Many solid business ideas begin as hobbies. But making wine?
Yes, said John Brown of Riverstone Wines in downtown Brooksville. Brown is a wine maker, self-taught from a kit his wife, Cindy Shaw, bought him. "She said I needed a hobby," John chuckled.
Inside a cute storefront on Main Street across from the courthouse, John, Cindy and their son, Zach, stand proudly behind the counter, just in front of a curtain that separates the production room from the sales floor.
The front of the store looks like a charming, old-town wine shop. The walls are adorned with decorative art, some from local artists. And other accessories, like painted wine glasses and decorative corks, garnish the shelving.
And on display are different bottled wines, labeled with the Riverstone logo in classic choices like White Zinfandel, Merlot and Chardonnay. An assortment of fruit wines includes blackberry and kumquat. They recently sold out of the very popular blueberry wines.
"We make what is in season," John said.
He also experiments with other flavors, like the recently debuted orange blossom honey wine, and other popular fruit-infused varieties.
Every bottle was produced behind the curtain in a room filled with big glass containers, each holding a colorful mixture of wine in some stage of the process. Some are fermenting, others are clarifying and stabilizing.
After the required processing time, depending on the type, the wine is then poured into sterilized bottles, labeled, corked and displayed.
Each container, John explained, makes about 30 bottles of wine.
John's experience as a wine maker took about eight years of extended research and trial and error to perfect, he said.
Now open just less than a year, Riverstone Wines is still in the early stages of building a loyal customer base. But it is progressing steadily toward that goal by attracting wine enthusiasts who also like the idea of buying local.
Like Leonett Ehlenbeck of Brooksville, who came into Riverstone Wines to purchase gifts for a get-together with friends.
"They are from Lakeland," she said, "and I thought it would be nice to bring them some wine made in Brooksville."
After tasting the orange blossom honey wine, she was hooked.
"I could actually taste the honey at the beginning," she said. "And at the end I could really taste the orange."
Riverstone Wines is open just two days a week as the business builds its inventory to accommodate its steadily growing customer base.
"We all have full-time jobs," Zach explained. He works in St. Petersburg in the finance industry. John is an engineer. And Cindy breeds Paso Fino horses at their farm across the Hernando-Pasco county line.
But on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, they are wine people.
The whole process began, as John mentioned, when Cindy decided he needed a hobby.
"She bought me a wine kit," he said, and he took to it immediately. "All our friends and family liked it."
They added two more kits as demand for their wine increased. And the hobby spread into the family's laundry room and, eventually, into its own business.
"Everyone wanted it," John said. "But I couldn't afford to keep making it to give it away."
They found the perfect location on Main Street, nestled between other unique downtown shops. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
John is the wine maker. From behind the curtain, he ferments, filters and stirs his concoctions that can please nearly every wine pallet from traditional flavors to fruit selections and fruit-infused wines.
The plan, Zach explained, is to build a regular clientele until his father is ready to retire. "Then he will open the store full time," he said.
So far, the plan is working. The family has managed to attract a strong following of local patrons as neighboring businesses refer their customers. Riverstone Wines is becoming a popular addition to the local downtown business landscape that keeps consistently growing.
Riverstone isn't a vineyard. In fact, all of its wines are made from quality imported grape juice or other locally grown fruits.
Zach explained that only certain hybrids of grapes can be grown in Florida. By importing the juice from a variety of regions, Riverstone is able to produce many more varieties of classic favorites than a local vineyard that focuses on its own harvest.
And Riverstone is very small scaled, producing everything onsite and bottling, labeling and selling it themselves.
After a few minutes inside the store, it isn't difficult to understand that Riverstone Wines is as much about the strength of the family bond as it is about the wine.
In fact, the name Riverstone was inspired by Cindy's "passion for soft rocks." The wine labels display different pieces of her river stone collection, professionally photographed.
And Zach's middle name, in fact, is Riverstone.
So when they were recently targeted by a company in California for unauthorized use of the trademarked name "Riverstone," John, Cindy and Zach were a little disappointed. But to keep their business running smoothly, they filed paperwork for a legal name change.
The new name, Brookstone Wines, already appears on any new bottles that are produced.
A family business born from a hobby, Riverstone Wines became more than the family had at first envisioned. But together they gave it the room it needed to expand into its own.
"My theory is that when something starts moving on its own, you have to nurture it," Cindy said.
And through that nurturing, Riverstone Wines, soon to be operating as Brookstone Wines, is certainly moving forward.
Biz at a Glance
Name: Riverstone Wines
Location: 15 N. Main Street, Suite A, Brooksville
Telephone: (813) 997-1495