Meet Our Judges

Jeff Back, Chef & Certified Sommelier, Back Bistro

  Jeff Back is a sommelier, chef and entrepreneur. He’s been in the restaurant industry for almost 30 years and currently owns a restaurant in Folsom with his wife called Back Bistro which has over 150 wine selections and has a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Back Wine Bar was started in Folsom in 2008 as the first wine bar in Folsom and has grown and transitioned into a full-service restaurant currently located at the Palladio.

 Jeff is a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Masters and completed the Sommelier Diploma Program from the International Sommelier Guild where he studied under a master sommelier. He has held every position in the restaurant industry and continues to have a passion for all things wine, food and Bourbon related. As a devoted restauranteur, his newest concept coming soon is 24 Hour Kitchens which will be a place for startups to rent kitchen production space for their own life adventures.

Stacy Briscoe

Stacy Briscoe is the senior editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine where she also reviews and rates the wines of California. She is the former managing editor of Wine Industry Network and former assistant editor of Wine Business Monthly. She has also written for numerous publications including SevenFifty Daily, Sonoma Magazine, SF Chronicle, among others. Briscoe regularly speaks at wine industry events, has completed her WSET Diploma and now teaches advanced WSET courses at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. She has her Bachelor of Arts in English-Language Literature from the University of California Santa Cruz and is often found with a book in hand (and a glass of wine in the other).

Carrie Boyle, River City Wine

Carrie Boyle is the co-founder of River City Wine Week, a wine writer for Sacramento   Magazine online and she has over 20 years in the wine industry. She has been a general manager for a national wine & spirits retailer, owned and operated her own fine wine shops, and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW). She has judged wine competitions around Northern California, made her own wine, designed and taught classes, orchestrated large wine events and traveled to wine regions all over California, Oregon, Washington, Australia, New Zealand, France (Burgundy, Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Champagne, and Beaujolais), and Spain (Rioja and Ribera del Duero). Today, in addition to managing River City Wine Week, she acts as a broker representative for hand-crafted wineries from various corners of the world.  

Rich Cook

A huge fan of wine and spirits, Rich has been writing about adult beverages since 2008 and is currently a columnist and lead reviewer for and serves as co-editor of He is the founding Director of The Toast of The Coast Wine Competition, and also serves as the current Director of the Monterey International Wine & Spirits Competition, Distilled San Diego Spirits Competition and Robert Whitley’s Challenge Series of wine and spirits competitions.  Rich also enjoys “sitting on the other side of the curtain” and has judged at several major competitions, including East Meets West, Grand Harvest Awards, Long Beach Grand Cru, Riverside International, Central Coast, North of the Gate and the Foothill Wine Fest.

John Compisi

John Compisi is a freelance wine, food and travel writer. He has been judging wine competitions for several years including the SF Chronicle Wine Competition among others. His website, has been the locus of his writing for the past four years but previously other print and digital media have featured his writing. His travels have allowed him to enjoy the wines of California, New York, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, New Mexico, the Okanagan in British Columbia, most of Italy, Burgundy, Alsace , the Rhône region of France, Germany, Slovenia and Croatia. A longtime resident of Sonoma County, he and his photographer wife, Linda, relocated to Reno, NV in 2021 where they cofounded the High Sierra Wine Society whose mission is to elevate ones wine appreciation and education.

Kasey DeFranco

I was born and raised in Napa Valley, Ca. In my youth, I worked in various restaurants and a gourmet grocery store while attending college. I dreamt of someday breaking into the world of wine as a winemaker or proprietor. However, working-class ambitions initially pushed me down a different route, and I went to university to study marketing and finance. While in college, I was hired by a local community bank, which recognized the relationships I had established from my past interactions with wine proprietors. I established a successful wine portfolio for the bank with some of the best wineries within Napa Valley.   During this time, I was encouraged to begin my studies for my Sommelier. I had access to many beautiful wines and mentors to assist me in this journey. I eventually became a Sommelier, and now I use this knowledge to teach others. I have been the lead instructor of our Culinary Wine Program at Lake Tahoe Community College for 11 years, teaching five wine-related courses. My passion is to help others to learn to create a unique culinary perfection when wine, food, and good people combine to craft unforgettable moments 

Tesh Diyal

Level II Certified Sommelier
-Former Sommelier of Michelin starred restaurant
-Two-time Wine Spectator Best of Award of excellence

My roots in hospitality can really be traced back to my mom. My restaurant experience however, started from my time working at Morton’s the Steakhouse. I moved on to other restaurants including Piatti and Ella dining room and bar. I became the Sommelier at the Kitchen and stayed there for almost 4 years. I transitioned into wine sales so I could focus on my growing family! After doing a year in wine sales (selling to restaurants), I was furloughed due to the pandemic.

