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Join the Club by Greg Risling

Whether it’s lunch under a big oak tree or a private tasting overlooking a valley, wine club benefits can make it worth the commitment.

Chances are – at one time or another – you have joined a wine club.

The inevitable lure for us oenophiles was most certainly the wine itself. Whether it was your favorite varietal that hit your palette just right during a tasting or a varied selection of wines that intrigued you, wine clubs also tend to have a host of benefits that aim at retaining newly minted members.

But what about the clubs that have a special touch – that something extra which might get you to join?

At Sunce Winery in Santa Rosa, members can get a complimentary sunset cruise in San Francisco Bay. Bushong Vintage Company in Paso Robles offers an annual Winter Vinyl Package where customers get three red wines and a new, collectible record picked by owner Jason Bushong himself. How about virtual tastings with comedian Martin Short and late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel at Hall Wines in Saint Helena? And, over at Eberle Winery, also in Paso Robles, military and law enforcement get a whopping 40 percent off purchases that also applies for the wine club.

Discounts are usually the biggest appeal people are given when they join a club. It often ranges between 10 and 30 percent, often with free shipping or maybe even a local pickup where members get to taste the most recent releases.

Of course, joining a wine club usually means free tastings at the winery itself. And given that some tastings for visitors in Napa, Sonoma or elsewhere can be north of $50-$100, it makes sense to join a club and get shipments 2-3 times a year.

OCWS members Dino and Adrienne Amico have some sage advice for fellow members when it comes to shipping.

“We have our wines shipped to a FedEx store near our home so we don’t have to be home to sign for the delivery,” Adrienne says. “FedEx keeps the box in its air conditioned space and allows us five days to pick it up before returning it to the sender.”

Joining a club also means that you part of a new family. However, with larger corporations snatching up wineries across California, that family feel has been tougher to retain.

At Navarro Vineyards and Winery, owners Aaron Bennett and his sister Sarah Cahn-Bennett enjoy giving members a sneak peak into what goes into making their wines.

At Navarro Vineyards and Winery in Mendocino County, family is the name of the game. Aaron Bennett and his sister, Sarah Cahn-Bennett, run the winery after it was founded in the early 1970s by their parents Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn.

The winery’s pre-release tasting program centers on a direct relationship between the winemaker and the customer and during each release, Ted and Deborah delve deeper into stories of the 20-25 wines they produce, giving members a behind-the-scenes look of what it takes to make each wine.

Aaron says Navarro tries to make the wines affordable while not cutting corners to ensure people get the highest quality wine.

“It was important for us that access to those wines should not be elitist,” he says. “Additionally, I believe our members generally have an appreciation for multiple varietals and an eagerness to learn and try different wine and different styles. We’re constantly keeping our ears to the ground and experimenting with different approaches.”

The answer is simple for Mike Owen, president and CEO of Crystal Basin Cellars in El Dorado County, when asked to describe the typical club member for his winery.

“Over 21 with lips,” cracks Mike. “Some people are very curious in a wine-centric way and others like the social aspect and our ‘Cheers’-like approach to hospitality.”

Mike added that Crystal Basin allows customers to swap out wines in the same categories to fit their particular favorites; members can skip up to a year of shipments so they can retain club benefits; and there are two programs that reward members referring friends, including a $100 discount on a case of wine.

OCWS members Cathy and Lee Painter belong to several wine clubs. While they have leaned toward smaller, family-owned wineries, they have enjoyed Onx Wines, located in the Tin City area of Paso Robles. Before getting your shipment, Onx lets you order two-once sample bottles and also host a Zoom tasting with the winemakers and cooking classes.

“They provide a bottle of white or rose to drink while cooking and a bottle of red to have with dinner, plus a pack of all the ingredients for the meal,” Lee says. “We’ve done four of these, making seared duck breast, homemade pasta, paella and Christmas cookies.”

