OCWS History—Stories of our Vintage Members
The OC Wine Society was founded nearly half a century ago by a group of home winemakers looking to form an organization that supported their winemaking interests. The organization grew to encompass wine education and appreciation in addition to wine making. Over the years, we have had hundreds of longtime members (including myself). My purpose with this ongoing series is to celebrate our longtime members, which I prefer to call “Vintage Members,” as we are all young at heart! Please join me in a journey back through the history of the OCWS with stories from some of our amazing members!
This month, to get us started, I will tell you a little about my three and a half decades with the OCWS and then introduce you to longtime members Walt and Dolorie Thurner. If you would like to nominate one of our “Vintage Members” to be featured in a future article, please drop me an email at
Carolyn Christian. I was just a few years old when the Wine Society was founded, and I probably walked by the OCWS booth at the OC Fair hundreds of times as a child. I did not think very much about wine back then, although my parents occasionally allowed us a small glass of wine with Italian dinners. It was not until I attended Fresno State in 1984 that my wine journey really began. While attending college as an anthropology major, I joined the Enology Society and helped the club raise money by making grapevine wreaths from the prunings of the local vineyards. On some weekends, we would often travel to the wine regions like the Alexander Valley, where we stayed at the wineries owned by the parents of the Fresno State enology students. We enjoyed the hospitality of many wineries and some of their finest wines, as they sought to recruit new winemakers from the students there. I knew a few of our wine competition judges in their younger years, when they were pursuing their enology degrees at Fresno State. That was an amazing introduction to the wine industry.
When I transferred back to Cal State Fullerton, I discovered the existence of the Orange County Wine Society and learned that they had a booth at the OC Fair. I joined the organization just a few days after my 21st birthday. Despite living in New Mexico and Mexico for several years, I have always maintained my membership. Whether it was working at the OC Fair, the Wine Classic or Extraordinaire, or a host of other events, much of my time was spent volunteering for the organization. I joined the Board in the 1990s (for 2 terms) and again in the 2000s. Just this past year, I joined the Board again.
Over my years with the OCWS, I have served on the Board as Secretary and Vice President, chaired nearly every event from the Wine Classic and Wine Extraordinaire, to the Membership BBQ, Holiday Dinner Dance, and even served as liaison for the Commercial Wine Competition. By far, my best memories are of our incredible Wine Extraordinaires and Wine Classics that filled the Anaheim Hilton ballroom to capacity with wineries, restaurants, and wine enthusiasts. Some of you may remember these events as well.
Every year, I look forward to the Commercial Wine Competition and catching up with a few winemakers who attended Fresno State with me, and dozens more that I have met over the years as part of the OCWS. To say that I have grown up with the OCWS is an understatement. So many of my life-long friendships have been formed here. This organization has been an integral part of my adulthood, and I am honored to be able to still serve this organization after so many years. I look forward to many new adventures that lie ahead on my journey with the OCWS!
Walt & Dolorie Thurner. We were members of Les Amis Du Van. It is an international wine tasting group headquartered in Paris, France. I (Walt) was the Executive Director of the Long Beach Chapter. We held our tastings at the Long Beach Convention Center. Normally we would attract 600 to 800 people. Our sponsor was a popular liquor store on Naples Island. Our last tasting was an international tasting with wines from all over the world. At the time, I was a management employee of the 1984 Olympic Committee. We held the tasting about three weeks before Opening Ceremonies. We had almost 1,000 people attend. After that, our liquor store sponsor felt that we were in competition with his business, and he stopped being our sponsor. That ended our organization.
After about two years Dolorie and I heard about the OCWS. I believe it was while we were at the Fair. Starting in 1986 or 1987, Dolorie and I worked the Fair every year until two or three years ago. Just getting too old.
Through OCWS we had a great time, and we met some wonderful people, many of whom are still friends today. We traveled with OCWS on several occasions. Dolorie and I ran the logo merchandise operation for five years until about 1999. I was a member of the Board of Directors for one term until I retired in 2005. I retired both from the Board and professionally that year. I was a judge for the Home Wine Competition for about 10 years. I had to stop being a judge when I was asked to start a BBQ group to serve lunch for the judges, and it expanded to many other events. We have truly enjoyed our experience with the OCWS.
Carolyn Christian, OCWS Board Member/Historian