The Palates To Trust
The reputation of a wine competition is often defined by the quality of its judges. At the San Francisco International Wine Competition, our judging panels consist of the most respected, experienced experts in the industry.
Meet our judges:
Anthony Dias Blue
Anthony Dias Blue
President, Blue Lifestyle
Editor-in-Chief, The Tasting Panel Magazine
Anthony Dias Blue is the Executive Director and founder of The Tasting Alliance, parent company of the San Francisco International Wine Competition, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, and Singapore World Spirits Competition. Mr. Blue is recognized worldwide as a leading food, wine, and lifestyle authority. His work in all media is circulated to more than 30 million consumers each month. His James Beard Award–winning food and wine critiques, The Blue Lifestyle Minute, are broadcast daily on KNX in Los Angeles and on WCBS radio in New York, reaching an audience of more than 200,000 listeners daily. In 2011, he launched a nationally syndicated talk show called “Blue Lifestyle” that currently airs in more than 150 markets across the country. Formerly Wine & Spirits Editor of Bon Appétit, Mr. Blue is owner and Editor-in-Chief of the beverage trade publication, The Tasting Panel Magazine, the highest-circulating beverage trade publication in the country. He is also Editor-in-Chief of The SOMM Journal. In addition, he is a frequent contributor to numerous other publications. Mr. Blue is the author of nine books, including The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks and The Complete Book of Spirits. More about Anthony Dias Blue can be found on his company website www.bluelifestyle.com.
Beverage Director, Waterbar Restaurant
Wine Buyer, San Francisco Wine Trading Company
Sarah got a taste of the wine world while living and working as the pastry chef for a privately owned chateau in Southwest France. Her experience with Europe’s rich wine and food culture inspired Sarah to intensify her beverage studies upon returning to the United States. She pursued her interest in wine, becoming a certified sommelier and working in a variety of roles in both the wine and restaurant worlds. Sarah lived her dream by working in New York City. She began as a member of the wine team at the luxury hotel, Mandarin Oriental New York. Later, she made her mark as Beverage Manager of Aquavit. It was at Aquavit that she was part of the management team earning the restaurant its first 2 Michelin stars. After growing up on the east coast Sarah moved to San Francisco to explore the west and further her wine career. During her time in San Francisco, she worked as General Manager and Wine Buyer at Aster, a 1 Michelin starred restaurant and then as opening Bar Manager and Wine Buyer at the cave à manger Verjus. Sarah is continuing her journey as Wine Buyer at the San Francisco Wine Trading Company, a Bay Area landmark since 1976.
Eduardo A. Dingler
Eduardo A. Dingler
Vice President of Wine, Wine Access
Eduardo Dingler was born in Torreón, Mexico he moved to Napa, California in 1999 following his passion for wine where he has worked at some of Napa Valley’s most celebrated restaurants. In 2010 he joined the Morimoto Restaurant Group with the opening of Morimoto Napa. He eventually became the Corporate Beverage Director. During his tenure with Morimoto he built and developed the beverage programs for several Morimoto locations including Mexico City, Maui, Disney Springs and Bangkok. It was then when his love for sake took off and led him on multiple trips to Japan where he became involved with the Japanese Government as Shochu, Sake, Whisky and Craft Beer ambassador.
After his time at Morimoto he started writing for several publications which include an ongoing weekly column at the Napa Valley Register, a stint at Decanter Magazine and others.
He is currently VP of Wine at Wine Access, an online wine platform retailer as well as a continued supporter of Sake and Shochu.
Patrick Dodd, CSS, CS, CWE
Patrick Dodd, CSS, CS, CWE
Sr. Director & Corporate Workforce Development, Gallo University
Pat is a native of the state of Illinois, but he moved to California in 1985 to work for the E. & J. Gallo Winery after earning a degree in political science and business from the University of Notre Dame. Pat’s first job with the Winery was in sales, working in Southern California and later the State of Louisiana. He moved to Modesto, CA, in 1987 to take a position in the marketing department. Prior to his current role at Gallo, Pat was responsible for managing numerous brands, culminating in the development and launch of the Winery’s first ever premium wine brand, Gallo of Sonoma; and directing Gallo’s Trade Hospitality program for many years. Pat now oversees all aspects of Gallo University, including Wine and Spirits Education, and Gallo Management/Leadership programs.
