Sonoma County region
Gold Medal and 90-Points - Beverage Tasting Institute.
To categorize their winery as ‘low profile’ might distress to some winery owners, but not so in the case of Richardson Vineyards’ Dennis Richardson.
“Calling us low profile couldn’t be closer to the truth,” Richardson replied candidly. “I look upon our business as I do a bottle of our wine. I want to make enough money on each bottle to allow us to make more bottles. I also view each wine in a special way. I hope our product is on the table for a special occasion. It could serve a family, friend or even myself. If I am successful, my bottle will lift the occasion even higher and we will get our reward.”
Such simple yet insightful views are the secret to the success of Richardson Vineyards and to 52-year- old Dennis Richardson. In 1970, a close friend visited Sonoma and returned to Richardson’s native Southern California with wine wanderlust that affected Richardson mightily. In no time he and his new wife Carolyn were also in Sonoma and visited the Sonoma County Fair with its myriad of offerings. Duly impressed, Dennis set out a year later and landed a tour guide job at Inglenook in Rutherford. Three months later, a similar position opened up at Sebastiani and Dennis Richardson’s future in the wine industry was assured. Even though he held a degree from Cornell University in Government studies, he realized his life’s true opportunity lay in the Sonoma Valley.
A unique situation presented itself during the 1974 crush, and Dennis Richardson took the proverbial bull by the horns. One of Sebastiani’s smaller Zinfandel growers arrived with a truckload of fruit after the winery had closed for the day. Faced with the prospects of a load starting fermentation if forced to wait the night for crushing, Richardson and a group of fellow employees bought the fruit and crushed it at a relative’s crushpad. From the resulting fruit, Dennis Richardson made his first wine.
“1974 was an amazing vintage and the wine turned out pretty nice,” he recalled. “It actually got better with time and people around me really liked it. I started to believe I could make wine and I guess I got the bug.”
Richardson continued to make wines for himself and his friends for the next five years and finally formed a business with another old friend named Al Wighton. They bought ten acres of land in what was then the southern end of Sonoma Valley but today can accurately be described as the northern end of the Carneros District. They began buying fruit from selected growers and produced the first 800 cases of Richardson Vineyards varietals in 1980. By 1983, volume was increased to around 1800 cases and by 1990, Richardson produced almost 3,000 cases, a reasonable level it still enjoys today.
During the early, start-up years, the winery developed a special relationship with the Sangiacomo Family who produced some of Sonoma’s highest quality fruit. Of particular interest was the Sangiacomo Merlot, which was also sold to a number of Sonoma’s most prestigious vintners. Dennis Richardson was impressed with the fact that much of the San Giacomo Merlot was picked under the lights and produced cooler, fresher, more workable fruit.
In 1995, Dennis and his partner finally worked their cash flow to allow planting of their acreage surrounding the winery. He admits that his experiences in the business altered his choice of varietals that he planted. He now has under vine, three clones of post-phylloxera Pinot Noir, a varietal he would not have originally planted.
It is also evident from his relaxed demeanor that Dennis Richardson is a completely contented and fulfilled man.
“The biggest thing I must remember is where I came from,” Richardson recounted. “Here in Sonoma I have it all. The valley is incredibly charming and my chosen profession is completely fulfilling. Now that we have planted our vines, it is also particularly satisfying to watch over all of this and see what we planted come alive around us. What more could anyone ask for?”
It is with that same spirit of satisfaction that Gold Medal Wine Club shares this Platinum Series monthly Wine club selection with all our members.