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.
Dr. Federico Casassa – Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
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 conduct 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 a wine and spirits writer and author of multiple books including “California Wine Country.” His wine and spirits work has appeared in Robb Report, Forbes, Vivino, The Hollywood Reporter, Decanter (London), Fine Wine & Liquor (China), Old Liquors Magazine (Netherlands), Wine Enthusiast, Draft, The Tasting Panel, SOMM Journal, and many others. He is the Wine Reviews Editor for both Bonfort’s Wine & Spirits Journal and Drink Me Magazine, writes the Cocktail of the Month column for Arroyo Monthly Magazine, and is a contributing reviewer for The Whiskey Reviewer. He has served as a judge at various wine and spirits competitions including the Best of Vinho Verde Awards in Portugal, the Taste of Rum Festival in Puerto Rico, the California State Fair Wine Competition, Critics Challenge, The San Diego and San Francisco International Wine Competitions, the Central Coast Wine Competition, the California Craft Spirits Competition, Distilled: San Diego Spirits and Cocktail Festival, as well as a professional water judge at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, and Global Bottled Water Awards. He is also the wine buyer for the Santa Barbara Airport.
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.
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.
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.
Ellen Landis – bio and photo coming soon!
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.
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 – 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.
Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET – Global Wine Editor for SOMM Journal, The Tasting and Clever Root magazines
Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET is Global Wine Editor for SOMM Journal, The Tasting and Clever Rootmagazines and was recently appointed California Editor for the Slow Food Slow Wine Guide. She teaches as an adjunct professor in the Wine Studies departments at Santa Rosa Junior College, Napa Valley College and Cabrillo College and owns a Wine & Spirit Education Trust school offering Level 2 and Level 3 certifications.
In addition to writing and speaking about wine, Deborah consults to producer groups, judges wine competitions and scores wine for Planet Grape Wine Review. Her motto is: To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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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