About Us


The Lodi Amateur Vintners Association (LAVA) is a tax-exempt organization founded in 2001 with only 17 members. Since its inception, LAVA has steadily grown to over 160 people. It created by-laws and a mission statement stating: “The purpose of LAVA is to encourage growth and knowledge of home winemaking by interchange of ideas, research and contact with experts in the field, to strive for high standards in winemaking, to attract new winemaking enthusiasts, and to promote the appreciation of fine wine.”

Eleven (11) professional wineries have grown out of this organization. They are honorary members and are not included in the count of standing members, but support and contribute to the organization in many ways with their expertise and time.

Historically, LAVA has assembled, organized, and hosted the local San Joaquin Fair wine judging competition almost since its inception. LAVA, along with the Amador Home Winemakers, has done the same for the State Fair Amateur Wine Judging competition for over seven years handling wines to judge in one day of almost 1,300 amateur wines. This came about by the vision, development, and expertise by LAVA founders. Unfortunately, general and local governments have come under increasing budgetary cuts that have eventually eliminated these competitions in recent years creating a void in amateur venues for members to submit their wines for constructive critique. To this point, the San Joaquin County Fair canceled amateur wine judging competition along with most other fair exhibits for 2014. In 2012 and 2013 the State Fair had no amateur wine judging competition.

This void was the genesis for LAVA creating The Bottle Shock Open.

Our Expert Team

Aaron Kidder

Mr. Aaron Kidder (Kidder Wines) developed the software for judging and hosting the California State and San Joaquin County competitions over a long period of time with a high vested interest. In addition, over the course of this period of development (almost 26 years), a great collaborative relationship emerged between Mr. Kidder and Mr. G. M. “Pooch” Pucilowski (University of Wine), long time certified wine educator and wine consultant. These two men, with their history of hosting wine competitions, are the backbone of The Bottle Shock Open Home Winemaking Competition. It is their mission along with the many other volunteers to provide a viable and continuous amateur judging competition.

For nearly 35 years, Aaron E. Kidder has been consulting, creating, and managing business systems applications and systems development projects specializing in the food and wine processing industries. As President/CEO of Kidder & Associates, Inc. Lodi, California his companies clients include E. & J. Gallo Winery, Robert Mondavi Winery, ConAgra Foods, Inc., Dole Food Company, Inc., Foster Farms, and Save Mart Supermarkets, Inc.

Kidder is also Winemaker and Owner of Kidder Family Winery, a small boutique winery that has been in business for nearly 3 years. He has been making wine for over 14 years and has 8 acres of varietal grapes on the vineyards next to his winery, consisting primarily of Syrah, but also has small blocks of Petite Sirah, Graciano, Tempranillo and Viognier located in the Clements Hills area of Lodi. Kidder prefers selling the grapes he doesn’t use in his wines to smaller wineries which give him “greater opportunity to work directly with the winemaker.”

He is a founding member and past President of the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association.Kidder’s consulting firm developed the software used by the California State Fair Commercial Wine competition, the California State Fair Home Wine competition, the San Joaquin County Fair Home Wine competition and the Consumer Wine Awards International Wine competition held in Lodi. In addition he was acting “Computer Captain” for all these events for several years.

“Pooch” Pucilowski

G.M. “Pooch” Pucilowski, Certified Wine Educator (CWE), is a dynamic and exciting speaker, whose enthusiasm for wine is balanced by his 30+ years of teaching and educating both consumers and members of the trade. A certified wine educator, prolific writer and highly sought-after speaker, Pucilowski brings his infectious enthusiasm and dedication to educating others about the myths and misconceptions people have about wine and the industry. What began as an intense curiosity about wine and the industry decades earlier has turned into a lifelong passion for Pucilowski.

Today, he is a nationally known wine educator and consultant, who continues to educate wine lovers every-where through public seminars and private lectures, bus tours, corporate presentations, and his popular Wine Appreciation 101 classes held at the Oak Ridge Winery Event Center, in Lodi, California.

With his ability to talk to wine enthusiasts on any level, Pucilowski breaks down the “complications” of wine into easy to understand segments. From how to taste wine to food pairings, any “student” will get the facts he or she needs to know to make an informed decision about what wine to buy.

Serving for the past 26 years as the Chief Judge and Consultant to the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, one of the largest and most respected tastings of California wines in the country, has given Pucilowski the credibility and knowledge necessary to create the a wine competition where consumers are the judges. People who actually drink the wine, judge the quality of the wine. It is called the Consumer Wine Awards in Lodi which has wine entries from wineries all over the United States and the world.

