Chief Judge Tim McDonald CSW CSS – President of Wine and Spirits Spoken Here
Tim has over 30 years of proven success in the wine industry with positions in public relations, trade relations, marketing and sales, event management and wine education. His experience includes positions at prominent adult beverage companies; such as E&J Gallo where he served as Marketing Director Fine Wine Communications, Peak Wines as V.P. of Marketing and Communications, Trinchero Family Estates as Director of Trade Relations, with Heublein Wines as Director of Trade & Public Relations, and sales assignments with both Seagram and Heublein.
Tim has experience with all types of Media, National Accounts, Wholesale Distributors, Restaurant, and Retail segments. Tim has served as a Wine Judge at over 100 Wine and Spirits Competitions here in North America and spoken frequently on assembled panels at many wine industry events.
Karen Bennett – Wine Buyer, Restaurant Owner
Karen has worked in the wine industry for 29 years and opened one of the first California wine bars in 1991. In 2004 she moved to the Central Coast and became manager and wine buyer for Bill Hoppe of Hoppe’s Garden Bistro in Cayucos. In 2011 she returned to the Central Valley as wine director and buyer for Meir Brown, a winner of The Food Networks ‘Cooks vs Cons’ television series and owner of Cafe’ Med Restaurant and Gourmet Shop in Bakersfield, California. Karen is certified WSET2 and Court of Master Sommeliers.
Michael Cervin – Food, Wine and Travel Writer
Michael Cervin is the author of seven books including California Wine Country and he covers wines and spirits for Robb Report, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, The Tasting Panel, Fine Wine & Liquor Magazine (China), Decanter (London), Old Liquors Magazine (Netherlands), Vivino, IntoWine.com, Draft, Sommelier Journal, and many others. As a professional wine and spirits judge he has served at competitions in Portugal, Puerto Rico and throughout California including The Critics Challenge, The San Francisco International Wine Competition, The San Diego Wine & Spirits Challenge, The California State Fair Wine Competition, and as a water judge for the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, and the Global Bottled Water Awards in Prague. He is the wine buyer for The Garden Market in Santa Barbara, and writes a wine and spirits blog, Boozehoundz.
Bill Hayes – Fine Wine and Spirit Buyer – Bounty Hunter Wine
With over 35 years of career experience in the Wine Retail industry, Bill has developed key relationships with winery Owners, Winemakers, Growers as well as other industry partners that have cultivated his vast knowledge of and passion for Wines around the world.
Stacie Hunt – Sommelier, Co-founder of SPLASH Productions
Stacie is a Certified Silver Pin Sommelier, AIS/WSA, Dame de la Chaine des Rotisseurs and Co-founder/Producer/Host of SPLASH Productions and Point Media, producers of Wine, Cuisine & Art events and exhibitions, videos and documentaries. She is a producer/host of live streaming shows for wineries, regions, and brands*. An Emmy and Belding Award winning TV journalist; the wine/food contributor to the award-winning online magazine, MY LA Lifestyle, Huffington Post and other publications. She hosts, Share A Glass a hybrid virtual/in-person taste community in Los Angeles.
Stacie serves as Vice President of the National Association of Wine Retailers and is a guest professor at Cal Poly, USC and UCLA. As an educator, Stacie co-created the Certified American Wine Specialist course for the North American Sommelier Association. Her passion is for communicating and encouraging accessibility and knowledge in wine and food.
Chris Kern – Founder, Forgotten Grapes Wine Club. Wine Writer and Podcaster
Known as “America’s Uncommon Wine Expert,” Chris Kern is the creator and co-host of the award-nominated One Bourbon, One Chard, or One Beer podcast, as well as an award-winning wine writer, content creator, sommelier, wine educator and entrepreneur. Kern has held nearly every job in the wine industry, from General Manager of a USA Today Top 10 winery to founding his own online retail, distribution and wine club companies, and his wine writing has been featured in Food & Wine, La Cucina Italiana, Palm Springs Life, Great Taste, and the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise, among numerous outlets. His private, members-only Forgotten Grapes wine club boasts over 3000 members across multiple states and hand-delivers small-batch garagiste wines to club members monthly. He currently resides in Paso Robles, CA.
Erin Kirschenmann – Managing Editor, Wine Business Monthly
Erin Kirschenmann, DipWSET, is the managing editor for Wine Business Monthly and has been with the company since 2012. In addition to production responsibilities for the monthly trade magazine, she writes about business, technology, sales and marketing, and also oversees content and programming for WBM’s symposiums. She speaks on wine industry trends at numerous conferences, including the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium and the World Bulk Wine Exhibition, and guest lectures on wine, media and public relations. In 2022, she joined the Napa Valley Wine Academy as a WSET instructor. Erin has served as a judge in the international Concours Mondial de Bruxelles wine competition since 2016 and at several regional competitions. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in communications with a journalism emphasis from Sonoma State University. Find her online via her Instagram, @erinakirsch.
