The majority of judges have been here previously, but there are typically a
number of first-timers.
Andy introduces those new faces to the group.
And with the various introductions completed, we made our way to the
An army of "volunteers" makes this event operate like a smooth-running
Janine (J-9) Galligani is one of the lieutenants who directs the various battalions.
It's always heart-warming to see familiar (and smiling) faces of the great people whom
you've met over the past so-many years.
These are hard-working folks...some have been "volunteering" at this
event for decades and a few others are relatively new.
Jim Trezise chaired Panel A.
He's known as Mister Riesling, being the President of The
International Riesling Foundation.
He also heads
WineAmerica, the voice of the wine industry which monitors federal
regulations, amongst other things.
On a warm day in San Francisco, it was a bit chilly in Jim's home state of New
At a bus-stop billboard there was an image of "Mister Riesling Drinking
He was cited by the Winegrape Growers of America organization and given the 2020
Richard Smith Distinguished Service Award, a nice honor and awarded to a
deserving fellow (in our view).
Robert Whitley has organized well more than 70 wine judgings in his long and
He's been a judge in numerous other tastings and Robert is the publisher and managing
partner of Wine
He's also an art aficionado.
Lilla O'Connor has been affiliated with Steven Spurrier's Académie
du Vin for a short time.
She's also been a tireless promoter of the
Wines of Hungary, having studied at the Budapest College of
This was Lilla's first journey to the San Francisco
International Wine Competition.
We were on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system's "BART"
underground railway at the airport station and they seemed to know Lilla was in
Chairing Panel B was Tonya Pitts, who's the Sommelier/Wine Director at San
Francisco's esteemed One
Tonya has been a big promoter of female winemakers, organizing
tastings under the Women in Wine banner.
We saw a nice billboard featuring Tonya over on Market Street one night.
Tonya has a legion of fans, by the way.
Also on Panel B is Francisco Bazo,
Francisco is the Sommelier and Wine Director at San Francisco's Waterbar
We found a billboard featuring Francisco in the Dogpatch area of The City.
Franz is the Editor of the Wine
Review Online website, as well as being a professor of Political
Science at Loyola University in Maryland.
He made the cover of the Rolling Stone!
But not only on the cover of The Rolling Stone...
Ziggy Eschliman is a double-barreled taster and she chaired Panel C.
The Wine Gal, as she's known, is sometimes dubbed The Contessa of
She is quite popular and some of the judges were wearing "Ziggy
She's on the radio at KRSH
95.9FM in Santa Rosa...
Lending credence to her "Contessa of Cocktails" moniker, we saw this
displayed at a corner liquor store in San Francisco.
George Skorka has worn many hats in the wine industry. These days he's
affiliated with Kimberly
Jones Selections, a company featuring numerous small-production wines
from California and Europe.
Many of the judges flew in for the weekend of tastings.
So did George.
But, as usual, George arrived in his own inimitable fashion by sky-diving right in to Union Square instead of
landing at SFO like most (normal) people.
George Demystifies Wine!
A New York Times Best-Seller.
Mark Bowery hails from Mendocino where he's "da man" at Mark Bowery
He's been a consultant for Millionaire Magazine we're told.
A lady in a little wine bar was showing off a copy of a record album featuring
Tim McDonald, MS (Master Spitter in this case) was the chairman of Panel D.
Tim has a PR Agency
and speaks "wine" fluently.
Tim's Best Seller is featured at the local library.
Kevin Vogt is an MS (Master Sommelier) and he added his expertise to Panel D.
Kevin is the proprietor at the Napa Valley shop called Wine
Pop singer Ricky Martin is a big fan, too.
We noticed Martin demanded Kevin autograph his photo.
Even though it wasn't an Election Year, Kevin was running...
Eric Degerman is one of the owners and writers at the Great
Northwest Wines website.
He's a native of the Pacific Northwest and lives in Washington wine country.
We saw a biker reading a wine magazine while waiting for her friend who was
getting a coffee...and there was Eric on the cover of "Northwest
In San Francisco, it's "Halloween" every
We saw someone near Union Square with a jacket touting Washington State wines...
Dr. Valery Uhl led Panel E in their search for Excellence.
