Growing up in Flint, Mich., G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski said he didn't learn or know much about wine.
"I didn't know the difference between wine, beer and liquor," he said.
It wasn't until Pooch was working at the old Liberty House department store in the Sunrise Mall in Sacramento in the early 1970s that he first took an interest in wine. Pooch was working in the gourmet food section and stocking the shelves with wine but paused when he found a bottle marked $115. Thinking it was a mistake, Pooch said he ran over to his manager with the bottle in hand to figure out its actual cost.
After finding his manager, Pooch said the man's serious expression tipped him that perhaps the bottle didn't actually cost $11.50 like he thought.
"He looked at me and said that's a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild," Pooch said.
He may not have known that was one of the finest wineries in France, but Pooch realized it was a pricey bottle and he said he cradled it against his chest as he took it back to the shelves.
Pooch committed himself to learning as much as possible about wine and went into the industry full-time. He's worked in wholesales, sales, retail and is a certified wine educator. Through his University of Wine company, Pooch offers wine country tours, seminars on wine and tutorials on winemaking and wine appreciation.
The tall and lanky Pooch, sporting a yellow Hawaiian shirt, shorts and a ready smile, bounced his way through Wine and Roses checking on the competition. As he chatted about his career, a volunteer approached to say a judge had gone missing. Pooch scanned the room and spotted the judge chatting on his cell phone.
Pooch has served as the chief judge and consultant to the California State Fair and Commercial Wine Competition for 25 years and also helped organize the Lodi International Wine Awards.
Pooch had been brought in to bring more life to the state fair's amateur wine competition and the results have been impressive, said Patricia Garamendi, assistant general manager of the state fair and wife of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.
"Pooch has a wonderful reputation in the industry," she said. "When Pooch calls nobody says 'Pooch who?'"
Pooch said much of the credit also goes to the volunteers.
"I'm just lucky I've got good people to help me out with this," he said.