Ellen Landis – Wine Journalist/Certified Sommelier/Wine Educator/International Wine Judge
Ellen Ellen is a published Wine Writer, Certified Sommelier, Certified Wine Specialist, Wine Educator and Professional Wine Judge. She is the author of the blog EllenOnWine.com and writes for the AWS Wine Journal magazine, Great Northwest Wine, Wine Press Northwest and Spirited magazine among other publications
Ellen is a moderator for the highly acclaimed Vintner’s Holidays annual event at the Majestic (formerly Ahwahnee) Hotel in Yosemite, and participates as a key speaker, moderator and panelist at various other wine events. For more than sixteen years, she and husband Ken co-owned award-winning Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn where Ellen served as Wine Director and Sommelier. They recently sold their Inn to devote more time to the world of wine. Ellen was also a Sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton for several years.
In addition to an MBA, Ellen’s wine education includes UC Davis viticulture course work, CSW certification from the Society of Wine Educators program, and holds the credential of Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Ellen serves as a judge at numerous national and international wine competitions including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Mid-American Wine Competition, The Great American International Wine Competition, California State Fair Wine Competition, American Fine Wine Competition, North Coast Wine Challenge, Amador County Fair Wine Competition, Sonoma Harvest Fair Wine Competition, East Meets West Competition, Harvest Challenge International Wine Competition, The Cascadia Wine Competition, Savor Northwest Wine Competition, Dan Berger International Wine Competition, Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition, Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition, Mendocino County Wine Competition, Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging, Selections Mondiales des Vins Canada, Pacific Rim Wine Competition, and the Central Coast Wine Competition.
Roxanne Langer – Wine Experiences, Wine Blog, Wine Travel
Roxanne Langer is a sommelier, wine writer and international wine judge. She has held executive positions with Napa Valley wineries, international winery associations, and a prestigious cult winery in the hills of Bel Air, California.
As the co-founder of LadySomm, a wine edutainment and experience company located in Carmel-By-The-Sea, Langer provides wine programs to corporations, associations, universities and C-suite executives in the US and Europe. In addition, Langer owns Carmel Wine School (carmelwineschool.com).
The co-author of Churchill, A Drinking Life: Champagne, Cognac and Cocktails (Skyhorse Publishing NYC, July 2022) and the author of The 60-Minute Wine MBA & Wine at Thanksgiving, Langer has also penned several articles for the Somm Journal, The Tasting Panel, Wine Geographic and numerous newspapers and wine blogs. In addition, as a wine expert she has been quoted in more than 20 national books. A two-time graduate of the University of the Pacific (B.A & M.A.) Langer wrote her master’s thesis on wine. She attended the University of California at Davis Community Education Program in Viticulture and Enology and has studied under WSET in the UK. Langer has traveled extensively through 40 countries focusing mainly on wine regions and is a frequent speaker at wine festivals and aboard cruise ships.
Langer serves as Vice Enchansson for the Los Angeles Chapter of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, is a member of Women of the Vine & Spirits, Women for WineSense (past Sacramento president), CMO Club (Chief Marketing Officers), Les Dames d’Escoffier International, American Institute of Food and Wine, and Women in Wine, Monterey, CA.
Roxanne has two lovely daughters and resides in Carmel-By-The-Sea.
Allison Levine – Owner, Please the Palate
Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a boutique agency specializing in marketing and event planning for the wine and spirits industry. With over 20 years of experience in communications, marketing and event planning, Allison is passionate about the world around her and the diverse people in it. Allison holds a Master’s Degree in International Communications with a focus on cross-cultural training from the American University School of International Service. Allison is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers. She also holds a WSET Level 3 Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and an Italian Wine Specialist Diploma from the North American Sommelier Association.
As an industry expert, she works with wine regions around the world, organizing trade and media events around the United States. She has traveled extensively and has lived abroad in Italy, Spain and Mexico where she developed her passion for food and wine. Her work allows her to live life to the fullest and, as a freelance writer, Allison communicates her experiences into articles, as well as in her blog (pleasethepalate.com/blog). She is a regular contributor to the Napa Valley Register, Alcohol Professor, Monarch.wine, California Winery Advisor, and BIN (Beverage Industry News). Her work has also appeared in Winetraveler, SommTV Mag, Wander with Wonder, Daily Ovation, ATOD Magazine, Wine Industry Advisor, SommJournal, The Tasting Panel, and more. Allison is the host of the podcast WineSoundtrack USA where she interviews winemakers and winery owners who share their stories, insights and some humorous anecdotes. Allison can also be found on YouTube where she hosts a weekly chat about wine on Crush On This.
