While living in the California wine country, Mother Nature’s habitual tendencies became intrinsic motivators in our lives. We’d see the fuzzy little bud break on the first warm spring day, anticipate the coastal fog that would blanket the vineyards during the summer every six days like clockwork, observe our beloved chocolate Labrador Retriever quietly plucking berries off the vines.
“Kona!” Oh, how we loved that dog!
We’d recognize the telltale rise of steam emanating from piles of fermenting pomace during crush season, and rise at dawn on cool misty days to burn massive piles of brush. With a sharpening flint handy in our back pockets, sturdy rubber boots for the wettest, muckiest winters, the legendary corduroy-collared Carhartt work coat for the daily grind, my husband and I sure looked the part of a grape grower! But, hey, we did our share of callus-forming, back-twingeing, lung-poisoning duties around the property. Did I mention muskrat-trapping?
Winters were often rainy and foggy, but when the sun broke through we would methodically inch our way down each row during pruning season. With much precision, we’d make calculated cuts, then move to the next vine, all while pushing our son’s jogging stroller over discarded shoots and canes left on the moist clay earth.
But harvest was what we worked for all year. We’d wait for the brix level in our zinfandel berries. Then once it was just right, the vineyard seemingly came to life as harvesters worked the vines in exceedingly fast pace. From the distance, we always knew where they were, as the tops of the vines shook as though an isolated breeze was coming through.
While days were often long, usually ending by coating our hands with an emolient lemon-verbena scented salve, we were grateful for this life. And, gathering with family and friends was how we celebrated.
Being surrounded by generations of California-Italian wine families, like the Rochiolis, Seghesios, Rafanellis, Pedroncellis, Ramazzottis and and others, there was always this Italian sensibility. Gatherings were as plentiful as the wine. And a game of bocce ball was usually at the heart of it.
Situated in Dry Creek Valley’s western benchlands, our neighborhood bocce ball court was located at Pedroncelli Winery. Conveniently, this was just at the mouth of the county road we lived on. It was simple to just show up, grab a glass and play with friends and family. The spontaneous gatherings were the best.
Other times, we’d head up to neighboring Alexander Valley. High above the verdant valley floor adjoining the Wetzel family’s Alexander Valley Vineyards, was Hoot Owl Vineyards. Amid an expansive grassy area dotted with mature oak trees – Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon to the west, an irrigation pond to the east – was a regulation size bocce ball court. This was the place of harvest parties, large barbeques on the massive iron grill, and as the sun set on the other side of the valley, the string of lights, which hung from the trees, would illuminate the area, giving us hours more fun and cherished together time.
But, as new opportunities arose, we found ourselves in Las Vegas, and the idea of leaving our lifestyle entirely was unimaginable. So, today, a slightly smaller than regulation size court sits in our backyard in the southwest corner of town. Our court is a compass, always pointing back to a place we love. And like a compass, it’s also magnetic, drawing friends and family to a familiar place. Covered in crushed oyster shells, with casual seating at each end, it’s actually not too different from the courts we used to play on in California.
This is the place where memories are made, where acquaintances become friends, where relationships bud to blossom. Friends bring their favorite bottles of wine and dishes to share, tournament brackets are decided and games are played. Good times with good people, complete with intentional ribbing, jabbing and all-out spontaneous crazy dance moves to celebrate wins!
For centuries, this ancient little sport of bocce was played by young and old, men and women, of all abilities. Required equipment: eight heavy bocce balls; a single target ball (pallino); and fermented grape juice. It’s a civilized game that has brought people together for generations. A social game at a social gathering, where playing and drinking go hand-in-hand (quite literally), a bocce ball in one hand and a glass of wine in another … one cannot complain!
In today’s fast-paced world, regardless of where we live or what we do, life can be complicated. Sometimes we’re too busy to make time for ourselves, or too tired to do anything social. But we all know that one thing remains true: The heartbeat of friendships depends on gatherings, and gatherings happen naturally around food and wine. It’s been like that for thousands of years.
Cheers to this amazing thing that happens every year called the grape harvest. And cheers to cultivating friendships!