Meet our 2014 Judges

(Click on photos for biographies)

John Giannini

John Giannini
Winemaker and Enology Lecturer

John Giannini John Giannini is the winemaker of Fresno State Vineyards, California State University. Fresno's winery was the first winery of its kind at a university in the United States.

John completed the enology program in 1999, and was awarded his M.S. degree in 2010 from Fresno State. His winemaking experience includes the Taft Street Winery in Sebastopol and Wild Horse Winery in Templeton, California.

John is responsible for the production aspects of the Fresno State Winery, which includes the supervision of the winery's student intern and enology students. John also teaches several enology courses for the Department of Viticulture and Enology and was recognized in 2011 for his outstanding service to students.

jgiannini@csufresno.edu

Sue Straight

Sue Straight
Freelance Writer and Wine Judge

Sue Straight Sue Straight, a freelance writer and wine judge, is a familiar face to many in Northern California's wine industry. Sue has enjoyed a career that has spanned almost 30 years in sales, marketing and management with wineries that include Windsor, Foppiano, Fieldstone, White Oak, Alderbrook, Davis Bynum, Lambert Bridge, Limerick Lane Cellars, Hop Kiln Winery, Clos Pegase Winery and J. Rickards Winery and Martin Ray Winery. Sue's current wine adventure is (finally!) launching her own consulting company, DTC Wine Coach, along with writing for Wine Country This Week magazine, doing freelance writing projects and writing her own wine blog, www.wine-wench.com.

Throughout her career, Sue has judged numerous wine competitions, including the San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition, The International Women's Wine Competition, The Pacific Rim Wine Competition, The Grand Harvest Awards and The El Dorado County Fair Wine Competition. Music, cooking, hiking and wine are among Sue's favorite passions. When not busy with wine, she can be found playing harmonica and singing in her four-piece band, Wine Wench & Friends or hiking through the vineyards near her home in Sonoma County.

Sue's mission for the last 30 years has been to gently educate people about wine. One of her favorite sayings is "Wine should be fun!"

Feel free to contact Sue at Susie.winewench@gmail.com.

Christopher Sawyer

Christopher Sawyer
Sommelier, Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, Sonoma, CA

Christopher Sawyer An internationally-renowned sommelier, wine journalist, consultant, and public speaker, Christopher Sawyer travels the world following trends in wine and participating as a judge in international wine competitions, and has been featured in a wide array of national media, including USAToday, MSN, NBC, ABC, CNN, Redbook, Maxim, National Geographic Traveler and Esquire.

Sawyer has been a personal sommelier for an array of luminaries and aficionados, from the Getty Family to the Gorbachevs, as well as for Oscar-winning director and chief creative officer of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, John Lasseter.

Sawyer was named one of the Top Ten Sommeliers of Wine Country 2011 by The Wine Tasting Panel Magazine, and is the recipient of many prestigious awards and industry honors. In 2008, Sawyer created the "Sommelier Stars" program for the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, the largest Wine Country event in Northern California. As the world's first Film Festival Sommelier, Sawyer also conceived and curated the wine experience throughout the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, including creatively pairing wine and food with films throughout the festival and at celebrity tributes.

In Sonoma County, Christopher is currently sommelier-in-residence at the Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa.

www.carnerosbistro.com

Virginie Boone

Virginie Boone
Contributing Editor, Wine Enthusiast

Virginie Boone Contributing Editor Virginie Boone has been with Wine Enthusiast since 2010, and reviews and reports on the wines of Napa and Sonoma for the magazine.

Sonoma-based Boone began her writing career in 1997 with Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, contributing to titles on South America, Northern California, France and America's Deep South. Travel assignments led her to California-focused wine coverage, including regular features for the New York Times regional newspaper Santa Rosa Press Democrat, for which Boone has been a contributing wine writer for several years. She is also the author of Napa Valley and Sonoma: Heart of California Wine Country, and a regular panelist and speaker on wine topics in California and beyond.

vboone@wineenthusiast.net
Reviews wines from California: twitter.com/vboone

Jim Gordon

Jim Gordon
Contributing Editor, Wine Enthusiast

Jim Gordon Jim Gordon, a 30-year veteran of the wine industry, reviews and reports on wines from Mendocino, Lake and Contra Costa Counties, Livermore Valley, Lodi, Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills for Wine Enthusiast.