Allison sits on the Board of the non-profit Vintage Hollywood and is the Wine Committee Chair for its annual food and wine charity event.
Katy Long – VWE Director of International, Vintner & Brand Advocate
Katy Long serves as Vintner, Director of International, and Brand Advocate at Vintage Wine Estates, working with diverse teams across the organization in aspects ranging from wine and spirits production to marketing and sales. Additionally, Ms. Long has been a driving force in growing the VWE’s Angels Share Giving Campaign which provides support to local food banks, bringing much needed assistance to those experiencing food insecurity in the communities in which we live and work and has been an active member of the Board of Directors at the Redwood Empire Food Bank since March 2020.
Ms. Long has worked in the wine industry for nearly two decades with experience in production, sales, marketing, communications, and education, including at Far Niente Winery, Nickel & Nickel Winery, Meadowood Napa Valley and The Bounty Hunter Rare Wine and Spirits. Ms. Long earned an AOS from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and earned a BS from New York University, and earned DipWSET, CSS, and CSW certifications. Ms. Long is currently a Master of Wine Student.
Curtis Mann – Master of Wine, Group Vice President of Wine, Beer and Spirits for Albertsons Companies
Curtis Mann is a 20-year veteran of the US wine industry. He started his career at ZD Wines in the Napa Valley in hospitality, where he discovered his passion for wine. After graduating with an MBA from the University of California, Davis he worked as a brand manager for Trinchero Family Estates and then at Information Resources Inc. (IRI) as Director of Wine and Spirits Insights. In 2013, Curtis became the Director of Alcohol & Beverage for the Raley’s supermarket chain, where he transformed the wine offerings with the help of in-store wine stewards and educational tastings. In 2020, Curtis became the 53rd Master of Wine in the United States after successfully passing the exam in 2018 and completing his dissertation on Consumer Preferences for California Chardonnay at the end of 2019. Also, in 2020, Curtis was appointed Group Vice President of Wine, Beer and Spirits for Albertsons Companies and oversees US buying operations for the grocery chain. He is the only two-time winner of the Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Award for Retailer of the Year
Phil Markert – Director of Liquor for Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions
Phil Markert began his career in the retail grocery industry in 1978, where he worked as a stock clerk in an independent liquor store while attending high school in North Torrance. His career with the Safeway organization began in 1982, where Phil worked as a bagger in a Torrance store. He quickly advanced through the retail ranks, serving as clerk, head clerk, grocery manager, assistant manager and store manager.
His entrance into the liquor business began in early 1988 when he was introduced to Fine Wine at a restaurant in Santa Monica during a food and wine experience with friends and family that forever changed the landscape of how wine is sold in grocery stores. At this dinner, a 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet was served – the first 100-point wine rating given by Robert Parker to a California wine. Seeing the dinner guests enjoying and talking about it, the idea came to light that there is a correlation between what customers buy at a restaurant and at a grocery store in the same marketing area. Weeks later, with the support of senior management, the birth of the ‘Fine Wine Program’ took place in Santa Monica Ca.
Phil was promoted to store manager of the Belmont Shore Vons in 1991 and moved the Fine Wine Program to the Belmont Shore. The program included everyday low pricing, expanded wine selection, local specialty foods, community events, in-store chef demonstrations, bottle signings, winemaker dinners at local restaurants, full-service staff, a newsletter and home delivery service.
From 1994 to 2002, Phil moved to the Vons Division office in Arcadia, and was promoted to Fine Wine Sales Manager. His job was to rollout the Fine Wine Program to fifty Southern California stores, duplicating what he had accomplished in his store.
In 2002 Phil was promoted to National Category Director of Wine and relocated to Pleasanton. Phil took his experiences from the Southern California program and applied it to twenty-one states across the country, leading a team of people to become the largest wine retailer in the United States. In 2007, Phil was promoted to Vice President, General Manager for Alcohol and Tobacco and applied his Neighborhood Marketing approach to Beer, and Spirits.
In 2010 Phil left Alcohol and was promoted to VP of Merchandising/Operations for Non-Perishables for the company. His responsibilities included overseeing the merchandising/marketing and the execution at retail. He also led the companies clustering initiatives, and our Premium store project.
In 2014 Phil was appointed as the company’s leader for Perishables and Non-Perishables of our LOCALIZATION initiative and Neighborhood Marketing efforts.
In 2015 Phil returned to his roots in SOCAL as the LQ. Sales Manager for the newly combined Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions Division of the Albertsons companies. In 2017 Phil took on the additional responsibilities of VP of Marketing/Merchandising of Pavilions. In 2019 went back to full time in alcohol as the Director of Liquor for AVP
Phil supports a wide variety of organizations serving local communities, including City of Hope, and the Christermon Scholarship Foundation. Phil has a passion for fitness and loves Food, & Wine, – hence the workouts!
