Chief Judge Tim McDonald CSW CSS – President of Wine 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 – Wine, Food 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.
Mark Chandler – Chief Judge, CA State Fair Wine Competition
Mark Chandler’s 35-year career in wine includes winemaking, marketing, and general management. He was CEO of the Lodi Wine Winegrape Commission from 1991 to 2011. He is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) by the Society of Wine Educators, of which he is a past president. He was named Sunset Magazine’s Wine Professional of the Year 2005, and was recently picked among the Top 100 Most Influential People in US Wine by INTOWINE.com. Mark and his wife Jan farm 180 acres of vineyards in the Lodi appellation, and recently launched Burlington Chandler Wines.
Rich Cook – Winereviewonline.com
Rich Cook has been writing about wine since 2008 and is currently a lead reviewer at the internationally renowned e-publication winereviewonline.com. Rich is the Founding Director of the Toast of The Coast Wine Competition at the San Diego County Fair, and also serves as Director of Robert Whitley’s Challenge Series, Monterey International, and the San Diego County Fair’s Distilled Spirits and Homemade Wine competitions. Rich judges several major competitions, and is also panelist with the California Grapevine. When he’s not swirling and spitting, he can be found teaching music or leading worship.
Mike Dunne – Freelance Wine Writer
The retired food editor, wine columnist and restaurant critic of The Sacramento Bee, Mike continues to contribute a wine column and periodic other food, wine and travel features to The Bee, along with articles for other publications. He is a frequent presence on the wine-competition circuit, sitting on 15 or so panels annually at competitions that range from the small and regional to the large and international. He and his wife Martha, also a wine judge as well as author and interior designer, divide their time between homes in Sacramento and San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Traci Dutton – Culinary Institute of America – Manager –Public Wine and Beverage Studies
Traci Dutton serves as the Sommelier in the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. With the goal of creating The Ultimate California Wine Cellar to be housed in the former Christian Brothers winery, the wine list has won awards and gathered national recognition for the extensive representation of wines from throughout the state, with a special emphasis on Greystone’s Napa neighbors. Ms. Dutton worked in New York City for 14 years and came to California with vast experience in fine dining beverage service and international wine buying. She specialized in Italian wines with her first Sommelier position at Andiamo! and then immersed herself in French wines (though unfortunately, not literally) by joining the top notch service team at the 3 star Montrachet, under the direction of Daniel Johnnes. Ms. Dutton worked as a consultant for several other restaurants in New York at various times specializing in mixology, beer, organic wines and the wines of the northeastern United States. In addition to her work at the CIA, Traci has judged the Dallas Morning New Wine Competition and the LA County Fair “Wines of the World” Competition, two of the largest competitions in the country. She has spoken on marketing at UC Davis, Sonoma State University and the Wine Industry Financial Symposium.
Bill Hayes – BevMo – Wine Merchant
Bill Hayes is the Wine Category Manager of the growing BevMo! Retail chain of 163 Stores throughout California, Arizona and Washington. With over 33 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.
Bill’s career in the Wine business began as a Buyer with the Liquor Barn stores. Bill was also a part of the Kendall-Jackson Family Wine organization where he managed the Distributor portfolio that included Kendall-Jackson, La Crema, Cambria and Stonestreet Wines. In 1994 Bill joined BevMo! as one of its very first employees as the Corporate Wine Buyer. He has played key roles in the development, launching and fostering of BevMo!’s iconic 5₵ Wine Sale that has grown from one Wine to now over two-hundred. As part of the BevMo! Private Label/Exclusive Wine program, Bill has traveled throughout Europe and South America to work with Wineries and industry partners to blend and bottle Import Wines such as Zolo and Tapiz, and has blended and developed varietal extensions of the Unruly , Shiloh Road and Stateland Cellars brands. Bill’s current focus with BevMo! is sourcing and developing the premium selection of wines from around the world and promote the local brands for the next-generation BevMo! Consumer.
