Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grape-spitting challenge will be gobs of fun for all

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It may just be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my career as a professional newspaper person.

It's shiny, sparkly, gaudy, cheesy, incredibly tacky -- and it has an angel on top holding aloft what looks like a gold plate festooned with a bunch of plump grapes.

It would look really nice on the mantel over my fireplace, but the thing is, I have to win it first. As you have no doubt guessed, I am talking about a trophy.

But this isn't any run-of-the-mill trophy, such as the Grey Cup or whatever they call that thing they give to the team that wins the Super Bowl.

No, this trophy is a symbol of hope. It is a symbol of courage. Above all, it is a symbol that whoever ends up getting their hands on it is, without question, the most talented grape spitter in the province.

This glittery object of desire will be up for grabs at noon today as dozens of local journalists and media personalities gather in front of Mona Lisa Ristorante on Corydon Avenue to go head-to-head in the first-ever Manitoba Media Grape-Spitting Championship.

It will be a dignified sporting event in which media contestants are required to put on togas, then launch three grapes, one at a time, by forcibly expelling them from their mouths down a carefully marked "playing field" in front of the landmark restaurant.

The coveted trophy, and all the glory it brings, will go to the competitor who, using the hot air for which we in the media are famous, propels a grape the furthest distance.

What you need to know is we have a legitimate journalistic reason for taking part in this offbeat event, and I am not referring to the fact Joe Grande, the owner of Mona Lisa, has promised to feed us free pizza.

No, we are doing this to make the city a better place for everyone. Seriously, we are putting our lips on the line to help promote the second-annual Stomp for Human Rights, a traditional grape-stomping, wine-drinking festival being held at Mona Lisa this Thursday in support of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Last year, the stomp -- a 10-course meal, entertainment by stars like Sierra Noble, cheese rolling and a chance to put on a toga, climb into a giant barrel and churn grapes into wine with your bare feet -- raised more than $28,000 for the rights museum.

But this year, Joe wanted to up the ante, so he decided to hold a media challenge to generate more buzz for the grape stomp. Naturally, he turned to me for advice.

After a four-hour meeting in which we rejected some brilliant ideas -- pizza tossing, spaghetti flinging -- I proposed the genius concept of a grape-spitting battle. Yes, wine was served at this meeting.

"When you first mentioned it, I thought it was a dumb idea," Joe recalled Sunday as he prepared for today's spit-off, "But it's so dumb it's going to be great. We want everyone to know how much fun it is to stomp grapes."

The kind of guy who hugs anyone in a 20-yard radius, Joe is proud of his Italian heritage and loves stomping grapes, but he's equally passionate about doing his part to help his community.

"This museum is important for Winnipeg," he told me. "I want our city to have this type of world-class museum. I'm excited for it to open and that we're helping to build it."

So Thursday's stomp -- hosted by my friends Beau, Tom and Frazier from 99.9 BOB FM -- is going to be a ton of toga-clad fun and you should definitely buy a lot of tickets.

But I don't have time to think about that right now. I need to spend all my time getting ready to spit grapes. Fortunately, spitting is something that comes naturally to athletic persons of my gender.

It is a known scientific fact that when persons of both sexes visit a natural wonder such as the Grand Canyon, the woman will spend her time contemplating the beauty and majesty of nature, whereas the guy will devote his mental energies to calculating how long it would take for a gob of spit to hit the bottom.

That said, I've spent hours in my backyard refining my technique for launching grapes. I suspect Joe has been doing the same thing.

"You have to visualize that grape shooting out of your mouth," he offered when I asked him for a tip. "Hopefully we won't hit any cars driving by."

I know we're doing it for a good cause, but I'm determined to spit my way to the top today. It may be my one and only chance to achieve grapeness.

Toga! Toga! Toga!

WANT to have a grape time and help a worthy cause while you're at it?

Of course you do. Tickets for the Stomp for Human Rights are $150 a person, with all proceeds going to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. You can reserve a spot by calling Mona Lisa at 488-3687. The stomping starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16. Togas are optional.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2010 A2

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