Tim Marson – Category Director, Wine.com
Having graduated in Classics (Literae Humaniores) from Oxford University, where he was a member of the OU Blind Wine Tasting team, Tim entered the wine industry in 1997.
During four years with Oddbins Ltd. – at that time the leading multiple specialist wine merchant in the UK – Tim completed the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) examinations, passing the Diploma with Honours in 2000, winning both the Worshipful Company of Distillers Scholarship and the Rhone Prize. Tim then moved into the independent specialist retail sector, working for some of the leading small wine merchants in London, initially as a store manager and later as a buyer.
Winning both the Davies-Langton Award and Marne & Champagne Diffusion Scholarship he embarked upon the study program of the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2001. Tim passed all three practical (tasting) papers at the first attempt in 2003 and passed the four theory papers the following year.
After moving briefly from retail into trade sales, Tim became Buyer at London-based Bibendum Wine Ltd., one of the UK’s largest and fastest-growing independent importers and distributors, where he was responsible for the sourcing of their northern hemisphere portfolio.
In 2009 Tim passed the final, dissertation component of the Master of Wine examination with a paper on the sub-appellations of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He is one of only 415 Masters of Wine (MWs) in the world, of whom 57 currently reside in the USA.
Tim relocated from his native England to Napa, California in 2011 to become Vice-President of Procurement at a direct-to-consumer online retailer. He was then appointed Senior Buyer at Global Wine Co. (based in San Rafael, CA) where he was responsible for sourcing both domestic and international wines for several high-profile partner wine clubs including Williams-Sonoma and The New York Times. Since 2016 he has worked at Wine.com, the USA’s leading national online wine retailer, where he is a Director of Category Management, responsible for purchasing over 6,000 wines from France and Italy.
Tim is in regular demand as a wine judge and has participated (often as a panel chair) at many local and international wine competitions including the International Wine Challenge, Decanter World Wine Awards, the International Wine & Spirit Competition, and the San Francisco International Wine Competition & World Spirits Competition. As a speaker or panel moderator he has presented on a wide range of topics encompassing the major wine regions of Europe and the New World.
Cindy Rynning – Wine Writer
Cindy Rynning has been writing about wine on her award-winning wine blog, Grape Experiences, since 2011. She passed the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 program with Merit in 2012. Cindy engages in national and international wine travels, hosts virtual tastings, attends global trade tastings and media events, meets and interviews winemakers and others who share their stories and writes about tastings, food and wine pairings, wine travel, and more. She’s an active member of the judges panel at the Beverage Tasting Institute.
She has written for a variety of print and digital publications including Crave Local, Wine Tourist Magazine, Wine Traveler, Wine Enthusiast, and the wine club newsletter of Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants. She’s also co-creator of the YouTube channel, Crush On This. Cindy received the Drizly Blogger Award as Best Wine Blog – 2017 and her site was one of the Top 100 Most Influential Wine Blogs in the world in 2015 and the Lux International Magazine Best Wine Blog – US in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Two of her articles were finalists in the Millesima Wine Blog Awards – Wine Travel category in 2017 and 2018. From 2019-2021, Cindy has been featured on Good Day Chicago Fox 32, WGN-TV Channel 9, The Jam on Chicago’s WCIU TV, Good Day Sacramento (The CW31), The Rhode Show WPRI Channel 12, Colorado’s Best Fox 31 Denver and Yahoo Finance.
Grape Experiences is included in Feedspot’s Top 100 Wine Blogs – 2021 with a #14 ranking and Cindy is ranked #38 in the Top 101 Wine Writers of 2020 by Corking Wines.
A former educator, Cindy understands the value of lifelong learning and strives to share her knowledge of wine through writing, social media, personalized wine tastings and real-life conversation in order to inform, entertain, and inspire others to discover the beauty of our favorite beverage – wine.
Russ Winton – Writer, Wine Line – Fresno Bee, Modesto Bee, Merced Star
Russ Winton writes a common sense consumer friendly wine column called “Wine Line”. After a rewarding 36 years teaching, he took the suggestion of a friend to write a wine column.7 The column covers the many aspects of wine and how to avoid pinkie waving snobs. The column also encourages readers to branch out, explore various wine regions, take advantage of the many wine related events that are available and to develop their personal palate. The Merced Sun Star published the first “Wine Line” September 5, 2007. A few years later the Modesto Bee picked it up, as did the Fresno Bee.
In 2022 “Wine Line” celebrated its 15 years in print with a total of 360 columns, always with the goal of explaining wine as simply as possible and always with the maxim to trust one’s own palate. To pass the “Wine Line” final exam, the reader must be able to find a wine that he likes, one that he can afford, open it, drink it and heck, just enjoy it. That’s all there is to it. Cheers!