Paula Baker, office manager at Fallbrook Winery in San Diego County, says the winery strives to keep its “small town, friendly vibe” – right down to guests getting greeted by Cooper – the winery’s beloved dog that likes to herd folks into the tasting room.

Members at Fallbrook also can swap out different varietals for their quarterly shipment that best suits them. They can get intimate seating in the cave, invites to club parties and small group tastings with winemaker Euan Parker or another member of the production team.

“Friendly, knowledgeable staff make members feel like part of a close-knit family – which they are, really!” says Paula. “We welcome everyone with a smile.”

The good news for those wanting to join a wine club is that there is no shortage of choices and with a little research and ample time to taste, a suitable match is only a click away.


 

Joining a Wine Club: WHAT TO LOOK FOR

With thousands of wineries
throughout the state of California, choosing the wine club
that’s right for you can be
daunting. Before you commit,
consider the following:
Shipping can really add up. Be
sure yours is included.
• • •
A club that offers quarterly
shipments will typically cost
twice as much as biannual shipments simply because you’re
getting more bottles. Know how
much you’re willing to spend.
• • •
Do you prefer whites over reds
and avoid rose varietals?
Customized allocations may
be just your thing.
• • •
Look into discounts on future
orders, incentives for referring
a friend and even free bottles.
• • •
Private tours, invite-only parties
and lunch in the vineyard are
great reasons to join.
• • •
Consider the cancellation and
return policies before you
decide whether the membership works for you

 

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

Support the Award-Winning Wineries from Our Competition

California has so many amazing wineries that have won medals at the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition. Help us get the word out about our prestigious wine competition. Next time you are at a winery that has our medals or awards posted, take a picture with the awards and post it to social media (Facebook or Instagram). You can let people know they can find all the winners at WineCompetition.com. Make sure you tag it with @ocwinesociety and use the hashtags #ocfairwinecompetition and #ocwsloveswineries. Each month, we will draw a winner for a bottle of wine from the previous month’s posts!

Chef of the Evening

Lime Meringue Pie
Kevin Donnelly

Having a lime tree in my backyard, I am very fond of lime desserts, including my Key Lime Pie. For this Mini-Tasting, I chose to take a Lemon Meringue Pie recipe, and substitute limes for the lemons.

 

Ingredients

  • Homemade Pie Crust*
  • 5 large egg yolks(use the whites in the meringue below)
  • 1 1/3 cups (320ml) water
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (38g) cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) fresh Lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. lime zest
  • 2 Tbsp. (28g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

Meringue

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Instructions

  1. Pie crust: I like to make sure my pie dough is prepared before I begin making Lime meringue pie. I always make pie dough the night before because it needs to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before rolling out and blind baking (next step).
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C). Partially blind bakey our pie crust. (Follow blind baking instructions through step 9.) Tip: You can get started on the Lime meringue pie filling steps while your crust is blind baking. But making the filling is time sensitive because you will temper the egg yolks, so if multi-tasking isn’t your thing, just wait until your crust is done blind baking before beginning the filling.
  3. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F (177°C).
  4. Watch the video above to see how I work through each of the following steps.
  5. Make the filling: Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set aside. Whisk the water, granulated sugar, cornstarch, salt, Lime juice, and Lime zest together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. The mixture will be thin and cloudy, then eventually begin thickening and bubbling after about 6 minutes. Once thickened, give it a whisk and reduce heat to low.
  6. Temper the egg yolks: Very slowly stream a few large spoonful’s of warm Lime mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Then, also in a very slow stream, whisk the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan. Turn heat back up to medium. Cook until the mixture is thick and big bubbles begin bursting at the surface. See my video above as an example. Remove the pan from heat and whisk in the butter. Spread filling into the warm partially baked crust. Set aside as you prepare the meringue. (Don’t let the filling cool down too much as you want a warm filling when you top with the meringue in step 7. The warm filling helps seal the two layers together, preventing separation.)
  7. Make the meringue: With a handheld mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together on high speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and salt, then continue beating on high speed until glossy stiff peaks form, about 2 more minutes. Spread meringue on top of filling. (I like to make decorative peaks with the back of a large spoon. See video above.) Make sure you spread the meringue all the way to the edges so that it touches the crust. This helps prevent the meringue from weeping.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the meringue is browned on top. Remove from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool at room temperature for 1 hour before placing in the refrigerator to chill. Chill for 4 hours before slicing and serving.
  9. Cover any leftovers and store in the refrigerator. Lime meringue pie tastes best on day 1 because it doesn’t keep very well. No matter how hard you try to prevent it, the meringue will wilt and separate over time. Best to enjoy right away.

