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 D. Bennett – Wine Director/Buyer
Karen has been in the wine business for 27 years, owning one of the first wine bars in California. After moving to the Central Coast in 2004, she managed and bought wine with Bill Hoppe at Hoppe’s Garden Bistro. Moving forward to San Diego, Karen consulted for various wine venues until she was drawn back to the Valley where for the past five years she has directed the wine list for Meir Brown’s Cafe’ Med Restaurant, in Bakersfield, California.
Jim Blumling – Albertsons/Safeway VP Wine, Beer & Spirits
With a career in consumer goods industry spanning over 35 years, Jim Blumling is the Group Vice President of Wine, Beer and Spirits nationally for Albertsons Companies, the second largest grocery retailer in the U.S. with nearly 2400 stores. The company operates in 32 states including the District of Columbia, and sells beer in roughly 2,000 stores, wine in 1,900 stores and spirits in 1,300 stores providing a wonderful selection for customers, thanks in large part to the exceptional collaboration and support from the tremendous suppliers and wholesalers. Jim leads the strategic direction for the alcohol category for Albertson’s Safeway and works closely with the 14 divisions across the company banners including Albertsons, Albertsons Market, Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Shaw’s, Randall’s, Tom Thumb, United, Star Market, Amigos, United Express, Super Saver, Market Street Lucky, Eagle Quality Centers and Carrs.
Jim was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Arizona. He began his career in retail as a courtesy clerk at Basha’s. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Arizona State University, Jim began his career with a 14-year run at Pepsi Cola in Category Management, before progressing to Sales Representative, District Sales Manager, Regional Sales Manager and VP of Retail Operations. Later he was the Division President for Pulte Homes in Indiana, Western Region Vice President for Kellogg Snacks, and Chief Operating Officer for Niman Ranch. For the past eleven years, he has enjoyed working at Safeway in a range of leadership roles including VP of Logistics, VP/ Business Unit General Manager for Seafood.
Beyond supporting the Christermon Foundation, Jim lends his time toward the Safeway Foundation, the City of Hope, Easter Seals, the East Bay Food Bank and the Archdiocese of Oakland.
Federico Casassa – Assistant Professor of Enology|Wine Sensory Analysis, Wine & Viticulture Department, California Polytechnic State University
Dr. Federico Casassa received a BS in Viticulture and a MS in Enology from the National University of Mendoza (Argentina), and a Ph.D. in Wine chemistry and Sensory analysis from Washington State University (USA). He is currently an Assistant Professor of Enology with the Wine and Viticulture Department of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he conducts research with grapes and wines of the Central Coast and teaches wine sensory analysis and advanced winemaking classes. Previous to Cal Poly, Dr. Casassa was a PI and winemaker for the Wine Research Center of INTA Mendoza (Argentina). His past and current published research focuses on the effect of Regulated Deficit Irrigation (RDI) and intrinsic variations of berry size in grapes and wines, as well as on the various aspects of phenolic extraction and sensory outcomes of different maceration techniques in red wines, including cold soak, saignee and extended maceration. Federico has completed 16 vintages as winemaker of both experimental and commercial wines in Mendoza (Argentina), France, Washington State, and the Central coast of California. He also serves as judge in several national and international wine competitions.
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.
Patrick Comiskey – Wine & Spirits Magazine
Patrick Comiskey is a Senior Correspondent for Wine & Spirits Magazine, where he serves as chief critic for all American wines not from California, and regularly contributes feature articles on California, Oregon and Washington wine, winegrowing, and wine culture. He is a regular contributor of articles on wine and restaurant culture for the Los Angeles Times, where he’s the chief wine writer for the newspaper. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, Decanter, Lucky Peach, Zester Daily, and the Robb Report. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is an instructor on the wine business at UCLA. His book American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink was published in October 2016. In 2017, the book was shortlisted for the Andre Simon Book Awards, and won the Gourmand Prize for Best New World Wine Book.
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 winereveiwonline.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. Her special interest is in passing on the belief that most wine should be for everyday drinking and to continue to find places which produce
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.
Mary Orlin – CS, Wine Writer, The Mercury News and wine video producer
Mary Orlin is a James Beard Award and multi-Emmy Award-winning wine TV producer and wine writer. Currently she is the staff wine writer for the Bay Area News Group (The Mercury News, East BayTimes and mercurynews.com). Mary is also on the paper’s video team as a video producer, and recently launched the weekly series Eat This Now, Drink This Now.
She is also a Certified Sommelier and WSET Advanced Certified with Merit.
Mary was the Executive Producer of the NBC show “In Wine Country,” the longest running wine show on television, for more 12 years. She also contributed to Huffington Post, Tasting Panel, Grape Collective, Palate Press, Napa Sonoma and Edible Silicon Valley.
She has been a wine judge at Amador County Four Fires, Santa Cruz Mountains Professional Tasting, Mendocino Wine Competition, Mendocino Crab & Wine Days, California State Fair, Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir, Santa Cruz Mountains wine competitions, Livermore’s TriValley Uncorked! and the Southern Oregon Wine experience wine competitions.
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.
Liz Thach – PhD MW Distinguished Professor at Sonoma State
Dr. Liz Thach (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, Wine – A Global Business and 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.
Clarice Turner- CEO Boudin SF
Clarice Turner is Chief Executive Officer and member of the Board of Directors of the Boudin Bakery restaurant group, Boudin SF. Boudin Bakery is world-famous for The Original San Francisco Sourdough™, which is baked with the same Mother Dough used since 1849. Born in the Gold Rush, Boudin is the oldest continuously operating business in San Francisco. As the fast casual concept for the world famous brand, Boudin SF currently operates 28 restaurants and 10 bakeries located throughout California. Joining Boudin SF in September of 2016, Clarice is focusing on driving strategic leadership initiatives and the future growth of this iconic and historic brand.
Clarice continues a tenure of service on multiple boards, private, advisory and nonprofit. She currently serves on the Culinary Institute of America Board of Fellows, as an executive board director for the National Restaurant Association, vice chair of the Food & Healthy Living committee and past chair of the Sustainability committee, and the Advisory Board for the Washington State University School of Business. Clarice earned a Master of Business Administration concentrating in international business, a bachelor’s in geology from San Francisco State University, and attended Fudan University in Shanghai, China where she studied Mandarin Chinese and published several papers on her research and work.
Valery Uhl– Winegrower, Educator and Wine Competition Director
Dr. Valery Uhl is the Chief Judge and Director of the “North of the Gate” Wine Competition for the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California. She also judges the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, the Grand Harvest Awards, the International Women’s Wine Competition, the West Coast Wine Competition, the Japan Wine Challenge and multiple other wine competitions. She and her family grow award winning Pinot Noir in the Green Valley subappellation of the Russian River AVA. TnT Vineyards are bottled under the PaulMatthew Vineyards label.
She has written papers and given lectures on the health benefits of wine. She also educates various Bay Area clubs on wine and food pairings. She continues to collect and donate wine for special causes such as the American Cancer Society of which she is a Board member and various Cancer events.
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.