Meet our 2016 Judges

(Click on photos for biographies)

Carl Brandhorst

Carl Brandhorst
President of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association (ASWA)

Carl Brandhorst Carl is currently the President of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association (ASWA) [formerly the Vinifera Wine Growers Association (VWGA)], a trade group that helps promote the wine industry. He has served as Chairman of the July 2005-2014 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competitions sponsored by ASWA. Carl is also a past President of the Washington, DC Chapter of the German Wine Society. He is a longstanding member of the American Wine Society (AWS) and a graduate of the AWS wine judge program. As the current AWS Regional Vice President for Virginia, he assists in the formation of new chapters and supports current chapters through educational seminars.

Carl is also a founding member (1988) of the Nation's Capital Chapter of the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine (KOV), an international wine organization in which he holds the cadre title of Charge d'Affaires. Carl has been an active member of the Dionysian International Wine Society since 2002. Carl has participated as a judge in a number of annual wine competitions, specifically, the AWS commercial and amateur competitions (2000-2011), the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Farm Winery competitions, the former VWGA Virginia competition (2002/2003), the San Francisco Chronicle competition in Cloverdale, CA (2002-2014), the Wines of the South competition in Knoxville, TN (2004 & 2011), the New York Finger Lakes International Competition in Rochester, NY (2006/2008/2010-2012), the Grand Harvest ( 2012), the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition (2007-2009 & 2011-2014), U,S. National Wine Competition (2013) and the International East Meets West (2014).

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.

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,

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

Catherine Fallis

Catherine Fallis
Master Sommelier
a.k.a. grape goddess®

Catherine Fallis A successful wine and service professional, Catherine Fallis, a.k.a. grape goddess®, is an approachable and entertaining wine expert who brings wine down to earth. While studying Hotel Administration at Cornell University, Catherine Fallis set out to explore the service industry in Europe. She studied elaborate European hotels and was inspired by every detail of what made them exceptional. It was during these travels when she first experienced wine not as an elite beverage but as something interesting and accessible, and has maintained this approach to wine throughout her extensive career in the industry ever since.

Catherine is currently the Master Sommelier and grape goddess® at Planet Grape® LLC ( Her diverse wine background as a salesperson, sommelier distributor, and supplier helped Catherine become the well-rounded and thorough expert she is today. She understands all facets of the wine business, and is a frequent speaker, event host, educator, and consultant for corporations, consumers and the wine trade. She is a highly sought-after wine expert and spokesperson for the wine industry.

Ellen Landis

Ellen Landis
Wine Journalist,
Wine Educator, Vancouver WA

Ellen Landis Ellen is a published Wine Writer, Certified Sommelier, Certified Wine Specialist, Wine Educator and Professional Wine Judge.  She is the author of the blog and writes for the AWS Wine Journal ( among other publications.

Ellen is a moderator for the highly acclaimed Vintner's Holidays annual event at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, and participates as a key speaker, moderator and panelist at various other wine events. For the past sixteen plus 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 has traveled many wine regions throughout North America, Canada, and several international wine regions including Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Rhone, Tuscany, and wine regions throughout Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

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 (CS) 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.

Click here for a list of others who have served as distinguished Lake County Wine Awards judges.

Director of the 2016 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.

Ken Landis

Ken Landis
Consulting Chef & Wine Judge, Vancouver, WA

Ken Landis Ken works as a Consulting Chef.

For the past sixteen plus years, he and wife Ellen co-owned award winning Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn where Ken served as Chef and COO. They recently sold their Inn to devote more time to the world of food and wine.  He has traveled many wine regions throughout North America and Canada; 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 their former hotel/restaurant, 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 degrees in engineering and business management, Ken has successfully completed wine courses at UC Davis, and course work at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He 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, State Competitions in Michigan, Florida and Washington, as well as a myriad of other competitions throughout North America.

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.

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 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

Martha Dunne

Martha Dunne
"Wait, What Do You Mean?" Asperger's Tell and Show

Martha Dunne Martha Dunne is a seasoned participant in the appreciation and estimation of wine.   From nightly dinners with wine to commercial wine judgings, her palate is ready and anticipatory.  She is administrator of, a Sacramento tour, tasting and consultation business. In addition to wine culture, Martha is professionally interested in the two interior designs - home decoration and neurological variation, as in autism. Her book "Wait, What Do You Mean?" Asperger's Tell and Show was published recently.

Mike Dunne

Mike Dunne
Contributing Wine Columnist,
The Sacramento Bee

Mike Dunne Mike Dunne is a freelance wine writer and consultant who divides his time between Sacramento and San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur. The former food editor, wine columnist and restaurant critic of The Sacramento Bee, he continues to contribute a weekly wine column to The Bee and its online platforms, including and His blog – A Year in Wine – also is a partner in The Bee's online community of Northern California bloggers, Sacramento Connect. Mike contributed the Inland California and Mexico chapters in the recently published book Opus Vino, and is at work on a spinoff about outstanding everyday value wines.