McMahon, a major wine personality from Down Under, contributed his
sage advice and words of wisdom in judging the wines presented to Panel E.
We ambled about one evening and noticed a few of these "welcome" signs
scattered around near the Hotel Nikko.
Someone with Jim's surf board out at Ocean Beach near the Cliff House was ready
to ride the waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Jordan Ogron is the wine director at the West Hollywood hot-spot called Tesse.
A woman in a nearby bar was leaving a tip for the server...
We thought we recognized the fellow on that hundred dollar bill.
Jordan is a big football fan and apparently football is a big fan of Ogron's!
When someone mentioned "halftime" to Jordan, he thought they were
interested in opening some 375ml bottles of Champagne.
Traci Dutton is the Wine Director in the Napa Valley at the Culinary
Institute of America.
She's been at the "CIA" since 1998 and it seems we found her agency
documentation during the course of the judging weekend.
In the evenings, a few of the judges go to a local Karaoke place...
One of her co-conspirators was the famous Washingtonian, Scott
Scott is yet another judge at this event who's a Master
He was caught on camera...
How we caught that is remarkable given that I don't know how the difference
between an F-Stop and a Bus Stop.
He's also a big hockey fanatic.
Christopher O'Gorman assisted Special Agent Uh-Oh-7 on Panel F. He's the
Director of Communications at Rodney
Strong Wine Estates.
That includes not only the Rodney Strong wines, but those of the Davis Bynum
winery, as well.
In January of 2020 Chris was singing a lot on behalf of the Rodney Strong winery
after their latest "release" of a special Cabernet Sauvignon.
Charles Mara, the Mara-Thon Man, handled managing Panel G.
The Guinness Book of World Records enshrined Charles some years ago for being
anything but a Tightwad.
In town for the weekend was Paris Hilton and she was delighted to have the
latest CD from crooner Charles Mara.
Anthony Mueller handles reviewing the wines of Washington State as well as those
of South Africa for "Robert Parker Wine Advocate."
He's been studying for both the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier degrees.
One of his fans is actress Megan Fox, who, when she's not filming a new version
of Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, is getting an Anthony Mueller
There was a legion of Anthony's Fan Club on the march near
Mike Tadich manages a portfolio of Italian wines for
Breakthru Beverage in Las Vegas.
He's a veritable font of information regarding Italian wines and wine
On a rainy night in San Francisco, we saw a beautiful window display of a famous
Italian fashion company...
...with Michele Tadich featured!
One of Mike's relatives started a dining establishment in San Francisco in the
It's still going strong today...
When she's not judging Olive Oils, Chocolate or Honey, Orietta
Gianjorio is tasting wine.
Orietta routinely makes headlines.
Brian Baker was a long-time manager at Napa Valley's Chateau Montelena, before
taking a gig at the legendary
Paul Bonarrigo is the President of the Texas
Wine & Grape Growers Association.
He's a US Marine Corps vet and runs the Messina
Hof winery which his parents founded some 40 years ago.
His visit to San Francisco coincided with some rodeo
competition and we saw Cowboy Paul was on a billboard at the arena.
Liz Thach is a Distinguished Professor of Wine as well as a Professor of
Management at Sonoma State University in California's North Coast "Wine
Country." She's a Master of Wine, too!
And it seems she got some vocal talents, as well, being an MW
We found a copy of a recent vinyl record (Liz is "old school").
She's recorded The Days of Wines and Roses...Red, Red Wine...Pink Wine Sparkles
in the Glass...
...Who Will Buy the Wine...Gimmee That Wine and more.
Ron Washam is the man behind The
Hosemaster of Wine, a legendary satirical wine blog.
He's also been a contributor to the web site of British wine guru Tim
His Hosemaster writings won him the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers'
Award a few years ago.
Giving Master Spitters such as Tim McDonald and Kevin Vogt a
run for the money was Ron Washam.
Someone at the table described this incident as the work of "The
He's another "old school" writer...typing on an old Smith Corona but
with the accuracy of a Smith & Wesson.
We saw someone creating a Hosemaster needlepoint.
