News

2022 Courtyard at the OC Fair

Feel the Sunshine – July 15 through August 14

It will be time again to Feel the Sunshine at the 2022 OC Fair while helping the OCWS continue to rebound from these past few years of COVID by volunteering at our major fundraiser of the year, The Courtyard at the OC Fair.

Volunteer opportunities will be here before you know it! So, plan accordingly, as all willing hands and wonderful hearts will be needed and greatly appreciated.

  • Servers – Sign-ups open May 1 on the OCWS website
  • Managers, Stewards and Cashiers – Check your inbox (and spam folders) for invitations to sign up for these positions
  • Dates for set-up, decorating and tear-down will be announced soon

We are sure you are all wondering what this year will look like. Well, so are we!  At the writing of this article, we had been advised that we should plan on running The Courtyard the same as we did last year, which means we may only be serving wine by the glass again. However, the final determination is yet to be made by the Fair. Therefore, depending on COVID numbers and State and County guidelines as we get closer, we may, and are hopeful to, be able to have wine tastings and in-person seminars, but will not know this until a later date.

The Featured Winery Program will be returning! More details will follow as we get closer to Fair time and receive OCFEC confirmation of any parameters and restrictions at that time.

If you have any questions regarding volunteer sign-ups, please contact our Courtyard Scheduling Coordinator, Rich Skoczylas at Rich@ocws.org, or reach out to me at Fran@ocws.org.

We look forward to seeing you at the Fair and continuing to get back to sharing fun, great laughs, and wine together in person!

– Fran Gitsham, Courtyard Committee Chair

Commercial Wine Competition Volunteers

This year is speeding by so quick, it is hard to believe we are preparing for the 46th Commercial Wine Competition this year!!  The sign up is on our website, (must be login), released Friday, March 11.

We appreciate your flexibility in w/2022-commercial-competition-volunteers/orking together to make this another fun event. There are many areas where volunteer help is needed such as stewarding, glass washing and drying, as well as a handful of positions for computer verification. Continuing the efficiency of the past, the computer input positions will be assigned. A sign-up form is included on the website that identifies stewarding days, bagging nights, and other work parties with times and dates. In order to qualify for stewarding, it is required that you to sign up for a minimum of two additional work parties. We offer bagging and moving of wine to and from the Competition site, and including sorting day later in June. We need your support for our work parties in order to run a successful Competition. The good news is that we will have some hired help for heavy lifting. No training is necessary, as newer members will be teamed with Competition veterans.

As a heads up, if you volunteer to steward, it means carrying trays of glasses—it’s physical and can get tiring. Along with stewarding, you need to be prepared to assist your Steward Captain with opening wine bottles, preparing glasses for tags and cleanup of the judges’ tables as needed, under the direction of your designated Steward Captain. Please dress accordingly, using your OCWS apron is recommended. Sneakers or shoes you can walk (forward, always forward…not against traffic) comfortably in all day.

If you have any questions, please feel free to phone me at 562.822.3382 or email me at Strompharms@earthlink.net. We look forward to your participation in making this very important event as successful as ever.

.– Robyn Strom, Volunteer Coordinator

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 ocws.org.

– Fran Gitsham, President

Commercial Wine Competition Volunteers

We are headed toward the 46th Commercial Competition this year!! As in previous years, we will have signups online in March.

We understand that these are changing times and conditions, so we appreciate your flexibility in working together to make this another fun event. There are many areas where volunteer help is needed such as stewarding, glass washing and drying, as well as computer verification. Continuing the efficiency of the past, the computer input positions will be assigned. A sign-up form is included on the website that identifies stewarding days, bagging nights, and other work parties with times and dates. In order to qualify for stewarding, it is required of you to sign up for two additional work parties.

We offer bagging and moving of wine to and from the Competition site, including sorting. We definitely need your support for our work parties in order to run a successful competition. The good news is that we will have some hired help for heavy lifting. No training is necessary as newer members will be teamed with competition veterans.

A heads up, if you volunteer to steward, it means carrying trays of glasses. It’s physical and can get tiring. Along with stewarding, you need to be prepared to assist your Steward Captain with opening wine bottles, preparing glasses for tags and cleanup of the judges’ tables as needed, under the direction of your designated Steward Captain.

If you have any questions, please feel free to phone me at 562.822.3382 or email at Strompharms@earthlink.net.

We look forward to your participation in making this very important event as successful as ever.

– Robyn Strom, Volunteer Coordinator

In Memoriam—Jim Graver

The OCWS Winemakers’ Group and the OCWS Society has lost a dear friend, Jim Graver. As one of the originators of the Orange County Wine Society and the founder of the OCWS Home Wine Group in 1980, Jim passed away on February 6.

Jim Graver was the first President of the OCWS and continued to lead the Winemakers’ Group and the OC Fair’s Home Wine Competition for many years, until he finally retired from these positions after 36 years in 2015.

In 2016, the OCWS recognized him by naming him an OCWS President Emeritus. He was a really good overall winemaker, but he was a fabulous fruit winemaker. Jim won the 2019 and 2020 Best of Show for fruit wines.

Legendary stories of Jim “taking” his wines out of consideration for Best of Show when he was the Home Wine Competition Chairman are retold often! Jim was so humble he did not feel that a wine that he had submitted should overshadow others!  He simply made his own wines ineligible to receive any Best of Show consideration!

View a short clip of an impromptu interview of Jim taken during a Home Wine Competition conducted by Wendy Taylor at:
https://ocws-winemakers-webinars.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/Jim+Graver.3gp.

He was a friend and a mentor to every single one of us, teaching us the intricacies of winemaking and bringing us up from mediocre quality from those early days to wines we are highly proud of in today’s Home Wine Competitions, matching and exceeding many commercial wines.

Jim was an avid photographer and nearly all of us through the years have received copies of photos Jim took of us at some event or competition that served to remind us of those wonderful times we had and allowed us to recall those fond memories.

As great a leader and mentor as Jim was for so many of us, he was also one of the finest “men” that we’ve ever met. Truly humble, genuinely sincere, and always engaged and interested in “you.” Jim will be so much missed, but will never be forgotten!

– Kevin Donnelly & Bill Forsch,
Thoughts and comments contributed by two friends

In Memoriam—John David Hirstein

November 26, 1943—December 24, 2021

We regret to inform the membership of the recent passing of Dave Hirstein, a 39-year member of the Orange County Wine Society.

David can be remembered by his past services to the Wine Society as a Director and Past President during Board years 2000-2002. During this time, he was most instrumental in designing the construction and layout for The Courtyard. He chaired many events including the Commercial Wine Competition for several years.

In his life outside the OCWS, Dave was a very talented engineer and senior business manager in the aerospace industry. He spent many years with Rockwell International and then the Boeing Corporation when they acquired Rockwell. He was the owner of seven patents while in the employ of Boeing. David was a life-long member of Orange County and graduated from Cal State Long Beach with his BS and MS in Electrical Engineering.

David had numerous hobbies and avocations. He enjoyed fine wines, fine dining, and had a huge collection of  Disney memorabilia, LGB trains, among others. His best passion was cruising the high seas of which I had the pleasure of accompanying him on 42 cruises alone!

David once told me he always wanted to be remembered as a “true gentleman.” As such, I can personally attest that you, Dave,  were in fact, always a perfect gentleman.

David’s first wife, Betty, preceded him in passing. He is survived by his current wife, Gail. He will be deeply missed by me and all who knew and loved him.

John Goodnight, OCWS President Emeritus

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