For the last 34 years, Pat has studied the science and art of winemaking extensively at Gallo, in wineries and vineyards around the world, and at the University of California at Davis School of Viticulture and Enology. In 2001, he applied for and was accepted as a candidate for the Institute of Masters of Wine credential program (MW). In 2002, Pat tested for and passed both the Society of Wine Educator’s (SWE) prestigious Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exams, becoming one of fewer than 250 CWE’s worldwide. In 2009, Pat passed the SWE’s Certified Specialist in Spirits (CSS) exam; and in 2010 he passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Certified Sommelier (CS) exam.
Wine Director, Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
Traci Dutton is a sommelier, a wine judge, and the manager of public wine and beverage studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. She joined the CIA in 1998 as beverage manager and sommelier for the college’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Over the course of more than 30 years in the wine world, Ms. Dutton has worked in high-end establishments such as Montrachet, The Striped Bass, and 231 Ellsworth, and has served luminaries as varied as Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Bacon, and Chef Paul Bocuse. She has studied and tasted great wines at vineyards around the world, from Portugal and Austria to Argentina and the United States. Her writing on wines and beverages has appeared in Kitchen & Cook, the St. Helena Star, iSanté.com, and many other publications. In 2011, she was named one of the top wine country sommeliers by Tasting Panel magazine.
The Wine Gal & Countess of Cocktails, Wine Country Radio
Ziggy Eschliman is among America’s most enthusiastic, authoritative, and entertaining libation experts. For over 20 years, Ziggy has set and reported trends in all things to imbibe. Her award-winning radio shows are broadcast throughout wine country and stream live on the Internet. She is a dynamic guest speaker and presenter and her credits include American Women in Radio and Television, Gourmet Magazine’s “Gourmet Wine Cellar,” MusExpo, New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, YWCA, Cinema Epicuria Film Festival, and Santa Rosa Junior College. She also leads seminars on vodka, tequila, rum, and a variety of spirits. As a wine and spirits educator, Ziggy has developed programs for a diverse range of organizations including Gourmet magazine, Benziger Family, Legrande Hospitality, Relish Culinary School, Beverage Builders, IBM, PepsiCo, KFC Inc., Meritage Alliance, So Co Farm Bureau, Showcase of Wine & Food, and Sinclair Communications. www.ziggythewinegal.com
Owner, ORIETTA LLC Wine. Olive Oil. Chocolate. Honey.
Orietta Gianjorio, native of Rome, expands her expertise to several commodities. She holds a 3rd level Sommelier certificate (Associazione Italiana Sommeliers), an Olive Oil Taster certificate (IOC/EU), and she is part of the Italian Registry of Olive Oil Experts. Orietta is one of only two people in America to hold a certificate as an Expert in Honey Sensory Analysis, and she is part of the Italian Registry of Honey Sensory Experts. Orietta also holds a 2nd level certificate as a Qualified Chocolate Taster (International Institute Chocolier).
Orietta is the owner of ORIETTA LLC, a consulting company on sensory evaluation and descriptive analysis to the wine, olive oil, chocolate and honey industries. She works mainly on research for quality standards and labeling systems and for consumer outreach. Some of her clients are: the California Olive Oil Council, University of California (Davis), The Honey and Pollination Center (Robert Mondavi Institute), Mars Chocolate, the California State Fair Olive Oil Competition and Wine and Olive Oil Educational Center, The Italian Trade Commission and several wineries in the Napa area.
She is also the author of A Guide to Olive Oil and Olive Oil Tasting and three children’s books about olive oil and sensory evaluation, Coratina, Come Visit The Teeny Tiny Town of Taste and Brainy Boo (to be released in the summer of 2019).
Orietta has judged in national and international wine, olive oil, honey, chocolate and cheese competitions including the Los Angeles International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, The California State Fair Wine Competition; the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition, Biol International Olive Oil Competition (Puglia, Italy), Sol D’Oro (Verona, Italy), The California State Fair Cheese Competition, The Guittard Chocolate and California State Fair Chocolate Competition, and the Good Food Award.