Chef of the Evening

Shrimp, Bean & Leek Stew

Ingredients
1 tsp. fresh lemon zest and 2 Tbsp.
lemon juice
1 tsp. sweet or smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, grated
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 lb. peeled, deveined large shrimp
(tails removed)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 large bunch of leeks, trimmed and
halved lengthwise, white and green
parts sliced crosswise 1/2-inch
thick (or 1 large onion, minced)
1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans or
other white beans, rinsed
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Directions
COMBINE lemon zest, paprika, garlic, 3/4 tsp. salt and 3/4 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss
to coat.

MELT butter over medium-high heat
in large pot.

ADD shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until pink and starting to curl, 2-3 minutes.

TRANSFER shrimp to plate using aslotted spoon; set aside.

ADD leeks, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until leaks are soft and starting to brown on the edges, 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

ADD beans and chicken broth and bring to a boil over high.

LOWER heat and simmer, 8-10 minutes.

STIR in reserved shrimp and any juices from the plate, parsley and lemon juice.

SEASON with salt and pepper.

—Recipe courtesy
OCWS member Janet Peal

August 2023 Gold Medal Mini-Tasting Results:

The August Gold Medal Mini-tasting was held at 10 sites (members’ homes) across the county, with 165 people enjoying 10 wines that had each been awarded a Double Gold Medal paired with dishes prepared by the attendees. The wines were served in five blind flights of two wines each and the attendees judged each wine and voted for their favorites. Since there were eight different varietals in the line-up, the attendees also were asked to name the varietal for each wine (a brief description of the varietals was provided on the back of the scoresheet).

Since the Gold Medal Mini-Tasting always features a number of different varietals, all very highly rated, the overall scoring likely has more to do with personal taste and the food being paired than an actual comparison of the wines.

The featured wines started with two Grenache Noirs – Carol Shelton’s and an unusual white wine from Dubost called “White Heart.” The White Heart was 100% Grenache Noir, but had no color from the skins, making it look like a Grenache Blanc. Overall, the two Grenache wines tied for 7th place across the 10 sites.

The overall winner also was the highest-rated wine in this year’s Commercial Competition – the Runquist 2021 Charbono, which earned 98 points and Best of Class. The wine placed in the top four at eight of the 10 sites.

Second and third overall were a pair of Petite Sirahs. Second place went to the Macchia “Rebellious” and third place went to the Bushong “Unknown Pleasures.”  Fourth was the Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel from Hawley.

The four favorite wines across the seven host sites:

Place Wine & Winery YR PRICE DESCRIPTION

1st

Jeff Runquist

 

Charbono

 

Sierra Foothills AVA

Amador County

 

98 Double Gold

Best of Class

2021 $29.00 The 2021 Charbono has a deep, purple-black color with youthful magenta hues. Brairy blue black fruits; boysenberry, marionberry and mulberry provide the foundation of this wine’s aroma. Notes of crushed pine needles and forest floor transition to a bouquet of deeply toasted oak. Flavors of ripe blackberries and savory oak precede those of creamy mocha and dark chocolate.

