From the City to the Vines:
A Journey of Grit and Grapes by Jim Rickards of J. Rickards Winery

Military photo of a man

Me on the Attack Helicopter Carrier USS Princeton 1966

In June of 1976, I arrived in Alexander Valley and knew I had found my place. Born and raised in San Francisco, I had always felt drawn to the land, longing to become a farmer or whatever that entailed. The journey to the vineyard, however, took several twists and turns, beginning with my enlistment in the Navy.

I trained as a combat field corpsman and was assigned to the Marine Corps (M Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment) in Vietnam. After returning to the U.S., I decided it was time to leave the city behind. Discharged from the Navy in 1969, I moved north, first to Petaluma, then to Santa Rosa, and finally to Alexander Valley, embracing the “Back to the Land” movement of the 70s.

Me on my first tractor in 1976

Balancing life between my job as a nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where I worked in the ICU and the ER, and cattle ranching, I found my little bit of heaven north of Geyserville in 1976. I built my house by myself, with my family and I living in a tent and a converted school bus for a year.

The drought of 1976-77 forced me out of cattle ranching, leading me to rejuvenate an old 1908 Zinfandel field-blend vineyard that had been abandoned on the property. I pursued a degree in nursing while taking classes in viticulture, planting more grapes and learning to graft vines in a traditional manner from the 1800s, a practice we continue to this day.

In 1991, with the encouragement of my wife, Eliza, I began making wine, opening a small winery to the public in 2005. After 50 years of practice at Memorial Hospital’s ICU, I retired in 2020, devoting my time fully to my vineyard.

Man on a tractor with grape bins

Me in my ICU scrubs just back from the hospital and getting ready to harvest grapes.

The journey from city to vineyard has been one of resilience, blending my nursing career with my passion for farming. Today, J. Rickards Winery stands as a testament to that journey, celebrating both the land and the love that has gone into cultivating it.