That leads to now! I’m excited to put wines in front of you and your friends and family that you may not have had or heard of before! My goal truly is to bridge the gap between good people and good wine!

Mike Dunne

Mike Dunne began writing of wine 50 years ago as a reporter with the Amador Dispatch in Jackson. He has been following the evolution of the California wine scene ever since, with a continuing focus on wines, wine issues and wine personalities of the Sierra foothills. Today, he freelance writes for various publications and platforms, but for 30 years had been a writer and editor with The Sacramento Bee. When he retired from The Bee in 2008 he was the paper’s food editor, wine columnist and restaurant critic. For more than a decade after retiring he continued to contribute a wine column to The Bee. He and his wife Martha, also a judge on the wine-competition circuit, live in Sacramento.

Martha Dunne

Martha is a Wine Enthusiast who has been practicing for 25 years as an evaluator – “judge” if you will – with her husband, Mike Dunne. In addition to her wine interests, she is an autism advocate and author of “’Wait, What Do You Mean?’ Asperger’s Tell and Show.” She also loves her art form as a professional interior designer.   

Lisa Gomez –
Restaurateur & Wine Enthusiast – Citizen Vine, The Vine and Brickyard Kitchen & Bar

Lisa owns two local wine & tapas bars: “Citizen Vine” in Historic Folsom since 2018 and “The Vine” in El Dorado Hills. She also recently became the owner of “Brickyard Kitchen & Bar” in Roseville.

She has worked for 20 yrs in the Event Hospitality industry, traveling the world and gaining a passion for wine & travel! Her wine journey began locally, with El Dorado & Amador County wineries, finding a true appreciation for the quality of wines that El Dorado County has to offer.

In 2022 she furthered her wine education by obtaining her Level II WSET Certification from the Napa Valley Wine Academy. She loves to teach customers about new wines and introduce them to varietals & regions they may have never experienced before. She is also strong advocate for the local wine community, showcasing local wineries on her menus and offering Meet the Wine Maker 4 course wine dinners.

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly started collecting wine in 1978 and have always enjoyed tasting and meeting folks in the industry. Was in executive management for several Silicon Valley startups.  He visited wineries in India, China, South America, Canada and almost every state in the United States as well as numerous countries in Europe. Upon retiring from the high-tech semiconductor world in 2013, he immersed himself into my hobby and passion dealing with wine. He has sold tons of grapes, judged wine competitions, Founded the National Cabernet Franc Wine Competition, on average tasted 1500+ wines per year and exported wine to Michelin 3 Star restaurants in Asia.   Founded the website which publishes a minimum of twenty times a month, a guest blogger on over 65 BLOG’s & social media daily and published nationally in American Wine Society. The focus and scope of  writing is on small artisan and handcrafted wineries.  He is also a collector of wines focused on California Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and premiere Chardonnay’s.  In addition he likes to spend time on the lesser known wines like Mencia, Nero d’ Avola, Vranac, Negroamaro, Picpoul, Saint Macaire,  etc.  Currently located in Copperopolis but spend a great amount of time traveling to Sierra Foothills, Lodi, Livermore, Napa and Sonoma wine regions.  

Rick Kushman

Rick Kushman is a New York Times bestselling author, an award-wining journalist and a regular contributor to Capital Public Radio. He is also the creator and co-host of the popular national podcast “Bottle Talk with Rick and Paul,”which is featured on the CapRadio’s podcast lineup among many others. 

Rick was a longtime columnist for The Sacramento Bee and his writing has appeared in newspapers across the country and in publications ranging from Time Magazine to Sommelier Journal to Daily Variety. He has worked in the wine industry as a consultant on service and communication and as a Napa Valley-based Communications Strategist for E&J Gallo Winery. Rick currently works as the manager of media relations for global communications at the Almond Board of California. 