The artist, Samantha Dugan, said "Well, you know Ron likes to 'needle' a
lot of people and he routinely leaves me in stitches."
Rachel Van Til is a Sommelier at the famous Pappas
Brothers Steakhouse in Texas.
She's always in Vogue, as it turns out!
Her teammates on Panel I both said "Rachel is a Fan-Tastic judge!"
Tim Teichgraeber moonlights as a free-lance wine writer and he's an Attorney
blog is worth checking out, too.
In the evening you might find Tim working his DJ Gig, an off-shoot of his law
specialty--entertainment and copyright law.
Tim has told us "My life is like an open book."
John Cunin has numerous decades of experience in restaurant operations and works
as a consultant for such enterprises.
He knows virtually every phase of a dining establishment and is a wealth of
Panel J (as in John) contributed a number of good wines to the Sweepstakes
Cunin is an old sea-dog who was often heard muttering "Shiver me
Timbers" or "Blow me down!" when he found a gold medal-worthy
"Our days of tastings were totally ship-shape" he told us.
We were at a crosswalk outside the Hotel Nikko waiting for the
light to change...
There's something you don't see every day!
Also on Panel J was Sarah Blau.
Sarah has a number of restaurant affiliations to her credit, but these days is a
buyer at the San
Francisco Wine Trading store.
She had worked at Aster and Verjus in San Francisco having been based on the
East Coast in her early days.
A local museum had a colorful display, featuring "Sarah Blau" along
with "Sarah Rot,"
"Sarah Grün" und "Sarah Gelb."
There's another famous art work featuring Sarah...Tasting Wine.
We found that displayed in France...Beaune, to be precise.
It's titled "American Wine Taster."
Tim Marson is a Master of Wine, having gotten his start in the British wine
trade having worked for Oddbins, Lea & Sandeman and Bibendum Wine in
These days he's a buyer for the online e-tailer, Wine.com.
He's an Oxford graduate and rumor has it he's got a leading role in the upcoming
Tim drives a fancy car, by the way.
Nick Ponomareff Kaptained Panel K.
Nick publishes The
California Grapevine wine-letter, chronicling the regular
blind-tastings he organizes in his hometown of San Diego.
He has been heard reminding people that "Wine-tasting isn't rocket
And since he's a real, honest-to-goodness rocket scientist (and bona fide wine
expert), he ought to know!
NASA recently highlighted some of Nick's cosmic expertise at the Ames Research
Center near San Jose, California.
A fellow was spray painting the Ponomareffs on a wall near Union Square.
The artist said "Since they both enjoy red Burgundy, I'm calling them the
A would-be rocket scientist on Panel K was Drake McCarthy who is the Director of
Sales at the Golden
State Wine Company.
Drake, like Nick, is a long-time judge at the San Francisco International Wine
He's not one to toot his own horn, but Drake plays the trumpet and has been
affiliated with the Bob Claire Orchestra and the late vocalist Frankie Lee.
Ladies & Gentlemen: Drake McCarthy!
joined us from Slovakia where he and his brother run the Berta
They're in the town of Strekov, about 92 miles east of Vienna and 40 miles
northwest of Budapest.
The family produces wines from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and
Pinot Gris, but they also make wine from a red variety called Alibernet, a cross
of Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon.
People were hoping to meet
at Moscone Center, not far from our tasting venue.
He was, as we understand it, a spokesman for some mobile phone service.
There was another nice "welcome" sign near the Embarcadero.
After a decade+ at San Francisco's One Market restaurant and then another decade
at the Waterbar along the Embarcadero, Steve Izzo now has his own dining spot in
The City, Dobbs
Steven has passed one level of the Court of Master Sommelier's certification
program and is tackling the Advanced Sommelier exam in the near future.
A nice article in Dining Out San Francisco.
There was a "street artist" (literally!) creating
some Steve Izzo Art on the sidewalk in front of Mr. Izzo's Dobbs Ferry
restaurant over on Gough Street.
The late Jim Caudill passed away some weeks following the 2019 judging much to
the shock and dismay of all who had the pleasure of judging and/or meeting this
He worked as the Director of Marketing and Communications for Treasury Wine
Estates, focusing on wineries such as Etude, Chateau St. Jean, Beringer,
Sterling and Provenance.
