PHOENIX -- Down here the talk is all baseball. The other day, I was chatting with A's batting coach Chili Davis and we discussed hitting to the opposite field and the position of the top hand, stuff like that. But after a while, the vocabulary changed.
I introduced a new subject, introduced it while Davis and I sat in the home dugout at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Pretty soon, we were using words like "terroir" and "nose" and "vintage."
Chili Davis, you see, is a wine lover, a wine expert, an oenophile. I covered his whole career with the Giants, 1981-87, and he was one of the best switch hitters in history, and he always was outspoken and smart and funny. Who knew he also was a wine connoisseur?
Here's how it all started. Oh, I'll let Davis tell it:
"I always drank like white wines, chardonnay. When I look back, Mike Krukow was the guy who initially got me interested in red wine. I'd gone to his home for dinner. He and his wife cooked a nice meal and had a bottle, I think it was either a Grgich or J. Lohr cab. I remember saying, 'Krukie, I'm not a red wine drinker. You got any white wine?'
"He goes, 'Hey, big boy, you're not a red wine drinker because you haven't had good red wine. Taste this.'
"And I drank it. It didn't have that tart, kind of bitter finish I was used to in the cheap red wines I'd tasted. It had a smooth long finish to it. And it was just nice, velvety."
As Davis narrated how he fell in love with wine, he drew out his syllables. The "long" in "long finish" came out "looooong," as if Davis was tasting that initial cabernet all over again. He was 25 when he had that bottle at Chez Krukow. It's fitting that Krukow, the older man who had mentored Davis as a player on the Giants, also mentored him in this. Traditions get passed down in many ways. FYI, Krukow is mostly a pinot noir drinker.
After experiencing that good red, Davis started going up to Napa. It's where beginners tend to begin. He visited some of the big-name places like Mondavi. He went to Opus One and tasted there and loved the stuff, but was blown away by the price, this man who, until recently, had been drinking Boone's Farm. "I wasn't going to buy a $200 bottle of wine," he said.
Because he was THE Chili Davis and because he's overwhelmingly likable, people started recommending other, smaller wineries — Mi Sue?, Revana, Caymus.
"The wines were excellent, just excellent," he said. "As a matter of fact, Mi Sue? is served at the White House. I got into Adrian Fog, a pinot. There are vineyards I haven't named."
When he'd visit a winery, he'd ask to meet the winemaker. He talked. He learned. He made friends. When he'd go to a restaurant, he'd ask to meet the wine steward. He talked. He learned. He made friends.