Founded in 1976 by enthusiast Brant Horton and Orange Coast wine columnist Jerry Mead, the Orange County Wine Society has far exceeded its initial goal: hosting a professional competition with the Orange County Fair for wines made from only California grapes. Now 40 years old and a fair institution, it’s the largest, most notable judging of California wines in the world. At the 2015 fair, 2,313 commercial wines earned 1,600 awards from 75 judges. Excess wines not used for judging are swirled and sipped by fairgoers, with proceeds funding the nonprofit group’s scholarships and education outreach. Special-interest groups include focused tastings, dining with wine, and home winemaking.
To join the fun, visit ocws.org, where you can also see this year’s award winners.