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Northern California Spotlight
— Napa, Sonoma, & Marin


Dusty Baker is the manager of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. The warm and generous “Bake” took time out of a grueling road schedule to chat about one of his other ventures.

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  • Writer
    Loretta Chuzum

  • Photo
    Courtesy of the Washington Nationals

Dusty Baker
as told to Loretta Chuzum

Dusty Baker is the manager of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. The warm and generous “Bake” took time out of a grueling road schedule to chat about one of his other ventures.

The path that brought you from a 40 year Major League Baseball career to being a vintner was…
I lived in Sacramento in my teens, and when I was 18 or 19, we would drive down to Napa. A lot. [Chuckles.] Those were the days before anyone was charging for tastings. Years later, when I was managing the Chicago Cubs, I joined the advisory board of Robert Mondavi. That connected me to great rootstock sources when I decided to plant a “gentleman’s vineyard” at my home in the Sierra foothills. I teamed up with Chik Brenneman, a winemaker and educator at UC Davis. After a few years of producing wine and giving away “shiners” (unlabeled bottles) to friends and racking up a lot of expense, we realized we were on our way to our first commercial release, which happened in 2015.
Your interest in “gentleman farming” comes from…
My love for growing things comes from my father who, among other things, worked as a gardener — what we now call a landscaper — but also tended his own home vegetable garden and fruit trees. It was great. We had peaches, nectarines, satsumo plums, pecans and apples. My backyard garden is similar, with a wide variety of summer vegetables, greens, and fruit trees, and now grapes. The two rows of grapes closest to the yard are growing huge because they suck the water from the lawn. Chik tells me not to water the lawn anymore so those rows don’t get too much water, but I have to! We try to stay organic. In the two years before starting with the Nationals, I had the time to be a full-time vintner. Now, managing the Nationals keeps me away from the vineyard during baseball season, but my wife Melissa sends pictures of the vines’ progress. When I’m home I help with whatever chores of the vineyard that need to be done. I’m so appreciative of farmers. It’s hard work.
You first became interested in making your own wine when…
Well, what I really wanted at my place was a fishing pond so I catch my own fish and then go inside and cook them. [Laughs.] But the liability insurance was just too high, so we planted a few acres of grapes instead. I would have preferred to plant cabernet in my home vineyard, but it wasn’t the right environment. Instead, Chik planted two acres of syrah grapes in 2007, and those vines produced the 2013 Legacy Syrah we released in November 2015. The vineyard is ten years old now. I also have a wine cellar of about 700 bottles. I love the California cabernets, but also cellar merlots, syrahs and petit sirahs.
One of your greatest influences in wine has been…
At this stage, on the successful heels of our first commercial release under the Baker Family Wines label, I would have to say our winemaker. Chik shares my passion and desire for pursuing excellence in everything a person does. His expertise, dedication and enthusiasm are reflected in the great wines we are producing as we grow the Baker Family Wines brand. The guy is impressive.
The “family” in Baker Family Wines is…
My daughter, Natosha Baker Smith, is a talented graphic artist who designs the labels for Baker Family Wines, and my son, Darren Baker, has stepped up his game with vineyard operations since I signed on as manager of the Nationals. And, of course, my wife Melissa keeps me up to date on all the happenings in the vineyard.
Your wine in a nutshell…
We handcraft our wines in small lots. Our first release under the Baker Family Wines label was the 2013 vintage. Our Legacy Syrah is fruit-forward, with spice and tannins. We also released a nice syrah from the Shenandoah Valley, a medium-bodied pinot noir from Sonoma County’s Bennet Valley, and now we have a sauvignon blanc sourced from Lake County. They are all delicious.
Here’s a question out of left field for you: what do a professional race car driver, a National League Championship MVP, a “Kentucky Colonel” and a three-time MLB Manager of the Year all have in common…
Well now, see there, you’ve just described some of the Baker Energy Team, a renewable energy business I founded during my two years off from baseball after leaving the Reds. When no one was calling, I thought to myself, “Hey, if no one wants me on their team, I’ll create my own team.” [Chuckles.] So I established Baker Energy Team, a company that markets custom solar energy solutions for homes and businesses. Renewable energy is abundant, available and affordable. We make it accessible. Now emerging and underdeveloped nations, they don’t have the same access to clean energy. I would like to change that. I want to help the world and try to make things better in the world. Promoting clean energy is my contribution.

Dusty Baker’s career in Major League Baseball as a player, coach and manager spans four decades. Among other recognitions, Baker was a two-time National League All Star, a Gold Glove recipient and a World Series winner (with the L.A. Dodgers). He was the first three-time recipient of the Manager of the Year award, and he led the San Francisco Giants to a National League pennant, making him one of only three African Americans to have managed a World Series team. Three of the four teams he has managed are currently in first place in their divisions, including his Nationals. Dusty Baker is a true leader who leaves a special mark on all of his endeavors.

Baker Family Wines (www.bakerfamilywines.com) tasting room is located on Treasure Island at Treasure Island Wines, 995 9th Street, San Francisco, CA 94130. 855-722-9463; open to the public Saturdays and Sundays. Sales are through the Tasting Room and online.

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