Meet Our Judges
Tom Bender is an adjunct instructor at Columbia College in the Sierra Foothills where he has taught several wine related classes in the college Culinary Arts Program for over 35 years. For the past 17 years he has managed O’Brien’s Market extensive wine department and popular wine bar in Modesto, CA. Since 1981 he has coordinated the Calaveras County Fair “Sierra Foothill Wine Competition”. He is a judge at the CA State Fair Wine Competition, Amador County Wine Competition, and the International Cabernet Franc Judging Competition. Tom has also been a successful winemaker for over forty years, having won a number of gold and double gold medals for wines made by his class and a fun group of local home winemakers. More recently he has assisted in the re-opening of the Columbia City Hotel Restaurant where he oversees their foothill friendly wine list. He has been fortunate enough to visit some of the globes most important wine regions.
Donna Bettencourt has been making award winning home wines and beers since 1994.She has judged commercial and home brewed wines since 1994 and is a certified beer judge through the national Beer Judge Certification Program.
Her wine judging experience includes home wines as well as commercial wines. She is the Past President and current Education Committee chair for the Sacramento Home Winemakers and is particularly interested in the shared sensory experience of wines. Donna is unique in having coordinated both the California State Fair Home Wine Competition and the Homebrew Competition.
Her dog is Teddy, a “wired wrong” fox terrier.
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.
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, BitesFlightsandSights.com 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.
Linda Compisi has a passion for wine. Recently WSET II certified, she has been tasting and evaluating wine from around the world including most of California, Oregon, Virginia, New York, Texas, Italy, France, Germany and Croatia for over a decade. As a freelance photographer and writer, Linda’s focus with wine, food and travel is to capture images that stimulate the imagination while engendering the desire among viewers to go out and see for themselves. In her writing, Linda hopes to bring a woman’s perspective to her adventures. Particularly, the sights and wines of France and Italy where she has traveled most extensively. She is a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association and is the co-founder of the website BitesFlightsandSights.com. Finally, Linda cofounded the High Sierra Wine Society based in Reno, Nevada.
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
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 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 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.
Tom Jones is a passionate professional who believes in the unifying power of food and drink. His love affair with culinary culture began with his boyhood travels, where he witnessed firsthand how a shared meal can create lasting bonds.
Guided by mentors, Tom’s 25+ years in the hospitality industry have given him opportunities to explore roles ranging from General Manager and Chef de Cuisine to Hospitality Consultant and more. Tom’s pursuit of WSET Level 2-4 led him to Raley’s where, in his first role as a Wine Steward, he was deeply involved in opening the first new store in over a decade, rolling out and marketing an in-store wine club and refreshing the store wine tasting program. Now a Merchandising Coordinator on Raley’s Liquor Buying Team, Tom plays a vital role in acquiring and curating exceptional wines and spirits.
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.
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 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 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, Copywriter at Naked Wines USA and Freelance Journalist
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 (us.nakedwines.com), 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.
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.
Being a Fair Oaks native and the youngest of one other sibling, I was raised by a hard-working single mother. As an adult, and also a single mother, nothing excited me more than to get through the daunting work week and planning weekend get together brunch menus for family & friends at home. I didn’t fail to recognize that everyone was always happy sipping on a sparkling mimosa, eating delicious food and reminiscing with people that meant the most.
Sadly in 2019 my best friend, my mother passed away unexpectedly. It was a tragedy to my heart, and I was broken, lost and stuck in a job that made me miserable. While trying to figure out my life, I stumbled upon a very unique space at the Almond Orchard center that would change my life forever, like serendipity KORK WAS BORN! KORK was created with every ounce of my heart. I then managed to open the doors Jan 2021, in the middle of one of the worst pandemics and survived! Being the first and only wine bar in Fair oaks, it has become the place where you can come and forget that you’ve had a bad day, maybe meet a new friend or even run into a long lost familiar face. Some people often describe it as “good vibes” “cozy” “warm” & “welcoming” – Food and Wine have always been my passion, and I am forever grateful to be able to share it with you! Cheers!!
Evan Williams is a restaurateur with fifty years years of experience in the business, 45 in management and 35 as an owner. Currently he and his wife and partner, Candice, are owners of Evan’s American Gourmet Cafe located in South Lake Tahoe, CA. Evan has worked in virtually every possible position in the restaurant business, front of the house and back as well, from Busser to Waiter, Captain, Maitre d’ Hotel, Food and Beverage Director at a Five Star Resort, Chef de Cuisine, Sommelier and Proprietor and has been a wine buyer for 45 years and a Commercial Wine Competition Judge for 35 years. Evan’s American Gourmet Café is the top rated fine dining restaurant in South Lake Tahoe and the only DiRoNA Award recipient in the entire Tahoe/Truckee region.
Mark Winberg has been in the business since 1975 as Restaurant and bar owner. He is also a Wine broker and Epic representative. Currently GM and COO at The Idle Hour in South Lake Tahoe.