Pooch also serves as a wine judge at some of the most prestigious wine competitions in the country, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Houston Livestock, Rodeo & Wine Competition Fingerlakes Int’l, and Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
A prolific and engaging writer, Pucilowski has served as wine consultant/writer for Sacramento Magazine for nearly 10 years, and has written numerous articles for various wine publications throughout Northern California. Pooch’s continued fascination and interest in wine has prompted Pucilowski to begin writing a book about his own experiences within the industry. With decades of experience to draw from, the book promises interesting anecdotes and illustrations about wine and the industry.

His unique blend of humor and expertise landed Pucilowski his own “Pooch on Wine” segment, aired weekly on Sacramento’s KOVR Channel 13. Today, he continues to make regular guest appearances on television and radio shows throughout the country.

Pucilowski is Past-President of the Society of Wine Educators, an international organization of 1,500 wine educators from all over the world. He earned his credentials as a Certified Wine Educator (CWE) through the Society, which acknowledges an exceptional standard of both academic knowledge and sensory capability in the field of wine. He was a Charter Member of this Association and served on the Board of Directors for over 12 years.

As President/Owner of the University of Wine, (previously known as Wine Educators, Ltd.) he has had the opportunity to travel around the country, Canada and the Virgin Islands giving lectures and seminars to wholesalers /distributors, restaurateurs, retailers and winery personnel. Through his consulting work, he has designed, created, produced and sold educational programs to train these same groups.

His passion for the grape and his love of teaching keeps Pucilowski in demand as a speaker, writer and, most importantly, an educator. With more than three decades of training, experience and knowledge, he has become one of the most well-respected wine educators around the country.

Other Founding Members of The Bottle Shock Open:

John Bischoff, TBSO President

John Bischoff is the current President of the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association (LAVA) and owner of Near Sierra Vineyards in Acampo, CA.  John has a BS and MS from South Dakota State University in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, and a Ph.D. from Iowa State University in ABE and Water Resources Engineering.  He did research at SDSU for 22 years and came to California in 1999.  After stints with the Federal government, he wound up consulting with SAIC and GEI Consultants and then privately consulting until his retirement in 2008. The grape vine bug (not mealy bug) hit him early after arriving in California and he established Near Sierra Vineyards in 1999 specializing in Petit Verdot.

John has brought skilled leadership and drive to The Bottle Shock Open as our President.

Gary R. Daniel, CPA

Gary R. Daniel, CPA, serves a variety of closely-held businesses and especially enjoys his work with the agricultural community (including wineries). Gary’s emphases in practice are tax planning and compliance. He holds a bachelors degree in Business Administration from Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, a master’s degree in Taxation from Golden Gate University and holds a Certified Financial Planning degree.

Gary and his wife Liz live in a house surrounded by their vineyard and own three vacation rental houses in Lodi called The Cottages on Armstrong. The Daniel’s have three grown children.

Gary says the most rewarding aspects of his work are, “helping our clients prosper with proper planning and managing tax results.”

In their spare time the Daniels enjoy their participation in the Lodi Amateur Vinters Association (LAVA) and Gary also enjoys getting out for a challenging game of golf.

Greg Helland, BleuPelikan, Inc.

Greg Helland is an entrepreneur and wine aficionado. He has spent a career in software development, owning the world’s largest software company providing intellectual property management software to clients such as Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Graceland, NHL, NASCAR, etc. Throughout the years of worldwide business travel he gained a love and appreciation for wine and is now a member LAVA, making homemade wines. Greg currently is the CEO/Owner of BleuPelikan, Inc. doing business consulting and website development and is in charge of all things web for The Bottle Shock Open.

He and his wife of 40 years, Peg, have 2 grown married children and one amazing  granddaughter.

Steve Smith
Steve Smith

Steve Smith has a street-wise, book smart perspective on business and sales. Having fought his way in the beginning of his self employment, sales and management career, to eventually achieving success as top salesman and as a successful sales manager, Steve has succeeded with companies such as Caterpillar, Case, Toyota Industrial and ChemStation.

Steve is a speaker/trainer in the subject of Personality Social Styles. Steve also served in the Army in his younger years. Steve’s new venture in his spare time is in politics as Board member of Stockton Unified School District elected for his second term. Steve is a member of LAVA, Lodi Amateur Vintners Association, and making homemade wines.

Steve and Carol have been married for 32 years and have 3 grown daughters.

Home Winemaking Competition