Napa-based Gordon has been the editor for winemaker and grape grower media company Wines & Vines since 2006, and also directs the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley. He was also editor-in-chief of the James Beard Award finalist book Opus Vino (2010) and of 1000 Great Everyday Wines (2011), for which he covered Mendocino and Lake County wines, among other topics Additionally, Gordon was editor-in-chief of the former wine lifestyle magazine Wine Country Living and managing editor of Wine Spectator.

jgordon@wineenthusiast.net
Reviews wines from California: twitter.com/gordone_cellars

Richard (Dick) Mercer

Richard (Dick) Mercer
Owner / President, Experience Italy, Sacramento, CA

Richard (Dick) Mercer Not a travel agent, but an Italy destination specialist, Dick Mercer is Presidente of Experience Italy. He prepares individualized travel plans and makes all the land arrangements to selective, cute and charming locations in the regions and villages of Italia. He travels to Italy two or three times a year for property research and reconfirmation. At last count, he has made 37 trips to Italy which means over 720 hours in the air at a minimum. It is a rough job, but someone has to do it.

He has planned numerous wine and art tours to Italy where he also provides exclusive independent travel services focusing on country residences/ farmhouses/ villas in the regions of Tuscany/ Umbria/ Veneto/ Piemonte/ Sicily and apartments in Venice. Mercer, a self-proclaimed Italophile, is conducts seminars on Italy travel planning and produces several cultural events on Only Italy in Sacramento each year - www.experienceitaly.com.

He is also a highly sought lecturer who conducts travel seminars throughout Northern California. He assisted in presenting French Cuisine at Sacramento State University with Prof. Claude Duval and appeared on Sacramento TV discussing Italy and as the travel correspondent for Italian Living on KVAN Radio in Portland, Oregon.

Richard says, "As a young boy, in the brightness of mid-morning, basking in the warm spring sunlight, I dreamed of having a party for all my friends. Relocating many times in my youth, I longed for all my friends to be with me in one place at one time. Time and again, I experienced the same dream. I wanted to gather my friends, board a large commercial "airliner" and set off to a land far away. Now, years later, I still have a dream similar to that childhood dream. Over the past twenty-five years, I have hosted trips to Italy and have been joined by family and friends. After 32 trips and five more on the drawing board, the dream has been partially realized, yet the trips' designs were not mine. The places and events only partially represented the authentic, earthy Italy. The passion, romance, and emotion of my dream drive me to this day to find highlights that make for true Italian experiences. I am a dreamer, a romantic, a lover of life…my passion for Italy and my desire to bring my dream and the dreams of others to reality inspired the creation of EXPERIENCE Italy."

Rick Fraga

Rick Fraga
Wine Education / Hospitality at Martinelli Winery, Windsor, CA

Rick Fraga Rick Fraga, currently performing wine education, hospitality and sales for Martinelli Winery, is now working full time at following his passion for wine. Leading up to this segment of his life he had a 25 year career in Telecommunications Management. For a number years he co-mingled his passion for wine with his career, but over the last 7 years wine tugged him back into its fold. His experience over the last 20 years include hospitality, education, cellar work and sales for wineries including Konrad, Fife and Greenwood Ridge, Dutcher Crossing, Acorn, Stryker Sonoma and Martinelli. Additionally, after adding educational background in Wine Business, Marketing, Evaluation and Service at Santa Rosa JC, he continues to work with the Wine Studies program at the JC.

Recently, Rick has taken on the challenge of wine writing and blogging, his blog site being www.gatewaytowine.com. Rick is a proud father of three grown sons, including a marine with two tours of duty in the Middle East. On those non-wine related days you can find him hiking, traveling, or just catching up with his family and friends.

Rick believes that "Life is too short to drink bad wine", which translates into not only trying to find out which wine is good or bad, but encouraging others to do the same. His frequent advice to others is "Find your palate and then enjoy it!

If you would like to contact Rick he can be reached at gatewaytowine@gmail.com.

Director of the 2014 Lake County Wine Awards Competition

Bob Fraser

Bob Fraser

Bob Fraser Bob Fraser has been associated with the agriculture industry all his life, being born and raised on a multi-generation family farm in Clarksburg on the Sacramento Delta. Bob received his BS and MS in Agriculture Business Management at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and started a career in agriculture education with stints at King City High School and Kelseyville High School. Bob accepted a position in the early 1980's in national produce sales for Bengard Marketing followed by a teaching position of the Agriculture Business Management program at Santa Rosa Junior College.

