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The Grapes of Laughs

By Jerry Zezima

With apologies to Elvis Presley, who is not taking requests these days, I’m a hunk of burning love, not only for my wife, Sue, who doesn’t always think I’m hot stuff, but for wine, which we both (Sue and I, not Elvis) really enjoy.

That’s why I took her to a cool event, “The Burning of the Vines,” at Jamesport Vineyards on Long Island, New York.

“I brought a book of matches, just in case you didn’t have any,” I told Ron Goerler, whose family has owned the vineyard for 40 years.

“Thanks,” he said as we stood outside, next to a huge pile of vines that sat in the bottom part of a stainless steel fermentation tank, “but I have some lighter fluid.”

“Is the fluid a good vintage?” I asked.

“No,” Ron said, “but the wine is.”

It’s called Thiméo, a red blend named for the son of the owners of Bossuet, the French company that makes the barrels used by Jamesport.

“I guess they have you over a barrel,” I noted.

“Are you a wine club member?” Ron asked, looking perplexed.

“Yes,” I replied. “You lowered your standards.”

Ron shook his head and smiled. Then, after igniting the vines, he addressed the several dozen people sitting at tables on the vineyard’s grounds, telling them that they could throw sticks on the fire to get rid of their troubles.

Tom Burke, a fellow wine club member, tossed in a stick, looked at his wife, Francine, and said, “She’s still here.”

Francine, a good sport, laughed heartily and said, “He’s been saying that for 56 years.”

Sue and I are relative newlyweds, being married for only 44 years, during which time Sue has frequently needed a glass or two of wine after a barrage of my stupid jokes.

JP Gamez, the winemaker at Jamesport, told us that the vines on the bonfire were from the vineyard’s winter pruning.

“I don’t like prunes,” I said, “so you might as well burn them. By the way,” I went on, “do you stomp the grapes with your feet like Lucille Ball did in that famous ‘I Love Lucy’ episode?”

“Everybody asks me that,” JP said.

“What do you tell them?” I wondered.

“I take my shoes off first,” joked JP, whose wines are delicious.

A few minutes later, we were visited by Rachel Sunday, Jamesport’s very nice director of retail events.

“Today is your day,” I noted.

“I have one every week,” said Rachel, adding that Sue is a great wine club member.

“What about me?” I asked.

“You’re a public nuisance,” replied Rachel, referring to a line on my business card. “But we’re happy to have you, too.”

Just then, I saw Angela Bucalo, lead server, wine pourer, assistant to the assistant manager and staff star.

“JZ!” she exclaimed. “Did I miss the arson?”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s still going. And I brought matches.”

“You have to meet Tom and Francine,” said Angela, who brought them over to our table.

“You’re Tom,” I said, shaking his hand. “And you’re Francine.”

“You must have ESP,” Tom said.

“Actually, it’s ESPN,” I told him.

We hit it off right away. While Sue talked with Francine, I accompanied Tom to get some dessert, the sweetest part of a buffet meal.

“Here’s the key to a long and happy marriage,” Tom told me confidentially. “Whatever she says, you say, ‘Yes, dear.’ ”

“Is that why marriage is dear season?” I asked.

“Now you’ve got it,” said Tom, who retired after working for 37 years running the photo lab at The New York Times.

He told me about the time he sang a duet with Luciano Pavarotti.

“Pavarotti said, ‘Not bad for an Irishman,’ ” said Tom, who is half-Irish and half-Italian.

“I’m half-Italian and half-Martian,” I told him.

“I believe you,” said Tom, adding that he once spent two nights with Sophia Loren. “Strictly business,” Tom added. “It was a photo shoot. I gave her a signed picture. She said, ‘Do you want me a sign a picture for you?’ I said, ‘Sure, Ms. Loren.’ She said, ‘Call me Sophia.’ She signed the photo, ‘To Tom. Fondly, Sophia.’ ”

When I told Francine that Tom regaled me with the story of his two nights with Sophia Loren, she said, “I wasn’t jealous. She doesn’t have to live with him.” Then she gave me her secret to a long and happy marriage: “Be best friends first. Everything else will follow.”

All in all, my best friend Sue and I had a terrific time.

“In fact,” I said, unable to resist yet another stupid joke, “it’s been one vine day.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service, which distributes it to newspapers nationwide and abroad. He is also the author of six books, Leave It to BoomerThe Empty Nest ChroniclesGrandfather Knows BestNini and Poppie’s Excellent AdventuresEvery Day Is Saturday and One for the Ageless, all of which are “crimes against literature.” He has won seven awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for his humorous writing.

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