By Jerry Zezima
If I ever get my own sitcom, which I am actually working on, I’d call it either “Everybody Loves Jerry” (Ray Romano can star) or “I Love Jerry” (Lucille Ball can’t star because Lucy’s in the sky with Desi).
In the pilot episode, I would re-create Lucy and Ethel’s famous grape stomping routine. It would be based on real life because I recently went to Riverhead, New York, for a Grape Stomp Party at Martha Clara Vineyards, where I am a member of the wine club.
To steal a line from Groucho Marx, who also is dead and can’t sue me, I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member, but in the case of Martha Clara I have made an exception because the wines are really good and I had grape expectations (ditto Charles Dickens) for the party.
I do not pretend to be an oenophile with a discriminating palate, mainly because my files are disorganized and I don’t like to paint, but I prefer red wine because it is, according to my doctor, over-the-counter heart medicine. And for a geezer like me, that’s very important.
So when I received an email invitation to the Grape Stomp Party from Gina Messa, Martha Clara’s bubbly hospitality manager and empress of fun, I readily accepted. Then I had a glass of merlot, just to set the mood.
Merlot grapes, as it turned out, were one of two kinds that attendees would be stomping, the other being riesling, a white variety that my wife, Sue, prefers. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to the party, so I chose merlot and hoped the grapes I stomped with my bare feet wouldn’t make their way into a bottle of Martha Clara Merlot Jerry 2017, the sniffing of which would certainly be something to sneeze at.
“No,” Gina assured me as the party got underway, “we wouldn’t do that to our customers. In fact, the grapes you stomp will be thrown out.”
That must have come as a relief to the other 130 attendees, who ate a light lunch in the vineyard’s converted barn before going out back for the stomping.
There, all in a row, sat eight bins, each of which could hold a quarter-ton of grapes but contained only half of that to give attendees room to stomp them.
“The world of wine can be pretentious and snobby,” said Juan Micieli-Martinez, Martha Clara’s winemaker and general manager, “but this is going to be fun.”
No one had more fun than Juan’s 5-year-old son, Benecio, who had already stomped both red and white grapes.
“They’re squishy!” he told me.
“He can’t drink wine yet,” said his mother, Bridget, who used to work in the industry, “but he can help make it.”
When it was my turn, Gina asked me to take off my flip-flops. She looked at my naked tootsies and said, “You should have worn nail polish.”
“Since I’ll be stomping merlot grapes,” I replied, “I’ll get a red-icure.”
“You’re really getting into the spirit,” said Gina, who then helped me get into the bin, where we immediately started dancing in a shin-deep mass of merlot makings.
A crowd of attendees, wineglasses in hand, cheered us on as Gina twirled me around so dizzily that it felt like I’d already had a couple of glasses of wine.
After a few minutes, she helped me out of the bin and hosed off my feet, which were covered in juice and had crushed grapes between the toes. Benecio was right: They were squishy. His father was right, too: It was a lot of fun.
“A couple of years ago,” Gina said, handing me a towel, “two women showed up dressed as Lucy and Ethel.”
“If I don’t get my own sitcom,” I told her, “we could have a dance show, ‘Stomping With the Stars.’ ”
“I bet we’d win,” Gina said. “And we could celebrate with wine.” She smiled and added, “I know a guy who makes a mean merlot.”
Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima