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

Scott & Manuela’s European Winetasting Experience (and Winemaking)

Fellow OC wine enthusiasts, you bared with me a few issues back as I relayed my anniversary/wine tasting experience in Northern California. Perhaps I can keep your interest as I tell you of Manuela’s and my six-week trip tip through France, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic and, of course, Manuela’s home country of Italy. It was there that I not only sampled great wine, I got a chance to make it—the old fashioned way!

But that is to come later.

We started off on a river cruise up the Rhône River, from Avignon to Lyon, France, with two other wine-drinking couples. If you are familiar with this region you know we passed through the Rhône Valley appellation. Along the way, we tasted some very good wines such as the Rhône blends, similar to our GSM’s, as well as some Pinots and Syrahs. Among the whites, we found the Viogniers to be excellent. The wines here in France tended to be earthy, dry and subtle in flavor. Very drinkable now but worthy of aging some. Then there is the famous Champagne! We shared quite a bit of that product, I can tell you. My personal favorite was Drappier, Corte d’Or, Brut.

What was to be a highlight of the trip was a stop in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We attended a tasting set up by the cruise line. The wines were inexpensive and, to my taste, reflected that. Most of the Americans there did not favor these wines. Not giving up, however, the guys sought out a better experience while the wives went shopping!  In fact, we found the best wine tasting shop – appropriately named “Best Wine Shop.” We enjoyed thoroughly the one-on-one experience with the shop owner and ultimately shipped a case of wine back to the US!  Closer to Lyon, we encountered Burgundy and Beaujolais wines from further north. These were excellent wines that included Gamay, Pinot, Merlot, Chardonnay and a few names I could not possibly pronounce. Not as earthy as the Rhône wines, but excellent to our California pallets. In fact, I would say, they save the best for themselves and export the lesser quality wines abroad!  And these wines were not expensive.

Departing the ship in Lyon, we drove to just past Lausanne, Switzerland, staying at an Airbnb in the home of a winemaker on the mountain slope overlooking Lake Geneva. It was beautiful!   Take a look at the shot from our dining room window. We ate fondue and raclette but also enjoyed some very nice Swiss wine. The grapes grown here were predominately white varietals, but there were some good reds as well. I don’t think I’ve run across Swiss wine in our wine shops. My guess, they just don’t make enough. Although the hillsides were overwhelmingly covered by vines. My friends and I had no qualms about drinking the local product! Of particular note was the 2020 Heida made by Yvonne & Yvo Mathier. I hope to find that here in California.

At the end of our stay in Switzerland, our friends returned home, but Manuela and I drove over the Great St. Bernard Pass and down into the Piemonte region of Italy – where Manuela was born – for a three-week stay in Chiaverano, Italy, near Ivrea. Yeah, you will need to Google those names.  Here we were immersed in Northern Italian wines from Piemonte, Asti and, of course, Tuscany. Some of my personal favorite wines come from these regions such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Montepulciano and little-known, Erbaluce (grown predominately around Ivrea). Sixty-eight percent of these wines are red, and for good reason:  It’s the weather and terroir.

While drinking great wine from the regions we visit is always a pleasure, the true joy  of this trip – and the reason behind my writing this article – was the chance to join one of Manuela’s relatives, Pierluigi, in the winemaking process!   Timing for our trip was just right, and being a home winemaker myself, that when I got invited to see the crush and participate, I was all in.  As is common with the decades-old homes of the area, Pierluigi’s comes equipped with a wine cellar, where he has been making wine all his life.

This was the real thing … well, the real old-world thing. We put several kilograms of grapes and stems in an old wine press. As you can see from the photo, I was an “instrumental” part of the process. When all was done, we opened one of his 40-year-old bottles of wine. OK, it wasn’t that good at that point, but it sure was exciting to know we were drinking something that old and very special.

Toward the end of our three weeks in Italy, my brother and his wife joined us for a few days of Alpine experience, her first. But soon we were flying from Milan to Prague, Czech Republic. The city of Prague is on my personal top ten places that I have been fortunate enough to visit in my lifetime. It has a rich heritage and beautiful buildings, bridges and structures nearly everywhere in its massive old city. And yes, Czech Republic makes wine!  Almost exclusively white wine, but there are a small percentage of reds. And the varietals include many you know and some you most likely do not.

After a few days in Prague, we commenced another river cruise that primarily sailed west along the Main River through southern Germany, part of the Rhine River and finally the Moselle River.  We had stops in wonderful old world cities such as Nurenberg, Bamberg, Wurzburg, Heidelberg, Cochem and Trier. More local wine, predominately white, was to be had everywhere along these rivers. The dry Gewürztraminers and Viogniers were great. Reds were a bit more challenging to our taste. Ultimately we ended our trip with four days in Paris. I treated my brother, his wife, and a former colleague and his wife to a dinner cruise on the Seine River in Paris. We had great local cuisine and fine white wines. In return, he treated us at a very high-end, old world (established in the 1600’s he says) Parisian restaurant that was outstanding. All told, our six weeks in Europe was one for the books!

– W. Scott Harral, Contributing Writer

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

Creative Scholarships

After enjoying serving on the Scholarship Committee for the past two years, I would like to thank the Board for allowing me to continue into 2022, and I welcome those ideas from our generous members who are becoming creative with expanding the Scholarship Committee.

