Lunch on Thayer Street / Winemaking and Baseball . . .


Winemaking and Baseball . . .
One of the most enduring memories of my childhood in the late 70’s is of making wine with my Grandfather and Father. Every year this tradition unfolded against the backdrop of baseball’s League Championship Series and the World Series. To this day I cannot watch playoff baseball without the scents of winemaking filling my brain.
This whole process began with the delivery of a truckload of zinfandel grapes in wooden crates which were stacked beside the bulkhead doors of the basement. The three of us would transfer this huge pile into the basement and then into the wine cellar. The grapes would be washed and ground and this mash would sit in an open fermentation barrel until a thick, sweet crust formed on top. This crust whispered and cackled with fermentation and I was always captivated by the sound. Sometime later, timing had something to do with moon phase, the lower plug would be hammered out and semi-clear, fermenting grape juice would spill into buckets which then would be emptied into the aging barrels lying on their sides nearby. One of my assigned tasks was washing the barrels in October’s dwindling light and bracing air. The musty aroma of wine barrels combined with the smell of nearby piles of fallen leaves is a full measure of sweet remembrance.
The spray from the cold water coming out of the hose doused my arms and feet and resulted in numerous trips into my Grandmother’s kitchen in order to warm up. A hot mug of Ovaltine often awaited me and I would use the opportunity to run into the parlor and monitor the progress of my beloved Cincinnati Reds. Once warm and Joe Garagiola threw to commercial break I would venture back outside to complete my washing.
1976 brought a variation to this seasonal routine. I was sitting in school when I was told that I was leaving early and my father was picking me up. Bewildered, I gathered my things and waited on the steps at the main entrance. My father’s car careened into the circular driveway, pulled up to the steps and the door swung open. Beside him on the front seat was a searing red, shiny Cincinnati Reds jacket just my size. Come on, he said, we’re going to the World Series! That year the Yankees returned to the Series after a long absence, and game three was at Yankee Stadium. I was delirious. Understand that this verged on mythological for me. This was the year that the Yankees vaulted into the series over the Royals with Chris Chambliss’ homer in the bottom of the ninth in New York resulting in stadium-wide pandemonium. And the year after the Reds defeated the Sox in perhaps the most dramatic World Series of all time.
I came away from this experience with all the joy my heart could contain and a small bit of disillusionment. We had arrived early to try and collect some autographs. My father propped me up on the visiting dugout, my Reds jacket a beacon of youthful, unbridled enthusiasm. It was, perhaps, the only bright red jacket in the entire stadium. My heroes passed just feet away from me as they made their way into the dugout, but they made no eye contact. There they went, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Davy Concepcion, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey, Cesar Geronimo, and George Foster! Not one of them even noticed me and I collected no Reds autographs. I didn’t understand how this could happen. The Reds won the game and then swept the Series two days later. I was overjoyed but tempered that with the realization that I should not invest so heavily in the individual players. I was content to return to my barrel washing duties and my Grandmother’s kitchen.

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