The tourist with the camera around his neck wanted to I know what all that yellow stuff on the ground was. "Mustard growing wild," said the 6'5", 312-pound tour guide at Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley. "Also a little cover crop of vetch. It sucks the moisture out of the top part of the soil and gives the vines a better chance to grow."
More tourists drift over in twos and threes as the group fills out. Glenn Parker, the left guard for the NFC champion New York Giants, is leading a tour today, and he actually knows what he's talking about. Amazing. "This is your destemmercrusher," Parker says, as he leads his group up to a stainless steel machine. "Barely pushes the grapes...just enough to crush them. You don't want the pips crushed; that's what gives the mouth-puckering astringency....
"This is the first-year barrel room. All new French oak. It's used one time for the reserve program....
"Now we're in the second-year room. The barrels go into the Napa Valley program...."
The tourists are no longer awed by him. Gone is the freak-show appeal, the effect of the looming presence topped off by the shaved head and goatee, like some gigantic biker. He's merely someone who's teaching the uninitiated how grapes get from the vineyard to the table. "I love this second-year room," Parker says, almost to himself. "Lots of wine, cool temperature. I could hang out here."
He has been doing this for three straight off-seasons, taking a break from the tedium of NFL weight rooms to work at Mondavi. "He requested a few days off," Giants coach Jim Fassel says, "and when I asked him why, he said he had to go to Napa Valley to do his wine internship. I've never heard that one before."
"Last year he worked with me for a week," says Mike Meneghelli, a senior wine educator at Mondavi. "We did the trade tours together, and then he took over the public tours. He has a better palate than I do, and I've been at it for 23 years. We were all blown away by how he could learn so much so quickly."
"If you have a passion," Parker says, "you learn in a hurry."
Passion, curiosity and a love of learning are all part of his makeup. He loves the barrels in which the wine is aged for the same reason he loves cooking with spices, saying, "It's the idea of what you can add to the mix." At home, according to his wife, Casey, Glenn does 80% of the cooking in the off-season and 50% during the season, but he doesn't go strictly by the cookbook. "A recipe teaches you what to do, but not why you do it," Glenn says. He loves wine because, well, it tastes good, as he found out a decade ago, but there's also an intellectual challenge to it.
It's as a football player, however, that Parker, 35, makes his living. A third-round draft pick out of Arizona in 1990, he was a starter on three of the Buffalo Bills' four Super Bowl teams. In '97 he signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs and moved on to the Giants in 2000.