2nd

Macchia

 

Rebellious

Petite Sirah

 

Lodi AVA

 

93 Double Gold

2021 $28.00 Petite Sirah got its name from the small size of the berries and not the wine that is produced from it. It is one of the biggest, boldest and tannic wines produced in America. These Rebellious grapes wanted to stand on their own to show the world just how good they could be. The rich ripe berry flavors are highlighted with a subtle hint of soft vanilla oak making it a very food-worthy wine.

3rd

Bushong

 

Unknown Pleasures

Petite Sirah

 

Paso Robles AVA

95 Double Gold

2020 $55.00 The Bushong website says 100% Petite

Sirah.

Sona Vineyard Willow Creek

75% New French Oak

Blueberry. Cola. Burnt Sugar. Slate Minerality.

4th

Hawley

 

Reserve Old Vine

Zinfandel

 

Dry Creek Valley AVA

 

95 Double Gold

2021 $52.00 Aromas of raspberry preserves, nutmeg and rose petal. Brimming with strawberry and blueberry fruit backed by structured tannins and bright acidity.

In addition, attendees brought a delicious dish to share and then voted on a Chef of the Evening. The results of the Chef of the Evening at each host site are:

  • Hosts Chris & Hank Bruce:

Kim & Steve Rizzuto – Blackberry Mousse Cheesecake

  •  Host Carolyn & Damian Christian:

Mary Ann & Don Meyer – Berry Pavlova with Lemon Whipped Cream 

  • Hosts Kim & Kristyn Grime:

Mark & Alison Godleski – Salmon

  • Hosts Kathy Krieger & Lynda Edwards:

Linda Downey – Pork Tenderloin Crustini with Apricot Horseradish Chutney

  • Hosts Rochelle Randel & Leslie Hodawanec:

Pam Oneida – Bacon-wrapped Feta Figs

 Hosts Greg & Cathy Risling:

          Janet Peal – Shrimp, Bean & Leek Stew

  • Hosts: Rob & Germaine Romano

Kevin Donnelly – Lime Meringue Pie

  •  Hosts: Craig & Ronna Rowe

Debbie Renne & Ed Reyes – Nectarine Tart

  •  Hosts Frank & Pat Solis:

Denise Scandura – Chicken Pot Pie

  • Hosts Dave & Barb White:

Tie – Dave Donated a bottle from his cellar rather than break the tie

Deb Webber – Portobello Penne

Brenda & Robert Scott – Eggplant Parmesan

Congratulations to all the winners!  A big thank you to the hosts!

George Cravens, OCWS Director

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Committed to Quality By Greg Risling

Tucked in a business park off Alicia Parkway in Mission Viejo, Chuck and Sheri Bellante have established one of the most reputable and welcoming wineries in Orange County.

While it still may stun some residents that they can visit a top-flight winery just a few miles from their home, Bellante Family Winery has made a name for itself by producing a stupendous slate of age-worthy, single-vineyard wines that has netted 90+ scores for roughly 85 percent of their offerings.

“Watching wines develop over time is part of the satisfaction of making wine,” says proprietor Chuck Bellante. “They are like my newborn children. I can’t pick a favorite.”

Chuck has spent nearly the last quarter century making wine. Once a garagiste who partnered with others to explore the world of wine, he and Sheri decided to open a tasting room in 2017 as a way to move into retirement doing something they love.

The retired chemical engineer credits his job for his meticulous approach. He knew he wanted his grapes to come from Santa Barbara County that has east-west coastal mountains that form valleys and balance the climate to help nurture the fruit to its maximum potential.

“It’s kind of intuitive; I let the fruit talk to me,” Chuck says. “I have the science background to do what needs to be done. I taste it as it matures to see what more needs to be done.”

He also wanted to provide his clients solely with single vineyard varietals, giving them the opportunity to experience the terroir and the nuances of that particular location.

Chuck prides his wine being single vineyard and racking up top scores by the likes of Wine Enthusiast. His wines have consistently medaled at the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

“Scores mean you are meeting a standard. You might not like the wine but it’s good from a technical standpoint,” he said.

