so many warm-hearted, fun-loving people who like to laugh, hug and drink good wine?
  2. Volunteer – Well, that’s a slam dunk. It’s what it’s all about for many of us.
  3. Make New Friends – There’s always someone new joining and attending functions. These are the people that fuel my enthusiasm because they’re seeing the organization through new eyes and realizing all the fun yet to be had.
  4. Count Your Blessings – How much more blessed can we be than to be doing something kind and giving in raising scholarship funds while having a ball? Enough said!
  5. Break a Sweat – Anyone who has volunteered at an OCWS event knows this goes with the territory.
  6. Forgive and Forget – No one sees things the same way and often times, in the running of the organization and associated events, people butt heads; however, the negativity never lasts for long because love abounds and always wins out.
  7. Turn on Some Tunes – Attending the Spring and Fall events and the Holiday Dinner Dance fits this bill as evidenced by the full dance floor from start to finish with attendees dancing to a much loved band (“Break a Sweat” equally applies here).
  8. Get the ZZZ’s You Need – All I know is that I sleep beautifully after an OCWS event, as I’ve eaten, drank, danced, schmoozed, and gone home really satiated, having enjoyed fun with incredibly wonderful people.
  9. Remember Your Why – If you’re reading this, you know why you joined and why you stay a member. For me, it fills my heart with fun and love.
  10. Seek Positive People – If there was one prerequisite to being a member of the OCWS, in my mind it would be this. Positivity abounds throughout the organization at every turn and it’s a high I love being on!

I have always said that the Orange County Wine Society to me is a microcosm of what the world should be. We have members of all ages, races, religions, and sexual orientation, and no one sees any differences. They just see good people, with wonderful loving hearts and appreciate everyone for what they bring to the party … whether it be as a full-time volunteer or a social attendee to events. If only the world could be more like us!

Sending love to you all, with hopes for more peace in the world.

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message-Competition Time is Fast Approaching

I mention often enough that we are in an especially important partnership with the Orange County Fair & Events Center which affords us the opportunity to run the Commercial and Home Wine Competitions each year. What I have not touched on is the behind-the-scenes workings that make these Competitions a reality. Unless you’ve volunteered for these amazing, professionally run, and labor-intensive events, I assure you, it is mindboggling as to just what it takes to run successful Competitions. And the fact that volunteers do everything is truly unbelievable!

By the time you read this, preparations for the 2022 Commercial Wine Competition have been well under way for over seven months. The Competition, which is traditionally held the first weekend of June each year, isn’t technically completed until the last bottles are sorted and the award medals are mailed by the end of June. Planning for the next Competition begins barely two months after the prior Competition has been put to bed. Hardly time for a short nap and a glass of wine in between.

The hotel contract for each year is negotiated three years prior. The first of a number of communications to over 4,000 wineries are sent in September in preparation for the next Competition, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Commercial Competition Committee is comprised of a number of people from the Chairperson, who heads the Committee, to the Head of Judges, who contacts and coordinates 90+ professional winemakers and winery principals who judge the Competition, to the Tech Coordinator, who oversees the software programs and equipment, to the Facilities Coordinator, who handles rooms and meals, invitations, etc., to the Volunteer Coordinator, who schedules and directs over 300 volunteers in two days, to Scoring and Verification Coordinators, and so on and so on. Impressed yet? No? Just keep reading.

How about the most vital of roles as Head of Cataloging, who oversees upwards of 2,700 entries? That is 16,200 bottles, as each entry consists of 6 bottles. Then take into consideration the bagging coordinators, as the Competition is a blind tasting; one bottle of each entry has to be bagged and labeled for pouring at the Competition. Then think about not only transporting the wines to the hotel, but the glassware, racks, trays, towels, and computer equipment, too. Also take into consideration that everything that is done has to be undone upon closing of this year’s Competition – then prepared for the next. No sooner does the Competition conclude, a Steering Committee of six compiles and reviews all the information and confirms the awarding of medals. This is followed by each and every entry being photographed for publication on our results website ( and mailing notifications to the award-winning wineries, followed by mailing of their medals.

This is just a brief glance into the Commercial Wine Competition.

On a smaller scale, the Home Wine Competition is run with basically the same dynamics and is held on the Fairgrounds the following weekend and receives well over 600 entries a year.

Have I provided you with enough information yet to have your head spinning? I could easily continue to bore you with more statistics, positions, lists of the names of people who, out of their passion for this organization and goodness of their hearts, take the lead positions. Rest assured, this is just the tip of the iceberg wherein you hear about volunteers running this organization.

All of this is accomplished at the hands of hundreds of dedicated volunteers without whom the OCWS would not be what it is today. Utterly amazing in my opinion! I am so proud to be your President and, as of this year, Chair of the Commercial Competition Committee, and to have the opportunity to share stories of incredible people and events with you.

If you are new members or have never worked at either of the Competitions, I promise you, you won’t regret trying!

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message – 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. Income from The Courtyard, along with the Wine Auction each year, pay for the running of the Commercial and Home Wine Competitions and sustaining the organization; however, this does not come from the OCWS alone. We are considered a non-profit partner to the Orange County Fair & Event Center (OCFEC) which affords us the opportunity to run the competitions and realize the benefits. The Competitions that we run each year are, in fact, owned by the OCFEC, but it was a small group of home winemakers that not only began our organization 46 years ago, but also approached the OC Fair with the idea of running wine competitions in tandem with the Fair each year. 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 the first entire weekend of June, finds entries upwards of 2,800+ 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 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-winners in their own right, and a couple of hundred more supporters, run the OC Fair Home Wine Competition on the second weekend of June on the OC Fairgrounds. Over 100 of the volunteers at this Competition are trained home wine judges who judge upwards of 650+ wines that are served by about 80 stewards.

The Competitions ultimately bring us to The Courtyard at the OC Fair, where we have the pleasure of serving commercial wines to the public throughout 23 days of the Fair. All of this is accomplished at the hands of hundreds of OCWS dedicated volunteers without whom this organization would not be what it is today.

I urge anyone who has not had, nor taken, the opportunity to volunteer at these events  to give it a try this year. It’s more fun than you can imagine! For more information about the Competitions and The Courtyard, please visit our website at

– Fran Gitsham, President

President’s Message

Where there is Love, There is Life
By: Mahatma Gandhi

February is that month that we all instinctively think of “love” in one way or another. Some of us celebrate with flowers, chocolates, and champagne. Some of us think of loves lost and raise a glass in gratitude and celebration of precious memories. Some think of loves that 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 are old enough to go to school, and our moms making sure we made enough homemade cards so not to 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 into 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 been 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, are what has made the OCWS successful. The continuing success of the organization, in my mind, comes second only to the people who, without their loving hearts, we would not achieve year after year.

I, for one, am grateful and heart 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 for each of you passions which make your heart happy and many people in life for you to love and be loved by every day of the year!

– Fran Gitsham, President