Joe Ruggiero, Joe Vella and Bob Nafziger
It started with a hike.
Well, there was a bit before that. The partnership of Trio Hikers wine really began in 2005 when Joe Vella, 73, asked a couple friends Bob Nafziger, 76, and Joe Ruggiero, 74, if they would be interested in going on a hike.
Taking a hike is now a Tuesday tradition for the friends who live in Burlingame and Hillsborough. But, that first hike set the tone for another activity the guys now enjoy together — making wine.
During 10-mile, and sometimes longer, hikes, there’s time to chat. Those who like wine will inevitably end up talking about vino, said Ruggiero.
Blame Nafziger for taking it past talking. When the guys took a break on that first hike to eat, Nafziger took out a bottle of wine to share. It became a tradition with the trio, which now takes wine with them any time they embark on a Tuesday hike. Once, when the wives were brought along for the weekly outing, Nafziger carried a bigger bag with white wine and ice for the ladies.
Their love of wine has become an award-winning effort. In 2011, the wine-making hobbyists entered their 2008 merlot into the San Mateo County Fair wine competition and earned a blue ribbon. This year, it was their 2011 Primitivo and the Trio Hikers label that both won first place in the fair. They don’t sell the wine. But, they happily share it with friends — and a certain reporter who recently visited to learn more about the Peninsula friends for this feature.
Making wine wasn’t completely new to the guys. Ruggiero’s family has a history of making wine in Italy and, later, in America.
“It’s not all the truth,” he said, recounting the history. “Ninety percent. My memory isn’t what it used to be.”
Someone suggested that an older batch of wine Ruggiero had held on to for years be turned into grappa. His first attempt resulted in a grappa that was 125 proof.
“It didn’t taste good,” Nafziger said, adding that the flavor improved and smoothed out after using a charcoal filter.
Ruggiero learned through an article about local opportunities to buy and make wine. He started doing it before the three hikers set off to make their own concoctions through the Bacchus Winemaking Club in San Carlos.
Each July, the guys get together with others in the club to taste and learn about the grapes available, the season, how weather has impacted the crop — basically, they are constantly learning.
Sitting down to talk wine and hiking with the guys on a recent afternoon was much like taking a mid-day break with old friends. There were quips, a healthy amount of teasing remarks, a variety of food and award-winning wine.
Laughter erupted often as stories were recalled. Nafziger, for example, told of being passed by ladies easily jogging up the tough trails in Marin County. Each of the guys advocated for people hiking more in the Bay Area, which has many beautiful areas that could be explored. Mount Whitney is one of the few left on the to-do list. The guys just can’t seem to get lucky in the lottery to get access to the climb. Otherwise, the group is starting to hike trails they’ve already tackled but they say it never gets boring.
“We always have fun,” said Ruggiero.
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