His first vintage – circa 2000 – was a Syrah he calls “bullet-proof” because of the grape’s thick skin. Since then, Chuck has expanded his collection to Pinot Noir, Viognier, Grenache and Mourvedre.

As most wine aficionados know, making the very best wine is a blend of science and art. Chuck recounted a story during harvest one year when a fellow winemaker questioned why he hadn’t picked his fruit and was the last in the area to do so. Clearly, Chuck recalls, the winemaker thought it was too late and the end result would suffer. Waiting did just the opposite.

“I like to pick the fruit later. I’m not trying to be hip or cool,” Chuck said. “I just know what I’m trying to achieve. If everything tastes right, it’s time to pick.”

The winery also offers some unique options and events. First and foremost is their wine club where prospective members actually get to taste the wine before choosing which ones will be part of their allocation. Every month, the Bellantes host a tasting for the older library wines, giving clients the opportunity to sample the crème de la crème.

The winery claims to have the original wine bingo in Orange County. If you don’t have any plans on Halloween, there will be a murder mystery soiree for those novice sleuths. And a few days after Thanksgiving, the winery will host an exquisite lineup of delicious offerings by renowned chef Pascal Olhats.

All in all, Chuck and Sheri are enjoying the fruits of their labor and hope others have the opportunity to swing by and taste some hand-crafted, world-class wines from Santa Barbara County right here in Orange County.

“It’s about making a quality wine,” Chuck says. “The people who appreciate that – they are my kind of people.”

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

Chef of the Evening

After Janet Riordan tried this Milk Chocolate Pistachio Tart at her women’s group dinner, she just had to share it with OCWS members at the last Mini-Tasting.

“I loved it immediately (I mean really, chocolate crust with a chocolate filling, toss in pistachios, damn, yum),” says Janet, a 20-year member. “I enjoy baking and always try to include new recipes.”

While this version calls for safflower oil, Janet substituted cannoli oil for its taste. When it comes to the chocolate, Janet uses Dove milk chocolate candies. She also notes that she made the tart the day before serving and it was just as fresh and delicious.

Milk Chocolate Pistachio Tart

Ingredients

Vegetable oil cooking spray for pan

Crust:

¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, chopped

¼ tsp. salt

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pistachio Paste:

½ cup unsalted shelled pistachios

¼ cup sugar

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. safflower oil

Filling:

5 oz. milk chocolate, chopped

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup whole milk

1 large egg, beaten

Garnish:

Finely chopped pistachios

Directions

Crust:

COAT 9-inch fluted round tart pan with removeable bottom with cooking spray. Make the crust

WHISK together flour cocoa powder, chopped pistachios and ¼ tsp. salt.

BEAT butter on medium speed until fluffy, about three minutes.

ADD sugar and beat until pale, about two minutes. Reduce speed to low and add vanilla, then flour mixture until just combined and dough holds together when pressed between two fingers.

PRESS dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

ROLL out dough between two pieces of clear plastic wrap to create an 11-inch round, ¼-inch thick piece.

PRESS dough into bottom and up sides of tart pan. Trim excess dough flush with edges of pan using knife.

REFRIGERATE until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees.

BAKE until firm, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely; reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Pistachio Paste:

PULSE pistachios, sugar and ¼ tsp. salt in food processor until mixture begins to clump together.

ADD oil and pulse until smooth and paste-like.

SPREAD evenly into bottom of cooled tart shell, pressing firmly with the bottom of a measuring cup until flat and smooth.

Filling:

PLACE chocolate in heatproof bowl. Heat cream and milk in saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling; pour over chocolate. Let stand 2 minutes.

WHISK slowly until smooth. Let cool 10 minutes.

STIR in eggs until combined.

PLACE tart shell on baking sheet and pour in filling.

BAKE until just set, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool.

GARNISH with finely chopped pistachios.