Baker Family Wines Opens New West Sacramento Winery
December 06, 2019
|Baker Family Wines partners, former MLB player and manager Dusty Baker and winemaker Chik Brenneman, opened their new winery/tasting room in West Sacramento in November. Photo: Ted Rieger
|Baker Family Wines bottle labels were designed by Dusty's daughter, Natosha. Photo: Ted Rieger|
After producing wines on Treasure Island in San Francisco since 2014, Baker Family Wines has opened a new urban winery and tasting room in West Sacramento to more efficiently manage wine production and to focus on direct sales.
Baker Family Wines (BFW) are produced under a partnership formed in 2013 as B & B Wine Company between former Major League Baseball (MLB) player and manager Dusty Baker, and winemaker Charles “Chik” Brenneman, former winemaker at the University of California, Davis (UCD) Teaching and Research Winery from 2006 until retiring from that position in March 2019.
The new facility is a 3,000 square-foot space in an industrial park complex near the Port of West Sacramento in a commercial area that local officials informally call “the Beverage District.” This district has seen the opening of three craft brewery operations in recent years and is home to another boutique winery--Haarmeyer Wine Cellars. The BFW tasting room is in the same complex as Bike Dog Brewing Company, and both are open the same days and hours to maximize and share customer traffic. BFW and Bike Dog also share an innovative lease arrangement for another 3,000 square feet in the same complex to share space for expanding operations.
Baker has strong ties to the Sacramento area where he lived as a youngster after his family moved from Riverside, CA. He was a star athlete in three sports at Del Campo High School in Sacramento. He played for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics from 1968 to 1986. He later managed teams for the Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals.
Prior to his position as UCD winemaker, Brenneman gained winemaking experience at Amador Foothill Winery and Terre Rouge/Easton Wines in the Sierra Foothills, and later was production lab manager at Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge Winery in Lodi. It was at Woodbridge where he met Baker, who at the time was serving as a Woodbridge brand ambassador and consumer staff advisor. Baker later contacted Brenneman for help to design and develop a small “gentleman’s vineyard” on Baker’s property in Placer County just northeast of Sacramento.
Brenneman helped Baker make wine from this small Syrah vineyard when it produced the first crop in 2010. The wine was originally intended for personal use, but the quality got better each vintage, and eventually led to the partnership and commercial production. Before going into business they both agreed that producing high quality wine was paramount. As Baker explains: “I told Chik, I don’t want my name on any product that’s not good. Chik said to me, ‘You will sell the customer the first bottle of wine, but it’s my job to sell them the next bottle based on its quality.’”
Wines were produced at the Treasure Island Winery Collective under an alternating proprietorship that included access to production space and equipment, and a tasting room/sales location. BFW initially focused on direct sales and West Coast sales accounts. When Baker managed the Washington Nationals in 2016 and 2017, BFW began a relationship with an East Coast distributor that promoted sales in the Washington, D.C. area, capitalizing on Baker’s local recognition as team manager.
The Treasure Island location helped BFW get off to a good start, but customer traffic later slowed due to redevelopment and construction work on the Island. BFW’s East Coast distributor was bought out by a larger distributor, and that sales outlet became less viable. With both partners living in the Sacramento area, it became less practical to drive to the Bay Area on a regular basis to manage wine production. After looking at different options in the Sacramento area, the West Sacramento facility was leased and remodeled in time for the 2019 crush.
Summarizing the move, Baker said, “It’s nice to see new development and improvements occurring in West Sacramento, and we want to be here and be a part of it. We think an urban winery is the way to go for our operation, and we want to make good wine. It’s all about quality.”
BFW’s current annual production is 800 cases. The facility has a production capacity of 1,200 cases, a level Brenneman hopes to reach in two years. BFW crushed 14 tons in 2019. All red wines were processed at the new facility using a basic destemmer-crusher and a half-ton basket press in the outdoor receiving area. Brenneman plans to acquire new equipment for future production, including a membrane press. Based on experience, Brenneman uses all French oak for aging red wines from coopers that include Francois Freres and Tonnellerie Radoux. “I get what I want for our wine style from French oak,” he said.
White wine production in 2019 was done under a custom crush arrangement at a Napa County winery, but Brenneman plans to transfer this production to West Sacramento in 2020 once a refrigeration system is installed.
Brenneman sources grapes from several Northern California regions from vineyards and growers he has worked with over the years. Brenneman explained, “The varieties we’re producing all do well for the sites they’re planted on. But we also want to work with growers who will grow the grapes the way we want them grown.” He seeks to produce wines with a good balance of flavors, good acid and sugar levels, and that are true to varietal character. He said it’s important to adhere to press cuts during crush. He explained: “I’m not trying to get 200 gallons per ton from every lot. If I’m not getting what I want coming out of the press, I stop and separate the press fractions to use the best cuts for our wines.”
Current wine releases range in price from $19 to $35 per bottle and include: a Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc; a Semillon from Amador County sold as a Proprietary White wine; Zinfandels from the Sierra Foothills and Russian River Valley; a Sierra Foothills Proprietary Red made with Barbera, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah; a Russian River Valley Syrah; and the winery’s flagship Dusty’s Vineyard Syrah from Placer County. Brenneman is working with some new vineyards and varieties for the 2019 vintage and future releases will include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Albarino.
The tasting room includes a bar area with stools and nearby table seating for small groups. A TV screen behind the bar is usually tuned to sporting events. The facility has space for outdoor patio seating in warmer weather months. BFW wines are available in several retail locations, but the winery is focused on building direct sales through the tasting room, including wines by the glass, and expanding wine club business and online sales. Brenneman is considering a wine on tap program for the tasting room, and expanding the lineup of wine varietals to offer a wider range of choices to appeal to urban winery customers.
Other Baker family members involved in the business are Dusty’s wife Melissa; daughter Natosha, who designs the bottle labels and provides graphic design for promotional materials; and son Darren. More information about BFW, including location and hours, can be found at www.bakerfamilywines.com