President’s Message

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

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