Wine Consultant, The Gates Country Lodge
Jim comes from a family that is rich in wine making history, his grandfather, father and brother were all winemakers, and his other brother has been involved in the wine trade in France for the last 25 years. After studying winemaking and viticulture at the Eastern Institute of Technology in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, Jim has worked vintages in France, Australia, New Zealand and as well spent time working in Christies Fine Wine Department in London. In August 2000, Jim authored a research paper “The effect of the aircraft environment has on the sensory perception of wine” which was published at the 2000 Romeo Bragato Conference in New Zealand.
Having been involved in wine judging for over twenty- five years Jim has been part of the judging teams of every major New Zealand Show, including the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, Bragato Wine Show and the Royal Easter Show Wine Competition. Internationally Jim is a regular judge in the United States, London, Australia, Japan and China. Jim currently holds the position of Senior Judge for New Zealand Winegrowers, Panel Chair for the International Wine Challenge, Chairman of Judges for the New World Wine Awards, Victoria Wine Show (Australia), Wine Luxe International Wine Competition (Hong Kong), International Aromatics Competition and is a Wine Consultant for Air New Zealand.
Proprietor & Beverage Director, Diablo Restaurant Group LLC
Beverage Director, Mersea Restaurant
Steven Izzo brings over 25 years of experience to his position as Beverage Director & Sommelier at Waterbar, San Francisco’s stunning, Pat Kuleto-designed bayside restaurant. Izzo oversees and maintains an extensive collection of both domestic and international wines, as well as a classically minded cocktail and spirits program. Steven started his career as a bartender near his hometown in 1986 at a small, high-volume seaside restaurant in Guilford, Connecticut and after years in the industry in various locations, finally settled in San Francisco. In addition to his wine and spirits duties at Waterbar, Steven has participated as a member of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Tasting Panel and currently serves as a judge for both the San Francisco International Wine Competition and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Izzo has passed The Court of Master Sommelier’s Certified Examination and plans to sit for the Advanced Sommelier Examination later this year.
Proprietor, The Mara Wine Group
A nationally recognized wine judge, winery 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 the table a love of wine.
Charles is also noticed, not once but twice, in the Guinness Book of World Records. One listing is “most paid for a single bottle of wine” – an 1806 Lafite-Rothschild for $28,000 and the other is “most paid for a bottle case of American wine” – 1979 Opus I for $24,000.
Director of Sales, Golden State Wine Company
With a career spanning three decades, Drake has experience across a broad spectrum of the wine business. For more than 20 years he was Vice President/General Manager of Diamond Wine Merchants, a fine wine import-distribution company which specialized in French, Spanish, and Italian wines. Particular interests and expertise include Sherry, Burgundy, and Barolo. Drake has a long tenure as a judge at this competition.
Tim McDonald, CSS
Tim McDonald, CSS
President, Wine Spoken Here
Based in the Napa Valley, Tim McDonald founded a full-service marketing communications consulting company in 2006. As a 30 year spirits and wine industry veteran, Tim has held positions with E & J Gallo as Marketing Director Fine Wine Communications, Peak Wines as V.P. of Marketing & Communications, Director of Trade Relations with Trinchero Family Estates, Heublein IDV as Director of Trade & Public Relations, and National Accounts sales assignments with Seagram and Heublein. He started his career bartending in Las Vegas and Honolulu before becoming a spirits salesperson. Tim has experience with all types of media, national accounts, wholesale distributors, restaurant, and retail segments. He has served as a spirits judge in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition from its inception. Tim has also been a wine judge in over 100 wine competitions and was recently named Director of Judging for the San Francisco International Wine Competition. www.wineandspiritsspokenhere.com
Sales & Marketing Manager, Academie du Vin Library
Lilla works with Steven Spurrier and friends on the exciting Académie du vin Library publishing venture. She is a wine judge at the prestigious International Wine Challenge. Lilla was founder of Wines of Hungary UK and worked hard on putting back Hungarian wines on the international wine scene. Beyond wine, Lilla has a wide range of experience, ranging from UK education industry marketing, scientific publishing, through to not for profit organisations and tier one companies. Her love of wine origins from an early stage, as child, helping at their small family vineyard at lake Balaton (Hungary). Lilla has recently won International Wine Challenge Consumer Campaign of the Year 2019 for a successful UK marketing campaign ran to promote the Furmint variety.
Director of Communications, Rodney Strong Wine Estates
Chris is a wine marketing and communications professional with over 20 years of wine business experience. Growing up in Healdsburg, California, he caught the “wine bug” early, working as cellar hand at wineries in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.