As Sonoma County's vineyard and winery industry grew in the late 1980's, Bob decided to form a new program at Santa Rosa Junior College. He created what is known today as the Wine Studies Associate Degree, the first stand-alone wine studies program in the United States. Today, this program has become one of the largest and most prestigious wine studies programs in the country. Bob served as department chair of the Santa Rosa Junior College Agriculture and Natural Resources Department and took the lead with the construction of the Warren G. Dutton Agriculture Pavilion on the SRJC Shone Farm. Bob retired in 2014, but he remains on the staff of the SRJC Wine Studies Program as an adjunct instructor.

Bob and his son Scott developed a vineyard, Jago Bay Vineyards planted to cabernet sauvignon in the Red Hills AVA in Lake County, California. In addition to running the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest competition of American Wines in the World, Bob coordinates the Lake County Wine Awards Competition in June and the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition in September.

rfraser@santarosa.edu

Ken Landis

Ken Landis
Chef/Owner, Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn, Half Moon Bay, CA

Ken Landis Ken is Chef and co-owner at Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn (recently named one of the top 15 Inns for Wine Connoisseurs in North America). He has traveled many wine regions throughout North America including Canada, New York, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, California; international wine regions including Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Rhone, Tuscany as well as throughout Australia, Chile, Argentina, Spain and Portugal.

In addition to creating recipes for Landis Shores, Ken participates as a guest chef at off-site events including the Lodi ZinFest, creating and demonstrating unique recipes, and attends numerous trade events to assist in choosing top notch wines from around the globe for their 3000 bottle wine cellar. In addition to his degree in marketing, Ken has successfully completed wine courses at UC Davis, and course work at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

Ken participates in numerous blind tastings, and regularly participates as a wine judge at various wine competitions including the California State Fair Wine Competition, The Sonoma Harvest Fair Wine Competition, The Grand Harvest Wine Competition, the Amador County Fair Wine Competition, the San Francisco Chronicle Competition, The West Coast Wine Competition, the top 12 ZINS of Lodi, and Affairs of the Vine competitions.

www.landisshores.com/

Tom Simoneau

Tom Simoneau
Radio Wine Guy, Simoneau Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA

Tom Simoneau There are few people in Northern California's Wine County — in fact, just one — who truly can be defined as The Wine Guy. That would be Tom Simoneau. Grape grower and Winemaker. Wine Educator, Wine Competition Judge and Wine Critic. Wine Marketer. And for two decades, the clever and insightful host of a syndicated daily radio show offering reviews and "wine stains" to help guide listeners towards exceptional wine experiences.

Arriving in California to pursue a record contract, he found himself mesmerized by the beauty and energy of Sonoma County, which reminded him just enough of his home in Maine to bring added comfort. Life had taken an unexpected turn, and Tom helped launch Windsor Vineyards, an early direct to consumer wine company offering personalized labels (bottled for the Wine Cellar of The Mason Family, for example) to eager wine lovers all across America. As he gained insights and experience with wine marketing, it was only logical that growing grapes and making wine were next.

In 1988, now married to his childhood sweetheart, a fellow Mainer, Tom and Brenda purchased 12½ acres in the benchlands of Alexander Valley. Simoneau Vineyards began with 10 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, and a small number of Bordeaux varietal blending grapes. Over the next two decades, they honed and improved the farming of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and became sought after growers for distinguished wineries.

www.simoneauvineyards.com

Bob Ecker

Bob Ecker
Wine Writer/ Freelance Photographer, Napa, CA

Bob Ecker Bob Ecker is a Napa, California based writer/photographer providing magazines and newspapers worldwide with compelling wine, travel, culinary and feature content.  He's constantly on the go, seeking out intriguing stories, sampling cuisines and uncorking emerging regions – one bottle at a time.

Comfortable interviewing industry leaders, Ecker prefers conversing with the characters found in everyday life.  Bob Ecker lives in Napa with his wife Colleen and fellow creatures Brixi, Bosco and Felix.

John Buchsenstein

John Buechsenstein
Wine Educator and Consultant, San Francisco Bay Area, CA

John Buechsenstein John Buechsenstein has been a winemaker and wine educator in California for many years. Most recently the COO of Sauvignon Republic Cellars, specializing in Sauvignon Blancs from around the world, he has also made award-winning wines at Fife Vineyards and McDowell Valley Vineyards.

John is a noted educator, serving as Adjunct Wine Faculty at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and UC Davis Extension where he has lectured on wine sensory evaluation for over 30 years. He is a past-president of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, a charter member of the Society of Wine Educators, and judges wines throughout North America. Among his many publications, he co-authored the Modification of a Standardized System of Wine Aroma Terminology, known as the Wine Aroma Wheel.

 





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