We are not sure where the Jim Caudill gold piece is available...
Wendy Stanford is a Senior Wine Buyer for the on-line company, Wine.com.
She's instrumental in their handling wines from Europe, Israel and Southern
Hemisphere wine regions.
We only recently discovered Wendy is quite a good singer and moonlights around
the Bay Area singing Pop and jazz tunes!
She's got a license to taste wine, too.
Patrick Dodd has been with the Gallo winery for more than 30 years so they
consider him to be part of the family.
He's a Senior Director with the company and is a major part of the E & J
Gallo University which helps train staffers in the fine art of wine (and
He's also the Center Fielder on the University's baseball team.
We bought a package of Baseball Trading Cards and found this:
Chris Sawyer is a well-regarded wine educator, wine writer and wine
He's got a knack for pairing just the right wine with just the right movie.
That's Chris in a special screening of Gone with the Wine (a film about 15 year
old California Chardonnays).
He played the Gable-esque role of Rhedd Butler.
Sawyer even won an award for his work on the Silver Screen!
Joe Roberts is 1WineDude.
He's a wine educator and wine communicator, publishing tasting
notes that are a fraction of a typical "twitter" posting.
"Sometimes love comes in the form of rhubarb."
"Textural, floral and ballerina-like light on its feet."
"Enormously spicy or is that spicily enormous?"
He's said to be one of the Top 20 Most Influential Wine
Personalities in the country.
Roberts has been a "Travelin' Man" logging numerous Frequent Flyer
Miles the past few years.
And Joe will tell you he travels extensively, constantly searching for wines
which are "out of this world."
(Lucas) Berta is one of
the two Berta brothers joining us this year from their home-base of Slovakia.
As noted previously on this web page, the Berta family vinifies some well-known
grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but also Pálava and
Alibernet (an Alicante/Cabernet crossing).
He's impressed some people in Washington D.C.
The Berta brothers do not make an "orange" wine presently, by the way.
Stacie Hunt is a partner in an enterprise called
Point Media, a public relations and marketing company based in
She also is the wine guru for MyLALifestyle.com,
an online publication.
Lights! Camera!! Media!!!
She's also a major star at local coffee houses if you're on the Hunt for a good
Phil Markert is a bigwig with the Albertsons
company, handling adult beverages for Albertsons markets, Vons and Pavilions
stores in Southern California.
Here's a nice
story about Phil and his illustrious career...
His company has, we've been told, issued special postage stamps honoring Phil
for use on all snail-mail correspondence this year.
A corporate VP mentioned "Phil has really put his stamp on things with the
And we saw further evidence of this on a California highway the other day.
Michael Ploetz is the Estate Director of the Alejandro
Bulgheroni winery in Napa's town of St. Helena.
Ploetz is also the VP of the Napa Valley Nursery School.
We don't believe
he's teaching three year olds about the finer points of Napa Valley Cabernets.
It turns out Justin Bieber is a fan of Michael Ploetz!
Editor's Note: I know who Michael Ploetz is...but I have no idea about this fellow named Bieber.
Meanwhile, his colleagues on Panel N described Michael as "effervescent
Well, here you go!
Eduardo Dingler chaired Panel O. After a number of years working for the
Morimoto restaurant empire, Eduardo now selects some libations for the WineAccess.com
company. Having played his cards right, he also produces a column called Sake to Wine for the Napa
These are some his "cards" and he apparently has numerous decks of
these, noting he's quite flush.
Mr. Dingler is also proficient at eating
with chopsticks while traveling at high speeds.
Eduardo is quite a celebrity in Japan (and here) and one
museum aficionado told us "Dingler-San is a real work of art!"
Another Sake Expert on Panel O is Toshio Ueno.
Toshio is a major figure in the Sake
School of America, as well as being a "Master of Sake."
A few years ago the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association cited him as a
"Sake Samurai," since they said Mister Ueno is "Muy bUeno" when it comes
to Sake Smarts.
Toshio has also got a Black Belt in Magic and at one point he generated a cloud of
smoke and mysteriously vanished!
He's Famous all around the world!
