Padecky: Catching up with ex-Giant turned winemaker Rich Aurilia
Rich Aurilia never had any trouble expressing himself. He’s from Brooklyn, for criminy sakes, where opinions and emotions flow like spring runoff in the Sierras. Tongue-tied? Forgetaboutit. I got the answers to ya questions.
And so the single interview with the former Giants shortstop covered a lot of ground, with nary a hiccup, as Aurilia fielded the questions smoothly, as if they were another routine ground ball. It started with his Healdsburg home being a refuge for neighbors after the 2017 Tubbs fire, how he partnered with a former Dodger (I’m sorry you had to read this) to become a vintner, followed by his job as a baseball analyst for NBC Sports Bay Area, transitioning to a strong opinion on the deleterious effects analytics is having on the game. It finished with Aurilia talking about Super Glue as a healing property. Yes, Super Glue.
“I’m keeping pretty busy,” said Aurilia, 47. He probably was building a treehouse for his kids while we were talking.
Yes, house. No one can have a conversation around here these days without wildfires being mentioned.
“We stayed until the third day, when the smoke became too strong for us,” said Aurilia of the Tubbs fire that began on Oct. 9, 2017. Aurilia, his wife and two sons left their Healdsburg home and flew south to Scottsdale, Arizona, to their other residence. The fire advanced to within four miles of his home. “If the wind had shifted,” Aurilia said, “we would have been in serious trouble.”
Aurilia heard the stories of so many people losing their homes. So he opened up his. One neighbor stayed for a few days. One family stayed for six weeks. Another stayed for six months. Aurilia didn’t ask for a dime. Stay until you need to go. I know what this place means to people.
“When I step off the plane at the Santa Rosa airport,” said Aurilia, describing his affection for Sonoma County, “I almost can feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Aurilia bought his Healdsburg place in 2015 but only stays there during the summers. The Aurilias will move to Healdsburg permanently in two years after Aurilia’s youngest son, Gavin, graduates from high school.
Aurilia will bring with him not only his family but his developing reputation as a wine executive. In his 12 seasons with the Giants, Aurilia stayed in downtown San Francisco and developed a taste for fine food and the wine that would accompany it.
He now is president and chief operating officer of Red Stitch, a label now entering its 12th year. Toward the end of his career, Aurilia became friends with another player, Dave Roberts, now manager of the Dodgers. When Roberts joined the Giants as an outfielder, he and Aurilia found they had a mutual affection for the grape. Partnering with a San Francisco businessman, Red Stitch came into being, which initially came also with a shrug from the wine industry.
“I think we’ve gotten past the stigma of athletes producing wine,” said Aurilia, referring to a stereotype that is almost comical — a retired professional athlete invests in a business he or she knows nothing about but sounds impressive. Which then all too typically is followed by mounting debt and losses that delete the millions made on the field.