Though Dave Roberts is entering another baseball season after his team lost the last two World Series, he’s already winning with Red Stitch. He runs the wine brand with former San Francisco Giants teammate Rich Aurilia and their friend, investment banker John Micek.
The trio hired renowned winemaker Rolando Herrera of Mi Sueño Winery for their first vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in 2007. They now collaborate on Cab as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Sonoma Coast.
How did you get into wine?
Roberts: In 2002, when I was a player with the Dodgers, I used to go up to Napa Valley in the winters with my wife. We got to meet the owners of wineries and vineyards, and the winemakers. Being up there just sold us on the people first, and the curiosity about wine grew from there.
Aurilia: I played most of my career with San Francisco and, except for one year, I always lived downtown. I’d go out to eat a lot and see some great wine lists, and I transformed from what everybody thinks of as a typical ballplayer—a beer drinker—into a wine lover. With the ability on a day off to hop in my car and drive to Napa, that’s how I got into it, just being exposed to it everywhere I turned for a number of years.
How did Rolando Herrera become the winemaker for Red Stitch?
Roberts: In 2007, he sent Barry Bonds some of his reserve Cab. Barry knew Richie and I were wine guys, so he gave us each a bottle [of the wine]. I reached out to Rolando because I wanted to know more about his story and the wines. He was a Giants fan, so it escalated really quickly from there.
Aurilia: What I like about Rolando is that he told us, “I really want to make your wines because I feel like you are gonna be serious about it. You’re not gonna be another athlete who slaps their name on a bottle and doesn’t know what’s going on.” That was the telltale sign that this is the guy we need to make our wine.
“I feel a sense of pride in spreading the wine world to people in baseball.When I was coming up in baseball, it was beer.”—Dave Roberts, owner, Red Stitch Wines
How do you ensure that people take Red Stitch seriously and don’t just look at it as a vanity project?
Roberts: That took time. Even the name of our winery, Red Stitch, speaks to how we wanted to build ourselves. When you see Red Stitch, you’re curious about the name, but it’s not obvious. Then you look at the bottle, the embossing with seams, and there’s an a-ha moment when you get the baseball reference behind the wine.
Aurilia: We are very hands-on. When Dave is in the off-season, we go up for blending trials and barrel samples. We’ve very lucky that we have a group of guys who are best friends, but actually kind of learning and understanding the industry together. This started as a passion project, but it’s turning into a nice little business for us.
Are baseball players’ tastes changing?
Roberts: I feel a sense of pride in spreading the wine world to people in baseball.
When I was coming up in baseball, it was beer. Now we are, like, the wine guys in baseball. We’ve set up tours, made connections with winemakers and hosted tastings on the road on off-days or on nights after games. Guys are picking my brain about different varieties and regions. To turn people onto wine and the people behind it, it feels gratifying. It’s fulfilling because it is a passion, and we talk about that all the time.
Why is interest so strong right now among professional athletes?
Roberts: People are trying to become more educated, more sophisticated, and I think that athletes and celebrities are becoming more entrepreneurial outside of their own industries. It’s just that appeal of sophistication. But ultimately, it’s whether you like it. That’s what sold me initially on wine and didn’t make it too intimidating.
What’s the future for Red Stitch?
Roberts: We’ve grown slowly from the beginning. A bunch of people told us that the quickest way to lose money is to go big, so we’ve purposefully grown [at] a slower pace than a lot of other people. Going into next year, our total production will probably be 1,600–1,700 cases, with the following year being 2,000. We’re excited moving forward. We’re trying to expand to not only be better and be the best, but also to give our customers the opportunity to try different things they normally would not get to experience.
And when you play ball, you feel like you’re always giving back, through a charity or some organization. This has allowed us to do a ton of philanthropic work through wine. It makes you feel good. You’re not only running a business, but you are giving back and meeting great people while you’re doing it.
Have you traveled to other wine regions?
Aurilia: We’ve been to Italy together. One of Dave’s favorite things is drinking a nice Brunello. Recently, I went to Mosel and Nahe with my wife to do some Riesling tasting. Italy was great, but everyone knows Italian wines are great. Going to Germany and drinking those Rieslings at these small family-run houses was amazing. It totally opened my mind and my palate to a whole different type of wine and food experience than I had ever had before. I told Dave we gotta go back there at some point, whether we tie in Burgundy or not. It’s a great wine region that I don’t think a lot of people know or understand.