Rowald Hepp is the Managing Director and winemaker at Germany's famed Schloss
Vollrads winery in the Rheingau region.
He's definitely a Riesling-Meister and two days before the judging he accepted
the "Wine Personality of the Year Award" from an organization called
"Weinfeder," comprised of German-speaking wine journalists.
Herr Hepp is also the Chairman of the University Council
at the famous wine
school in Geisenheim.
Maybe they liked the bumper-sticker on his car?
You don't have to be Einstein to know Rowald is a Riesling-Meister!
The Captain of Panel P was the inimitable Wilfred "Wine-dot-Com"
Wilfred is the Chief Storyteller for Wine.com.
This past season, the World Champion Washington Nationals baseball team posted a snapshot of
one of San Francisco's top Giants' fans when the Orange & Black were on an
East Coast swing.
It turned out Wilfred was the "Batboy" for that 7-3 victory over the
Nats, powered by three homeruns and a strong pitching performance.
New Zealander Nick Dumergue now spends a lot of his time in Southern
He describes himself as a "vinologist" and is an instructor at the Chêne
Bleu "Extreme Wine Course" in France.
He's also affiliated with the Blue
Plate Oysterette restaurant in Santa Monica, California.
Nick, we've been told, also has his pilot's license, logging many miles during
the course of the year.
Nick was seen on the cover of TV Guide, too.
Katy Long works for Vintage
Wine Estates these days after working for Cain Vineyard & Winery.
She's also been a judge at the Las Vegas Global Wine Awards.
Katy also is a fortune teller.
Her crystal ball was steaming at one point during the weekend!
Gerald Weisl...yep, that's me!
I was on Panel Q along with three Old pros.
My connection to the wine world is through a little retail wine emporium on the
San Francisco Peninsula,
Wines & Spirits.
A squirrel over in Golden Gate Park had been asked if he had any "favorite
A moment later he returned with this:
Not sure what this is all about...
Dana Farner was another "partner in wine" at this year's judging.
She works for Massanois,
an importer and distributor of some pretty cool wines.
Dana is based in Southern California and has been a long-time judge at this
Being from Southern California, Dana said this little ornament is as close as
she comes to snow these days after growing up in the wintery climes of
North Dakota and Minnesota.
Of course she is close to Hollywood and it seems someone changed that iconic
sign for the weekend!
Jim Blumling was another judge on Panel Q. He's Joe Wagner's right-hand
man at the Copper
Cane Wines and Provisions company.
Jim had been affiliated with Albertsons and Safeway for many years.
On weekends, when he's not tasting wines, Jim races Formula One cars at nearby
Sears Point Raceway!
His car is painted in Mega-Purple...
Tim McNally is "Mister NOLA" as he hails from New Orleans.
You can find his WINE
TALK NOLA website easily.
He currently hosts a radio talk show about wine and food on WGSO
990AM in The Crescent City.
Tim says he's got a face made for Radio.
This year we had three celebrities comprising a panel of "Super
Their job was to taste and evaluate Double Gold Medal-winning wines and select
the best for inclusion in the final day's "Sweepstakes" tasting.
The Executive Director of the San Francisco International Wine Competition is
Anthony Dias Blue.
"Andy" publishes several wine magazines including The
Tasting Panel as well as the Somm
He also has a radio spot that's aired in Los Angeles on KNX 1070-AM and in New
York on WNEW Fresh 102.7-FM.
HERE FOR A LINK TO ANDY'S RADIO SPOTS
Being such an important celebrity got Andy in the morning SF Chronicle!
Steven Spurrier is a real "wine world" celebrity, having organized the
legendary "Paris Tasting" back in 1976 which catapulted California
wines to fame in a blind-tasting where wines from Napa wineries bested top bottlings from
He started in the wine trade in London in the 1960s, later moving to Paris and
buying a small wine shop, which he ran for a number of years.
Mr. Spurrier returned to London in the late 1980s and these days is a vineyard &
winery owner. Bride
He's been instrumental in reviving the Academie
du Vin, as well as globe-trotting and participating in wine judgings
around the world.
