Legendary Yankee Outfielder Bernie Williams Is Making Wine Now
Williams crafted and blended a new release with Millbrook Vineyards & Winery
A switch-hitting outfielder with a career batting average of .297 who won four Gold Glove Awards, the American League batting title in 1998 and four World Series rings with the Yankees, Bernie Williams was able to do it all on the baseball diamond during his 16-year career in MLB. A five-time All-Star who starred in track and field while growing up in Puerto Rico, Williams is also adept at playing guitar and has recorded two albums (one of which was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2009) and received his Bachelor of Music from the Manhattan School of Music.
A star baseball player as well as a talented musician, Williams has been able to master a pair of crafts to a level that most people only dream of reaching. How? Practice, possibly a Malcolm Gladwell-endorsed 10,000 hours or more of it, makes perfect. “You have to know your craft and spend a lot of time working on it to make it better and better. Whether you’re playing for a year or 50 years, you always learn something new,” Williams tells InsideHook. “Once you know your stuff and have spent those hours to become a master in your craft, you can allow yourself to be creative and work beyond the intricacies and the actual mechanics of it to develop more of an artistic expression of yourself, of your own being. I think that’s when the whole thing takes on a life of its own and goes beyond just learning a skill. I think that holds true in the arts or baseball or any other discipline.”
A discipline 54-year-old Williams has been delving into for the past few years is winemaking, a specialty he developed a serious interest in during a visit to Millbrook Vineyards & Winery in the Hudson River Valley. That visit led to a relationship between Millbrook Winery and Williams and the development of a Bernie’s Blend line of wines. For the collaboration, Williams worked closely with Millbrook winemaker Ian Bearup to blend and craft each of the wines before taste-testing each of the barrels to ensure quality.
Ahead of the former Yankee leading off Millbrook’s 2023 Jazz Summer Concert Series with a performance during Father’s Day weekend, we caught up with Williams to discuss his relationship with wine, time and MLB’s new pitch clock.
InsideHook: You haven’t always been a winemaker. Have you always been a wine drinker?
Bernie Williams: Growing up, the only connection I had to wine was my dad. He was a Merchant Marine, and I remember him having one of those leather wineskins that shepherds carry when they go to tend to the sheep. I remember taking a sip of that and thinking it was really cool, but it has been sort of an acquired taste. I had many chances to enjoy Champagne or sparkling wine right after a victory. When you’re young dabbing with alcohol, you just drink because you want to drink. Once you become more mature, you become more discerning, and the quality of the things you’re trying to put in your body as far as alcohol changes a little bit. I pick and choose the times I want to drink wine. It’s an interesting process for me to really explore and try to do my best to see how much I can taste in a single glass of wine, depending on the grape, the region and the way that it was made. I just consider it a very fascinating process.
IH: Do you approach learning about wine similarly to how you’ve developed your other skills?
BW: There’s some sort of a learning curve as far as developing the skills, but I’m trying to be true to myself and true to what I’m really tasting as opposed to reading somewhere that a bottle has notes of this and notes of that, which I don’t really perceive on my palette. They may not exist, or maybe I just can’t just taste them yet. I think it does require a bit of a learning curve on your palette to start distinguishing all those nuances. The more I know about the process, the more I can enjoy the wine I’m drinking. Making a good bottle of wine is a very intense process that requires a little bit of luck, a little bit of artistry and a whole lot of hard labor. If the grapes are good, but the process is wrong, the wine is not going to turn out well. Every single little step in the process is just so vital.
IH: From what you’ve learned and experienced, what’s surprised you most about winemaking?
BW: How hard it is and the number of elements that have to come into place in perfect synchronization to have a good product. It’s so important to have a level of consistency, but how do you achieve that through the years? There’s a lot of science, a lot of art and a little bit of luck involved in this process. You don’t have control over a lot of the elements and yet people spend a lot of money and resources trying to develop a great bottle of wine. The amount of love and labor that it takes…it’s an interesting process for me to delve into. It’s fascinating you can taste a bottle now and then the same wine, same vintage, 10 years from now and it tastes completely different. That’s really cool.
IH: Speaking of the passage of time, how have you been enjoying MLB’s new pitch clock?
BW: I think it’s awesome for the fans. Living the kind of lives most people live nowadays with time at a premium, it’s great to know that fans are going to go watch games that aren’t going to last four or five hours. It’s always about the next thing, and attention spans have shortened exponentially over the years, so games becoming less lengthy is a really cool thing for fans. A person who is not really intricately involved in baseball and does not know the nuances of the game can’t understand how time could be a great ally for a player. They just want action and I can understand that view, but from a player standpoint, I probably would’ve hated it.
IH: Why is that?
BW: Because one of the things that made the game special to me as a player was that there was no time limit. You can use time as your ally at the plate and have this psychological battle with the pitcher. Utilizing time as another character, another personality, has been stripped away. There are a lot of nuances that came with time and having all the time in the world to spend playing the game and dictating the pace you wanted to play is gone. In time, people will probably realize that was a really important part of the game from a player’s standpoint.
IH: Any correlation between your passion for untimed baseball and aging wine?
BW: I think there are some things that cannot be rushed.
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