The Hayes family has had deep roots in the Russian River Valley and its Wine industry for over 50 years. Bill continues that heritage and tradition through his love and passion of Wine, whether it be an approachable bottle or a rare bottle for his cellar. If you know Bill, you have been fortunate enough to share in a great bottle of Wine along with a story that truly captures the spirit of the Wine, its origins and the people who made it.
Matt Kettmann – Senior Editor of The Santa Barbara Independent and contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast
Matt Kettmann is a contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast, where he reviews more than 150 Central Coast wines per month, and a senior editor for The Santa Barbara Independent, where he has covered wine as well as news, arts, culture, and more since 1999. A fifth generation native of San Jose, where his family settled in the 1850s, and a graduate of UCSB, Matt has also written about wine and other topics for New York Times, Time, Smithsonian, Wine Spectator, Sunset, and Beer Advocate magazines. In 2009, he co-founded New Noise Santa Barbara, an annual music conference and festival held each fall, and, in 2012, he started making very small lots of his own wine under the non-commercial label Periodista, which means “journalist” in Spanish. He is the father of two young children and lives in Santa Barbara with his wife, Joanna, who was born in Bordeaux, France.
Allison Levine – Owner of 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. She also holds a WSET Level 3 Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), an Italian Wine Specialist Diploma from the North American Sommelier Association, a Certified Meeting Professional Certificate (CMP), and is BarSmarts Wired certified.
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 columnist for the Napa Valley Register, as well as a regular contributor to California Winery Advisor and ATOD Magazine. Her work has also appeared in Wine Industry Advisor, Drizly, WineTouristMagazine, Thrillist, LA Weekly, LAPALME Magazine, BIN (Beverage Industry News), FoodableTV, Drink Me Mag, WeSaidGoTravel.com, Wine Country This Week and The Tasting Panel.
Charles F. Mara – Wine Judge, Winery Producer/Owner, & Wine Merchant
A nationally recognized wine judge, winery producer/owner and wine merchant, Charles F. Mara is a force within the wine industry. Having traveled to many of the world’s most prestigious wine regions, he is a well respected and knowledgeable wine guru who brings to table a love of wine. Wine judge for numerous prestigious wine tastings, as well as serving on several wine tasting panels, Professor of Oenology and member of the Society of Wine Educators, he has also appeared on local TV and Radio shows, was appointed as the Consumer Representative by the Governor of New York to the State Wine Grape Marketing Order Advisory Board, and has been a “Tastemaster” for monthly wine tasting events designed to increase wine awareness and appreciation by consumers. His knowledge has also led him to be a consultant to many restaurateurs and retailers.
Mary Orlin – CS, Wine Writer and Multimedia Producer
Mary Orlin is a James Beard and Emmy award winning wine and food writer. She is the co-founder of Orlin Media, specializing in multimedia story telling. She contributes to Edible Silicon Valley and has also written for Grape Collective, Tasting Panel, Napa Sonoma Magazine, Palate Press, Diablo Magazine and Berkeleyside Nosh.
Most recently Mary was the wine writer at The Mercury News and East Bay Times (Bay Area News Group). While on staff she launched the video series “Eat Drink Play,” producing several videos per month. She led the coverage of the 2017 Wine Country fires, contributing to more than seven million online views and garnering national media pickups in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Prior to BANG, Mary was the Executive Producer of the NBC show In Wine Country, which she launched in 2001, and is now in syndication. Prior to NBC, she was a producer on CNN Travel Now, a travel, food and wine show. She was also an editor for Zagat Survey, food and wine editor for the Palo Alto Weekly and a contributor to Travelocity Magazine.
