Dusty Baker’s Wine Business Keeps Him Busy


SACRAMENTO – Dusty Baker said coldly, “Come back at once,” at his home here this past Saturday morning. The senior executive had made some final cuts earlier in the week, and now it was time to pick up the pieces.

When he returned, he didn’t have a squad card in his hand and neither was a general manager nearby. Instead, he came roaring behind the wheel of his trusty Kawasaki Mule, a small all-terrain vehicle. The cuts had come while pruning the grape vines. A lockout may put Major League Baseball’s business on hold, but Baker, 72, still rules.

His small vineyard and Baker Family Wines business requires more attention to detail than even the highest-maintenance sloths. And just as he learned certain hitting and directing tactics during his 50-plus years in professional baseball, he learned it outside of the bunker.

He pauses between the scoops to throw piles of clippings behind the Mule elsewhere to explain how the north side of a particular vine is cut shorter than the south side so that the vines absorb the morning sun. On the south side, more growth is allowed to protect the fruit from the afternoon sun, which gets very intense here in the summer.

“It’s called an umbrella,” Baker said of the technique. “So much sun, then you get raisins. I don’t want raisins either.”

He puts into practice the theories he started learning long ago when he was a fast outfielder in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I’d be in phase one and Willie Stargell told me, hey, this was a dry year, this was a rainy year, have you ever tried this wine, have you ever tried it?” said Baker. “He was my man.”

Now, Baker has many industry friends. Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, a highly respected and successful vintner after playing days. But in time, Seaver, who died in 2020He became a de facto grandfather to others who wanted to make a similar transition in the sport.

Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia, who was Baker’s San Francisco shortstop from 1995-2002, Napa Valley’s Red Stitch label. Greg Vaughn, who crushed 50 home runs to take the 1998 San Diego Padres to the World Series, running 23 Wines in Lodi, California. Chris Iannetta and Vernon Wells, teammates with the Los Angeles Angels, Jack Winery and Joe Blanton, a retired pitcher, farms for him. Selah label in Napa.

“We are very good with the athletes at what we do to be successful,” said Roberts, who taste-tested chemistry glasses when Red Stitch started but now has a larger ambassador role. “And having wine and food makes you a more whole person. I think this is something people crave. I know. When I have wine, I appreciate food, and it’s good for travel and baseball.”

Roberts’ path began in 2002 when he and his wife, Tricia, toured Napa Valley with Roberts’ Dodgers teammate Shawn Green and Green’s wife, Lindsay Bear.

“Meeting container traders and hearing their stories spread all sorts of pretensions and intimidations about wine and the industry,” said Roberts. “It simplified what you like and dislike a bit. We invested in people.”

Baker’s first foray into winemaking occurred while he was a manager in San Francisco. Phil Greer, one of the club’s minority owners, introduced Baker to Robert Mondavi’s son, Michael. They fly together in Montana and Quebec, and Michael invites him to the board of directors at Robert Mondavi Winery. It was a good deal for Baker: he would be paid to attend several dinners a year, and Mondavi would supply Baker and his coaches with crates of wine.

Then, when Baker built his current home on five acres about 15 years ago, he planned to add a fishing pond. When warned that a pond could flood his neighbor, Baker headed to a vineyard instead.

“The Bible says you have to plant your garden before you build your house,” Baker said. “It makes sense because you need food.”

Through his Mondavi connections, Baker met his current partner and winemaker Chik Brenneman, who helped select the rootstock, wires, posts and lines.

“I told him I wanted to grow Cabernet grapes,” Baker said. “You can’t grow Cabernet grapes because you’re in the wrong climate,” he said. ‘Really?’ “You are in the perfect climate for Syrah,” he said. ‘I don’t want to raise Syrah,’ I said. ‘I guess you don’t want ties,’ he said.

Baker laughs hard at the memory that seems like a lifetime ago. What started as a “gentleman’s tie” where they produced Syrah in the basement under Brenneman’s garage has taken off. In those early days, Baker would share the homemade prize with friends, including Sacramento baseball buddies like Jerry Royster, Rowland Office, Jerry Manuel, Leron Lee, and Vaughn.

“People were loving it, and that got us going, hey, let’s go commercial,” said Brenneman, who was a winemaker and facility manager at the time. viticulture and enology department At the University of California, Davis, which has one of the best programs in the world.

They partnered to form Baker Family Wines in 2012 and found time to help build a solid foundation with Baker, who ran the business from 2014 to 2015. His daughter Natosha, a graphic artist, designs the labels. During the 2016 MLB season, winemaking was in full swing when Baker returned to the game as manager of the Washington Nationals. Brenneman left UC Davis to go full-time at Baker Family Wines in 2019.

Their deal is Baker to sell the first bottle and Brenneman the second. What it means: Many people will buy a bottle out of curiosity because of its dedication to Baker, but the product should be good enough to get customers back, which is Brenneman’s domain.

“That was our deal because I bought a bottle of Scotch with a famous man’s name on it, and it was the worst,” Baker said. “I took a sip and said I couldn’t drink this. I told Chik I didn’t want anything with my name on it unless it was good.

Baker’s lifelong friend, Henry Aaron, invested in Baker a few years ago by asking questions about the Baker brand Cabernet. They didn’t have one at the time, but Brenneman went to work to procure these grapes at Aaron’s request. Now, the 2019 Cabernet Savignon Hammerin’ Hank is almost ready to debut. 2018 vintage sold out.

The winery produces grapes from all over the region, including Mendocino, the Shenandoah Valley, the Russian River, and Amador County. Baker’s backyard vineyard yields about 80 or 90 cases of Syrah in a good year. This year it was only halfway due to drought conditions in California. Stargell’s words “dry year, wet year” keep Pops in Baker’s heart, especially now that dramatic climate events occur regularly.

“Bees come and dig holes in every grape,” Baker said of the effects of a dry climate, where insects seek moisture wherever they can find it. “They usually don’t. I’m telling you this, man, we’re all affected by this weather.”

The lockout obscured Baker’s February plans due to an unknown spring training start date. Just months after leading the Houston Astros in Game 6 of the World Series against Atlanta, the only time free agency shortstop Carlos Correa has appeared – Baker is forbidden to talk about his business problems or players – told Baker’s Walk Off. is referring to. Red variety.

“I was our best client for a while,” he said. “I used to cash in, my players would get cashed in. I remember Carlos Correa leaving the Minnesota Twins, the first thing he asked was ‘Hey, where’s my walk?’ was.

Anytime the season kicks off, Houston’s 13th win would mark Baker’s career number 2,000 victory, cementing her eventual induction into the Hall of Fame. Of the 11 managers with at least 2,000 wins, all but Bruce Bochy are at Salon, and that’s because Bochy hasn’t retired long enough.

Baker points out that had it not been for the unintended breaks between jobs, he would have earned his 2,000th year long ago. But the leave also allowed her to fully enjoy her daughter’s wedding, grieve the death of her brother and father, and start their business (she also owns an energy company, Baker Energy Team).

“I think I’m where I need to be in my life and career,” Baker said. “Just a few things are missing now, a championship and a 2,000th win. I would have been the only African-American in that club, you know what I mean, bro? And I convinced the other owners that Dave Roberts and I wouldn’t be the last, we had to have so much more. I hope I can help.”

When they slow down one day, Baker and Roberts, perhaps MLB’s only Black executives working today, will enjoy a nice red all together.

“I sent him some wine,” said Roberts, 49. “He sent me some wine. We know some of the same people in the valley. I’ve never really sat down to eat, drink wine and hang out with him all night. I’d love to do that at some point.”



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