December 17, 2018
Dinner with Rusty Staub: A baseball lover’s dream evening, with a look at Neyers Syrah
I met Rusty Staub 30 years ago on a summer afternoon when he drove up to the Napa Valley after broadcasting a NY Mets game at Candlestick. He was a wine buff and had been given my name by a mutual friend, so he stopped by my office to visit. We talked for a bit, then tasted a few wines, but before he left we agreed to get together for dinner during his next trip to the Bay Area. A month or so later he was back, and accepted my invitation to join us at home. Rusty was a great cook, but when he learned that Barbara worked at Chez Panisse he enthusiastically agreed to be merely a guest. He really couldn’t help himself though, and on his way to our place, he called to report that he had stopped at a fish market and bought some fresh salmon filets. He was marinating them on the drive, and wanted to grill them – himself – as our first course. I agreed, and walked outside to fire up the mesquite grill. We had invited a handful of friends to join us, and each brought some wine, but I knew Rusty loved Syrah so I had selected a few bottles of Northern Rhône wines from my cellar. Not surprisingly, I included a Neyers Syrah in the mix. Barbara had prepared a Daube of Beef, which was served after our grilled salmon starter. With the Daube, I opened magnums of St. Joseph from Trollat, Cornas from Auguste Clape and Noël Verset, Hermitage from Chave, and Côte-Rôtie from Jasmin, and Gentaz. I added a magnum of Neyers 1994 Syrah, and we began to taste through them all.
Rusty’s baseball career stretched from 1963 through 1985 and included far too many notable accomplishments to mention. Along the way, he was a successful restauranteur, a children’s book author, and the founder of several humanitarian organizations, major charities like the New York Police and Fireman Widows’ Benefit Fund. He was also a very talented cook. In 1969 he was traded to the Montreal Expos, and to fit in better with the community he learned to speak French. He had a soft but precise speaking voice – it was almost poetic at times — with just the slightest trace of that wonderful lilt that comes from being a native of New Orleans. I could sit and listen to him talk for hours. At one point that evening, the talk turned to baseball, and he began recounting some of his experiences. Someone asked him to name the best player he had played against. He declined but he offered instead to name the best at each position. I wrote them down, as Rusty’s All Star Team:
Catcher – Johnny Bench
First Base – Willie McCovey
Second Base – Joe Morgan
Shortstop – Ernie Banks
Third Base – Mike Schmidt
Right Field – Roberto Clemente
Center Field – Willie Mays
Left Field – Frank Robinson
Right Hand Pitcher – Bob Gibson
Left Hand Pitcher – Sandy Koufax
What a glorious list of stars! Rusty died in March of this year, at age 73, after a brief illness. There was a collective sense of loss in the Napa Valley, as every vintner who had met him considered him a friend. He always had time for anyone, and patience for everything. He devoted his retirement years to the betterment of the world, specifically by helping those in need, and left behind a wonderful legacy of respect and gratitude. At his funeral, Mets PR director Jay Horowitz remarked that “No one ever gave back to the community like Rusty.”
I think of Rusty and his love for Syrah every time I go into my cellar and bring out a bottle from one of my heroes. I think of him as well when Barbara cooks her Daube of Beef. She plans to prepare one next week to serve with our newly bottled 2017 Neyers Vineyards Syrah ‘Garys’ Vineyard’. After tasting it last week with Tadeo, I feel it’s a great success. Rusty would like it, I’m sure.