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Matt Mills
 
June 23, 2015 | Matt Mills

The Sport of Kings, Soldiers and Vintners

 

While the Roman Empire was expanding their political and military reach from Italy to the Atlantic, they propagated two additional components of their everyday life that we as Napa Valley vintners are proud to carry on in the modern era: winemaking and bocce. Influencing every region they conquered the Romans brought a rich history of viticulture and winemaking practices out of the Italian peninsula including the first recorded instances of glass blown containers. This disbursal helped set the foundation for what we generically call “The Old World” of wine across the European region.

 

Bocce, stemming originally from the Latin word “bottica” (meaning “ball”), developed simply enough as an organized game soldiers played in their downtime throwing larger stones at a smaller “leader” stone, with whomever getting closest to hitting the leader would win the point. The first records of this game show up over 6,000 years ago in Egypt, then in Greece and witnessed an explosion under the Romans. To this day historians claim ancient bocce as the Godfather to the modern era’s most physically and athletically demanding sports such as bowling, curling and tetherball.

 

As the sport spread in popularity so did follow its prohibition. Numerous instances in European history point to Kings as well as the Catholic Church banning the game as it presented a clear distraction to more necessary daily pursuits and a more pious life. Upon being notified during a game of bocce that the feared Spanish Armada was about to attack the English, Sir Francis Drake remarked “First, we finish the game; then we have time for the invincible armada.” Even the new colonies of America considered protecting the commoner’s right to bocce as a fundamental and unalienable right deserving of its own constitutional amendment, but a lack of bipartisan support stopped the bill from progressing.

Nowadays the dimensions of the field of play vary but it’s usually a long stretch of level crushed stone or oyster shell (replacing the customary Roman practice of the crushed bones of your vanquished foes). A target ball - the pallino - is tossed down the field of play and two teams battle bowling larger balls to get closest to the pallino and hereby scoring points. And in homage to our Roman forefathers, we here in the Valley prefer to bowl with one hand while holding a glass of wine with the other.

 

 

Starting my career in the illicit and lucrative underground bocce scene in Oakland, I was drafted three years ago as a pro into the highly competitive St Helena Bocce Sunday Night League with fellow bocce enthusiast, Michael Baldacci (a.k.a Michael “Bal-bacci”). A good night of competition often ends in elation, tears, an iced shoulder or two and usually celebratory (or consoling) cocktails. We look forward to continued American domination this season against the highly touted New Zealand, French and Finnish squads, as well as a much needed All-Star break.

 

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6236 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
707-944-9261
Info@BaldacciVineyards.com
Open daily from 10AM to 4PM
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