The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) from 2020 has been extended to 2021 and allows for an additional “above the line” tax deduction for 501(c)(3) charitable gifts made in cash up to $300 for those filing single/separately and up to $600 for those filing jointly.

To the member who was at the Fall BBQ while in the food serving line who told me she worked on another scholarship committee, please get ahold of me. I would like to talk to you. I was wearing gloves and couldn’t write down any information. We have another member who has also volunteered to get involved on the scholarship committee. I can be reached at

$12.50 of each membership goes into the scholarship fund, however dual memberships remain at only $12.50. For those members with dual memberships, you may consider donating your dual $12.50 to the OCWS scholarship fund.

Long-time OCWS members have donated wine. We picked up a collector series of Marilyn Merlot wines, and Roadrunner Ridge Winery donated 150+ cases of wine for our Auction, where the funds raised go specifically toward the scholarship account. We are grateful to those who purchased the lots.

Mira Laguna Winery made a contribution from the Willy and Eileen Ma Foundation to the OCWS scholarship foundations, thank you!

Endeared member, Marjorie Trout, who is an established artist and exhibitor also helped raise scholarship funds at our Auction.

Two months until 2022 and we’re wrapping up the OCWS scholarship year. You can see how many ways there are to creatively contribute!  Go to program, choose your own personal scholarship donation amount and print a receipt for your records (please contact your tax professional for advice).

Enjoy and Happy Holidays everyone!

– Leslie Hodowanec,
Scholarship Chair

2021 OCWS Wine Auction Recap

Going Once, Going Twice…Gone! And it’s a wrap on the 2021 OCWS Wine Auction! Thank you to all of the amazing volunteers who made this event possible. We had over 70 volunteers help in making this a very successful event. A special thanks to my committee, who has been working since 2020 when we first thought this Auction would have to be held online. In the spring of 2021, we finally received word that we could hold the event in person and secured a venue at the OC Fair & Event Center for October!

2021 OCWS Wine Auction Committee Members:

  • Chris Bruce – Check-out
  • Hank Bruce – Facilities
  • Damian Christian – Volunteers / Staff
  • Kevin Donnelly – Computers
  • Ellen Flynn – Administration
  • Rochelle Randel – Event Food / Wine
  • Bill Redding – Wine Inventory / Advisor
  • Janet Riordan – Check-out
  • Greg Risling – Facilities
  • Rich Skoczylas – Event Food / Wine

At big thank you to all of the volunteers who stepped up to help and make this event a huge success!

The OCWS Wine Auction is one of our major fundraising events and helps support the organizations’ year-round activities and programs such as the OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition, Scholarship Fund, and more! This Auction replaced both the 2020 and 2021 Wine Auctions that were scheduled in the spring.

The event was a huge success thanks to our members who bid against each other for their favorite lots. Thank you to our highest bidders, who included: C.K. & Laurel Allen, Dave Beach, Hank & Chris Bruce, Dennis & Gloria DeRosia, and Kathy & William Schymick.

Here are some highlights and fun facts about this year’s Auction:

  • Attendees: 200 (one of the highest numbers in the history of this event)
  • Silent Auction Lots: 1407
  • Lowest Priced: $29
  • Highest Priced: $180
  • Verbal Lots: 104
  • Lowest Priced: $45
  • Highest Priced: $270
  • PYOL Lots Sold: 96
  • Feet of Paper Used on Silent Auction Tables: Over 500
  • Bottles of Wine Consumed: 120
  • Bratwurst Sliders Consumed: Over 190
  • Sheet Pans of Apple Tart Consumed: 3
  • Large Pumpkin Pies Consumed: 5
  • Pounds Lifted of Wine: Over 81,000
  • Gross Revenue for Event: Over $100,000

If you missed your opportunity to stock up on wine, you won’t have to wait long for your next opportunity!  The 2022 OCWS Wine Auction is scheduled for Saturday, April 9, 2022 at the OC Fair & Event Center. We are currently forming a committee to help put on next year’s event, so contact me if you are interested in serving on this great team of dedicated volunteers at!

We look forward to seeing you at the 2022 OCWS Wine Auction!  Cheers!

– Carolyn Christian, Director/Wine Auction Chair

Welcome Back, OCWS, to In-Person Events—BBQ, a Raving Success

Calling the recent membership BBQ a raving success is an understatement. It was clear that OCWS members were more than ready to safely re-engage in person when the event sold out in record time online, and attendance was at full capacity. With awesome food provided by our own Cooks Caucus group, terrific live music by the Three 2 Sevens Band, fun games and, needless to say, terrific wines from the OCWS cellar, the event was destined to be a hit from the very start.

Standing ovations go out to our very own Cooks Caucus which reconvened in style after the COVID-19 hiatus to feed 180 hungry attendees with custom homemade fare, with special kudos going to Lynda Edwards, Bob Topham, Rich Skoczylas, Brian McDonald, George Cravens, Zach Anderson, Bonnie Gausewitz, Dan Donati and Peter Schlundt-Bodien. Additional thanks go out to their day-long support system comprised of Frances Cravens, Linda Flemins, Chris & Hank Bruce, and Teri & John Lane, as well as the many other volunteers and Board members who met every other need to run the event from start to finish.

Without all of our amazing volunteers, this event would not have been as incredible as it was. It was truly an event that gave us all something to celebrate—an amazing organization filled with warm-hearted, fun members. Thank you.

– Sara Yeoman & Fran Gitsham, Event Co-Chairs 

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