He also writes for the prestigious "Decanter
Jim Harré is another globe-trotting wine judge. He's from New Zealand and
judges in every competition in his home country.
He's a Senior Judge for the New Zealand Winegrowers as well as a Panel Chairman
at the International Wine Challenge.
He's judged at the Victorian Wine Competition in Australia and the China
Wineluxe Competition. Jim is also a consultant for Air New Zealand.
We've been told Jim is also a world-class chef.
The Jim Harré Cookbook!
Most of the panels wrapped up the first day of tastings toward
the latter part of the afternoon.
A number of judges mosey on over to Foley's, a nearby watering hole with
numerous beers on tap.
Then the judges gather upstairs at the Hotel Nikko for some bubbly and dinner.
Tadich & Ornella Muti (I think).
Scully & Fox Mulder
Lemon & Jack Donaghy of "30 Rock" fame
Rubble and Fred Flintstone
Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra
Holmes & Dr. Watson
(Wayne's World) and Garth
John & Kiki Dee
Dewie & Louie
Crackle & Pop
Carter & Johnny Cash
Hill & Tim McGraw
Pierce & B.J. Hunnicut
Hawn & Kurt Russell
Brother and the Holding Company
Rogers & Fred Astaire
Orlando & Dawn
& Her Father, Billy Joel
The menu for the evening:
Jeff Runquist Wines was tabbed as "Winery of the
Year" from their stellar performance at the 2018 SFIWC and Margie Runquist
(Jeff's wife) was at the dinner presenting numerous wines.
Margie Runquist (standing)
Of course, these days, many of the judges bring some wine to share and this
makes for a remarkable evening.
I brought a double magnum of a favorite white wine...Soalheiro's delicious
I was privileged to pour this wine for Steven Spurrier.
It was delicious on its own (as usual), but paired handsomely
with the first course.
A 1991 Portuguese white wine...still alive and kicking!
The Master of Ceremonies regaled the crowd with some words of
It's not clear that George's "guest" at this event dined as well as
the rest of us.
Hugo Chandler (Chandler in honor of the late Chandler Moore who was the manager
of this event for a number of years).
Hugo told me he's not much of a Salad Fan, anyway.
Bottles were circulating quickly around the table and around the room.
Rowald is pouring a Chardonnay from South Africa's Hamilton Russell winery.
The Rodney Strong Ambassador, Christopher O'Gorman, brought some library bottles
to share with us.
The Main Plate:
The 2012 Pojer e Sandri Rosso Faye, a blend of Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Lagrein, was exceptional.
More dessert, courtesy of Drake McCarthy:
We enjoyed not only that ginormous bottle of Soalheiro Alvarinho, but the 2018
Hamilton Russell Chardonnay (bone dry, crisp and mildly toasty...classic), the
1991 Caves São João "Quinta da Poco a Lobo" Arinto. It's from
the Bairrada region in Portugal and it's made of a grape called Arinto.
The wine showed some toasty, leesy notes and was crisp and bone dry.
There's a note of oxidation, but it's not as extreme as many wines from France's
Jura region, for example.
We had a white from Spain made of the Godello grape. It's a mildly stony
dry white called Gaba do Xil and comes from the Valdeorras.
A 2012 La Rioja Alta Viña Arana "Gran Reserva" was truly "gran."
Classic Rioja with lots of woodsy notes from aging in small American oak
The Pojer e Sandri 2012 "Rosso Faye" was an elegant and mildly woodsy
red. Medium bodied with some dark fruit and cedary notes...
Drake's Château Rieussec was quite good, showing honeyed notes and it was
moderately sweet. Not quite 40 years of age, but still alive and kickin'!
Imported by Lefcourt Cellars, no less.
We knew the late Ed Lefcourt who was an old "liquor man" but who
started a little importing business after years of selling Jim Beam and Cyrus
He introduced us to our good friend Luciano Sandrone who makes remarkable Barolo
Bottles continued to circulate around the room.
Someone asked one of the judges to "sing for his supper..."
...boy, did he!
Jordan Ogron is a budding opera singer.
An old Graham's Tawny Port...and two MWs!
And with that, the evening concluded.
We started up again Sunday morning, though.
HERE TO CONTINUE