He is the author of two books. The second, “The Barefoot Spirit,” a business book set in the wine world, spent two months on the New York Times Bestseller list and was a 2020 national Audie Award nominee for best audio business book. 

He has professional wine certification from the Culinary Institute of America, has served as Co-Chief Judge for the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition and is the Chief Judge of the State Fair’s Home Wine Competition. He conducts inventive, light-hearted, anti-winespeak programs for corporate events, restaurants and the public. 

Rick lives in Sacramento with his wife, Deborah Meltvedt, a high school teacher and the grown-up in the household, and with their rescued cat, Anchovy Jack, who they think used to be a pirate. 

Barry Lawerence

Barry has been involved in every aspect of wine all his life, home and commercial winemaker, vineyardist, winery owner, wine sales. including wholesaler, retailer and importer and Wine Educator at colleges and specialized wine schools. He was a Calif. and National Board Member of SWE, is currently a Tastevin (DTM) member of the Dionysian International Wine Society their highest honor and is a published author. He was one of the first to pass the judges exam for both Intervin and California State fair in 1985 and has been a judge for the State Fair, Orange county and other fairs across North America and Europe since 1988.He continues to operate a Syrah vineyard high atop Sonoma mountain and is a consultant to Fogline Winery in Fulton. His Grandparents were both born in the 1880’s, raised and educated in Clarksville, El Dorado Hills.

Scott Litteral, Owner, Pizzeria Classico

Scott Litteral is owner of Pizzeria Classico and Il Forno Classico. Il Forno Classico has received many Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence and features close to 450 different wine labels on their list. Scott has been purchasing wine for many restaurants since 1990. Scott has attended the Windows on the World wine class, Oregon Pinot Camp, Paso Robles Cabernet Collective, multiple Family Winemakers Tastings, Premier Napa Valley Wine events, Zap wine tastings, Rhone Rangers Tastings,  Evan Goldstein wine classes, Sterling Viticulture Seminar, and numerous trade tastings. Not to mention weekly tasting with local wine suppliers. Scott has been in the restaurant business since 11 years of age with his family and has owned and operated 15 restaurants. Pizzeria Classico has been on Sutter St. in Historic Folsom since 1985 and Il Forno Classico has been serving Gold River since 1995. 

Laura Ness

Laura Ness is an avid wine journalist for whom storytelling is second nature. A visit to France shortly after college indelibly imprinted the concept of terroir, as she tasted wines in the very towns that bear their names. Sancerre, Chinon and Vouvray were not just wines, they were actual places you could taste.

Laura’s wine obsession eventually led her from high tech communications to the wine industry, where she is the wine columnist and regular contributor to Edible:Monterey, Los Gatos Magazine, the San Jose Mercury News, Edible:East Bay and The Livermore Independent. She judges wine competitions throughout California and has a corkscrew in every purse.

Matthew Oliver

Matthew Oliver is truly a wine lover. As a father of 5, he has learned to appreciate the value of wine and a enjoying the perfect glass after a long day.  With the success of his flagship restaurant House of Oliver, Matthew has been excited to showcase our regions wines and help educate wine consiours and the casual wine drinker to our hidden gems. 

Dr. Elizabeth Smith, Napa Valley Register, Nappa Valley Life Magazine, Matt Parish Wines

Dr. Elizabeth Smith is a former college professor and wine club manager turned award-winning writer. She is the wine and winemaker copywriter for Naked Wines USA (, a freelance journalist, and a wine competition judge. Elizabeth’s writing awards include the 2017 Born Digital Wine Award for Best Tourism Content with a Focus on Wine and the 2022 Koch Winery category in the annual Hungarian Wines Web Wine Writing Competition. Elizabeth holds a doctoral degree in community college education, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in French, and Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Level 3 Advanced designation. She is the Communications Chair for Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento chapter, a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, and a member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association.

Valery Uhl

Director, “North of the Gate” Wine Competition; Viticulture Manager; Wine Educator

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 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 El Dorado County Fair Eine Competition, the Amador County Fair Wine Competition, as well as numerous others.

Valery has a degree in Viticulture Management.  She graduated 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 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 fundraising and thank all their winery friends for their many donations over the years toward this great cause.