2019 CCWC Judges

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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

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.

Tina Caputo – Wine, Beer, Food and Travel Writer

The former editor of Vineyard & Winery Management, Tina Caputo is a regular contributor to SevenFifty Daily, Spirited, Visit California and Sonoma magazine. She is also the host and producer of the podcast “Winemakers Drinking Beer.” 

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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

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.

Ziggy Eschliman – Wine, Spirits, Lifestyle Journalist, Consultant, Educator 

Ziggy Eschliman is among America’s most enthusiastic, authoritative and entertaining libation experts. For 23 years, Ziggy, known worldwide as “The Wine Gal” has set and reported trends in wine, spirits and all things to imbibe. Her wine country lifestyle brand, ZigStyle, embraces the art of life, entertaining, wine, cocktails and gardening. Her award winning, wine focused radio shows, have a long time loyal following and are broadcast on FM stations and stream worldwide. Her writings are featured in lifestyle and libation based publications. As a wine and spirits expert, Ziggy is a lead judge in both international spirits and wine competitions. Ziggy is a dynamic guest speaker, educator and presenter. ZigStyle is embraced in all she does and is a welcome, catching, organic approach to our busy lives. 

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.

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Ellen Landis – Wine Writer, Sommelier, Educator and Judge

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 WineWine 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.

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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.

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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

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!

Mary Orlin

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.

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 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.

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Dr. Liz Thach – Professor for Sonoma State University

Dr. Liz Thach, MW (pronounced “tosh”) is the Distinguished Professor of Wine and a Professor of Management at Sonoma State University where she teaches in both the undergraduate and Wine MBA programs. Liz’s passion is wine, and she has visited most of the major wine regions of the world and more than 37 countries. In addition, she is an award winning author who has published over 130 articles and 8 wine books, including Call of the Vine, Best Practices in Global Wine Tourismand Wine Marketing & Sales. A fifth generation Californian, Liz finished her Ph.D. at Texas A&M and now lives on Sonoma Mountain where she tends a small hobby vineyard and makes pinot noir wine. She also works as a wine judge in various competitions, and has served on many non-profit wine boards. Liz obtained the distinction of Master of Wine (MW) in May of 2011.

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Dr. Valery Uhl – Wine Educator, Viticulture Manager and Wine Competition Director

Dr. Uhl is the Chief Judge and Director of the “North of the Gate” Wine Competition for the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California as well as the California Zinfandel Championships in Pittsburg, California.

She judges Wines and Spirits at numerous competitions throughout the world:  the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the Grand Harvest Awards, the Mid-American Wine Competition, the Japan Wine Challenge, the West Coast Wine Competition, the Riverside International Wine Competition, the California State Fair Wine Competition, the Monterey International Wine Competition, the Central Coast Wine Competition, the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition as well as numerous others.

Valery has a degree in Viticulture Management, and graduated Cum Laude from U.C. Davis where she was a Taster for the U.C. Davis Enology and Food Science Departments.  Her family owns Gold medal awarded Pinot Noir vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA.

She has written papers and given lectures across the nation on the health benefits of wine, including at the Midwest Grape & Wine Conference in Missouri. She also educates various Bay Area clubs on wine and food pairings and has been a guest speaker for the Wine Enthusiast’s “Wine & Film” series.

She continues to collect and donate wine for many of her special causes such as the American Cancer Society (ACS) as well as various Breast Cancer events.  She and her Eagle Scout son Tristan received the American Cancer Society’s Volunteer of the Year Award for their many years of fund raising and thank all their winery friends for their many donations toward this great cause.

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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.

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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

Russ Winton – 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 11 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, the Merced Sun-Star and the Fresno Bee.

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