Mary is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. She also passed both the Intermediate (with distinction) and Advanced (with merit) wine certifications from Wine & Spirits Education Trust. She’s been a wine judge at the Central Coast Wine Competition, Southern Oregon Wine Experience, Mendocino Crab & Wine Days, the California State Fair, Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir, Tri-Valley Uncorked and Santa Cruz Mountains wine competitions. She has led wine seminars at the Santa Lucia Highlands Gala and wine video seminars at the Wine Bloggers Conference.
Christopher Sawyer – Wine Educator, Journalist, Consultant, & Public Speaker
Christopher Sawyer is an internationally-renowned sommelier, wine journalist, wine judge, consultant, and public speaker. Voted Best Sommelier of Sonoma County by Bohemian Magazine for the fourth consecutive year, he is also recipient of many more prestigious awards and industry honors. To follow his journeys through the world of wine, visit www.SawyerSomm.com.
Mike Stepanovich – Wine Journalist, Educator & Judge
Mike Stepanovich of Bakersfield, California, has been writing his wine column, “Life is a Cabernet,” since 1985, and judging wines since 1987. His column is published in Bakersfield Magazine, for which he also reviews restaurants.
An avid wine collector, Mike is managing director of the Bakersfield Wine Society. He also teaches wine history, wine appreciation and wine-and-food-pairing classes at Bakersfield College.
His work has appeared in such national and international publications as International Wine Review, Wine News and Wine Business Monthly.
A Paso Robles native, Mike travels extensively and has reported on wine developments in Europe as well as the United States.
He made wines for 12 years from grapes he grew, and his recently completed wine novel, titled “Zinforado!” set in “Oak Pass,” is available at Amazon.com.
Larry Van Aalst – CRN Radio Wine Show
Retired sommelier, Equus Restaurant and Host of The Sonoma Report, CRN Digital Talk Radio the Equus Restaurant wine list was judged “Best of Show” in the 1995 and 1998 Sonoma County Harvest Fair. The Gallery of Sonoma County wines, nearly 300 bottles hand-picked by their winemakers, sets the tone — wine country splendor in a classic setting. Larry Van Aalst, Equus Sommelier, has been selecting wines for Equus for over a decade. Larry has been judging at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair/San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for over a decade.
Ron Washam – HoseMaster of Wine Blog
At a tender age, Ron turned away from a career as a comedy writer to become a sommelier. One could say he prefers spitting to gagging. He served nineteen years as a sommelier in Los Angeles, and was twice named Sommelier of the Year by the California Restaurant Writers Association, primarily because he was unbeatable in the swimsuit competition. He also serves as a professional wine judge in many formerly prestigious competitions. He is one of only one HoseMaster of Wine™ in the world and writes a monthly satirical column for TimAtkin.com. In 2016, Ron won the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Award for as Online Communicator of the Year.
Russ Winton – Merced Star/Modesto Bee Wine Columnist
Russ Winton, a retired educator and one who is passionate about wine has found an avenue to combine his vocation and avocation in writing his consumer friendly wine column for the last 10 years. He has refined and expanded his wine expertise through study and travel, sampling wines in numerous wine regions around the world. He has shared this enthusiasm by leading others interested in wine through directed tastings for both large and small groups. His core beliefs include the idea that wine doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating, that with some basic knowledge others can become confident in trusting their own palates. Above all else, he stresses the exploration of wine should be fun. His column, ‘Wine Line’ appears weekly in the Modesto Bee and the Merced Sun-Star.
Wilfred Wong – Chief Storyteller, Wine.com
Wilfred Wong, Chief Storyteller and in-house wine critic for Wine.com is a 40+ year veteran of the wine industry. Each year Wilfred tastes, scores, and reviews thousands of wines to help Wine.com customers choose their next bottle with confidence. He is an extreme researcher and a taster of wines and employs his photography and storytelling skills across the Wine.com site, blog, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.). As a wine judge, Wilfred has participated domestically (Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, Sonoma County Harvest Fair and many others) and internationally (Spain, France, New Zealand and Australia). He lives in San Francisco with his wife Alice and dog Kaili.
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