Following graduation from U.C. Berkeley and a stint as a sports and politics writer, Chris made his way back to the wine business in sales at Scott Street Portfolio, which imported boutique Southern Hemisphere wines with a focus on terroir. After a year, he was managing all of California, the largest wine market in the United States.
In 2002, Chris joined E. & J. Gallo as public relations project manager at their Healdsburg winery. The next five years would be instrumental in learning fine wine public relations and marketing.In January of 2007, Chris left Gallo for Merryvale Vineyards in the Napa Valley, where he was Director of Marketing and Communications and served on marketing and public relations committees with the Napa Valley Vintners. In 2013 he joined Paul Hobbs Wines to take over marketing and communications for Paul’s various projects domestically and abroad, and in 2016 Chris became the Director of Communications for Rodney Strong Wine Estates. In 2017, Chris also assumed responsibility for Rodney Strong Hospitality, encompassing the Tasting Room, RSV Terrace and Events.
Chris has been judging wine professionally since 2004 at some of the most prestigious wine competitions in the world, including Finger Lakes International, San Francisco Chronicle, Jerry Mead, North of the Gate, Great American International, and Bacchus of Spain.
Principal, LA Restaurant Group
Ogron began his career in the restaurant industry serving as the Wine Director for Rivera Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. He was responsible for co-writing (with M.S. Steven Geddes), overseeing and developing the wine list, which was awarded with a “Two Wine Glass” Wine Spectator Award in 2012. After demonstrating his expertise in this area, Ogron was quickly promoted to Assistant General Manager.
In 2009, Ogron was given the opportunity as a consultant to work as both Wine & Beverage Director and Director of Operations for Fraîche Restaurant in Santa Monica. Brought on to reinvent the restaurant’s rustic French and Italian market-fresh approach, Ogron delivered quality-focused results. Ogron created a Pre-prohibition, seasonal cocktail program and wrote a new wine list consisting of over 300 labels.
After his tenure at Fraiche Restaurant, Ogron spent three years at Fig & Olive in both New York and Los Angeles, working his way up from Floor Manager to Service Director for Fig & Olive Inc. Ogron also lent his expertise to the beverage program and was involved in all upper management beverage-focused decisions, acting as the Corporate Wine Director for the east and west coasts.
In late 2012, Jordan served as General Manager for Bestia DTLA. He moved on from Bestia to become the Director of Food & Beverage at The Standard in Hollywood. His final tenure was with Hakkasan Group, where he was hired to resurrect a failing restaurant (Hakkasan Beverly Hills) and open a new restaurant (Herringbone Santa Monica) almost simultaneously for the company. Ogron left Hakkasan Group in September of 2016 to pursue his dream of becoming an Owner. That dream becomes a reality with Tesse Restaurant and Boutellier Wines.
Sommelier & Wine Director, One Market
Tonya Pitts has been in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. Her career started in St. Louis, Missouri as a host during college. Tonya was very fortunate to be surrounded by nurturing food and wine professionals who realized that she had a palate. Tonya’s Fine Art studies relocated her to the Bay Area and a new chapter was born. Tonya’s first job in San Francisco was with Chef Judy Rodgers at Zuni Cafe and Chef Jeremiah Tower at Stars Restaurant as a server. Needless to say, Tonya only paints for fun now. After three years, Tonya was running the wine program for Loretta Keller at Bizou Restaurant. It was with Loretta Keller that Tonya realized her true passion for wine.
Tonya has worked in many notable houses in the Bay Area and has been featured in Wine & Spirits Magazine, Tasting Panel and numerous news and industry publications. She is also a judge for the San Francisco International Wine Competition and is a tasting panelist for Wine and Spirits Magazine. Tonya is currently pursuing wine studies with the Court of Master Sommeliers and continues to educate herself and others on the world of wine.
Estate Director, Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate Napa Valley
Michael discovered the world of wine while studying abroad on the Spanish island of Mallorca. After receiving a degree in hospitality from the University of Wisconsin, he embarked upon a career-long obsession with fine wine and cuisine. Following college, Michael joined Four Seasons Hotels where he spent five years in operations. Additional affiliations have included Auberge Resorts and Peninsula Hotels. He has led openings and operations of venues in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco for Chefs José Andrés, Michael Voltaggio, and Chris Cosentino. Most recently Michael oversaw all resort food and beverage operations at Las Alcobas Napa Valley in St. Helena. As a certified sommelier and frequent wine judge for competitions around the United States, Michael has fulfilled his true passion as the Estate Director for the Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate Napa Valley.
George Skorka, MS
George Skorka, MS
Wine Consultant, Skorka Wine Consulting
George is a tall, courtly, wine expert with a musical Hungarian accent. He represents family owned high integrity wines and has recently been the GM of Bastide, F&B Director of La Merigot Hotel and Sommelier in Church and State.
Editor, Hugh Johnsons Pocket Wine Book
Freelance Wine & Spirits Writer
Tim Teichgraeber is Bay Area entertainment attorney, wine and spirits writer, and judge. Over the past twenty years, he has contributed over a thousand articles to newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Decanter Magazine, wine trade publications and encyclopedia. He is currently the California editor of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book and has a blog called Modern Wine.
Liz Thach MW, Ph.D.
Liz Thach MW, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Wine & Management, 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 Tourism 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.
CSW, CSWS, DIPWSET CO-FOUNDER AND WINE DIRECTOR OF SF INSTITUTION THE BARREL ROOM
Sarah is an innovator in F&B for her award-winning wine lists, and The Barrel Room’s singular concept: a full restaurant and wine bar dedicated to wine education
She holds a Master of Science in Applied Physics from UCLA, the WSET Diploma, and is a Certified Specialist of Wine and a Certified Sherry Wine Specialist. Sarah also operates Northeast Wine Company (NH) and teaches for multiple wine schools, including Commonwealth Wine School and Fine Vintage. Sarah is renowned for her award-winning wine lists recognized by World of Fine Wine, Sommeliers Choice Awards and Wine Spectator. Sarah is also deeply passionate about the effects of climate change on the wine industry and wine regions, and the world of alternative packaging.
Certified Master of Sake, Master Sake Sommelier, and Shochu Sommelier, Mutual Trading Co., Inc.
Certified Master of Sake, Master Sake Sommelier, and Shochu Sommelier. Toshio is the only one in the world to hold Master of Sake (酒匠), Master Sake Sommelier (日本酒学講師), and WSET Sake Educator diploma. Born in Japan where his family has grown Japanese wine grape, Koshu, for generations, Toshio grew up helping the business from a young age. Following his college education in the US and employment at an international trading company in Tokyo, Toshio joined Chateraise, a pastry and wine company as Director of Sales. There, he was put in charge of overseeing the personal wine collection of the company’s president, which intrigued him to enter the world of wine stewardship and research. Toshio joined Mutual Trading Company in 2002, where he is Manger of the Business Development Department in marketing Japanese foods, Jizake, and Shochu to the mainstream American trade. With his passion and expertise in Jizake, Shochu, and Wine, Toshio aims to further promote Japanese food and Sake cultures to new, international audiences. Since 2010, he has been Vice President & Executive Instructor at Sake School of America. In 2016 he was awarded the industry’s most prestigious title Sake Samurai from Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association.
Dr. Valery Uhl
Dr. Valery Uhl
Wine Educator; Viticulture Manager; Competition Director, North of the Gate Wine Competition
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 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 the public 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.
Retailer & Wine Buyer, Weimax Wines & Spirits
A life-long California resident, Gerald Weisl grew up in the wine industry, first visiting cellars when there were perhaps just 17 wineries in the Napa Valley. He’s a prominent Bay Area wine merchant, owning Weimax Wines & Spirits, a “destination” wine shop located in Burlingame. Gerald travels extensively in search of good wine and has been a judge at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition for nearly two decades. Known as “The Fastest Glass in the West,” he’s the youngest member of a monthly Bay Area wine-tasting group that celebrated its 45th anniversary earlier this year. Gerald claims “wine drinkers improve with age.” He’s been judging (and causing chaos) at the San Francisco International Wine Competition since the early 2000s.
Chief Storyteller, Wine.com
Wilfred Wong, industry professional for nearly five decades, is the Chief Storyteller for Wine.com, the largest wine e-tailer in the United States, and most recently launching spirits. In his role at Wine.com, he tastes upwards of 5,000 wines annually and posts reviews on www.wine.com of his highest rated wines. He has been active on the judging circuit since the early 1980s. Wong, a native of San Francisco, lives with his wife Alice and their dog Kaili.