Richard Graeser left his farming operation in the Imperial Valley in 1983 and arrived in Napa Valley the following year to help his mother manage her financial affairs at his family’s Calistoga vacation home. Richard’s father had recently passed away and the 40-acre property his parents had enjoyed for twenty-five years was becoming too difficult for his mother to manage.
Within three weeks of his arrival, however, Richard’s mother collapsed as a result of an undiagnosed illness, and she passed away just a week later. After taking some time to recover from this unexpected tragedy, Richard began to really explore Napa for the first time and took a good look at the many boutique wineries being established up and down the valley. Right then and there, Richard decided he should start his own winery; after all, he was a farmer.
Richard immediately set out to start a bonded winery and plant a ten-acre vineyard right on a gorgeous hillside at the top of his newly-inherited property. Simultaneously, he enrolled in the fledgling Napa Valley College wine program aptly named Winemaking 101, bought some equipment and some grapes, and Graeser Winery was born. His first vintage, produced in 1985, was what you might expect from a neophyte former-lettuce-farmer-turned-winemaker—largely forgettable, but certainly not undrinkable.
For his second vintage, Richard purchased better grapes and hired an experienced wine consultant. As a result, the 1986 Graeser Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen by Los Angeles Times wine critic Dan Berger as their Wine of the Week for January 25, 1990. For the third vintage in 1987 the grapes came from his own vineyard, and Richard was off to the races running a full-fledged, well-respected Napa Valley winery.
Despite the fact Richard lacked the minimum one million dollars that conventional wisdom dictated was necessary to start any small winery, he continued to produce award-winning, French Bordeaux-style wines for the next 20 years. Throughout those two decades, however, Richard never completely gained solid financial footing with his business, and the economic downturn of 2008-2009 put Graeser Winery into bankruptcy.
Eventually, Richard lost his property and he took his faithful dog Jack and some remaining wine, and settled into a more austere lifestyle down the valley in the town of Napa.
The story doesn’t end there, however. Richard is now working to reestablish Graeser Winery, and is selling some of his original wine collection and looking for other means of financing so the venerable Napa Valley winery can be reborn. Stay tuned for further developments!
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