J.R. Richardson decided to start a winemaking business after many years of drinking wine, studying the business and planning. That was January 2008. “By the time we got to crushing our grapes, we were in a recession,” he says. “It was tough to find a market.” From the start, he and his wife, Maria, knew they were taking a huge risk. Everyone they talked to told them not to make wine, but they went for it anyway. “The saying goes, ‘If you want to make a fortune in the wine business, you better start with a very large one,’ ” Richardson says. “But I just had the passion for it.”
Richardson’s wine education started in graduate school. “Someone got me hooked on German riesling in the early ’80s,” he says. “Then half a decade later, someone got me hooked on Bordeaux, and that was the end of the beginning.” His sister lived in Paris for 15 years, so he took an annual trip, visiting the wine regions and small vintners of France. He considers that his formal wine education. Later, he started visiting California’s Napa Valley regularly. After going in on a barrel of wine with friends, Richardson says, he was hooked on the winemaking idea. He started buying grapes from Madrigal Vineyards in 2008. The first year, Oak Cliff Vineyards bought 12 barrels of pinot noir from Mendocino and released their label in time for the holidays. It wasn’t until fall 2010 that they released bottles from their own grapes. Richardson’s original business plan was to market and sell the wine online, but because of the economic downturn, that has proved less profitable than expected. So he had to move into retail distribution earlier than planned. “The market is always changing. Consumer demands and tastes are always changing,” he says. “Almost annually, I have to think, ‘Is this the right business plan? Are these the right grapes?’ ” Oak Cliff Vineyards strives to make wine that goes well with food. This year, Richardson is planning “a big, eye-popping, mouth-filling blend,” which will be out in the fall. So far, the wines have received good reviews, although sales could be better, Richardson says. His wine is available at Bolsa Mercado, Nova, Lavendou, Parigi and The Grape, among a few other Dallas restaurants. Eventually, Richardson says he hopes the winery will turn a profit and pay off in later years. “The winery is something I’m doing as a retirement strategy, but it’s not supporting me yet,” he says. “I’m still supporting it. It’s still one of my kids trying to grow up.”
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