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Taking risks in retirement
Dream retirement: Hilda and Earl Jones, proprietors of Abacela Vineyards & Winery, Roseburg, Ore.
October 11, 2005: 3:50 PM EDT
By Lee Eisenberg, for MONEY Magazine
Hilda and Earl Jones, proprietors of Abacela Vineyards and Winery, Roseburg, Ore.
Hilda and Earl Jones, proprietors of Abacela Vineyards and Winery, Roseburg, Ore.
The dream retirement

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NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - "Yes, starting a vineyard with no real experience was a calculated risk. But hey -- life is short," says Hilda Jones.

Earl Jones, a physician, had devoted 37 years to medical research, much of it at Emory University in Atlanta. But the profession had changed. For Earl, who's now 65, medicine had become too entangled in paperwork and red tape.

So more than a decade ago, he and his wife Hilda, now 52, started dreaming one of those timeless mid-life daydreams: turn an old country house into a B&B; open a bookstore; grow grapes. The Joneses opted for the last of those -- and not just any grape, but a gutsy Spanish varietal called Tempranillo. The couple loved its wine so much that they resolved to make a go of growing it. What did it matter that they had no prior experience at all?

They began their quest by poring over books, intent on finding just the right place for their beloved grape. One of Earl's grown sons, a climatologist, helped steer the Joneses to the town of Roseburg, in Oregon's Umpqua Valley. Here conditions mirror those of Ribera del Duero, a renowned wine-growing region in Spain. The Joneses bought 500 acres, investing a big chunk of sweat equity into planting almost 60.

Within three years, they had produced their first vintage and found themselves the proud, if bone-tired, proprietors of Abacela Vineyards & Winery.

What, in the end, does it take to realize a retirement reverie like this? Well, a good amount of money and, just as important, a willingness to take on risk. Over the years, Earl guesses, they've sunk $3 million into the vineyard (including reinvested earnings). It now enjoys positive cash flow, and the Joneses plan to keep production at 6,000 cases a year.

As for the risk, the Joneses say they simply never doubted. Asked what he'd have done had the dream failed, Earl says, "I guess I could have bitten my lip and gone back to medicine, but I didn't really think about it."

Hilda admits the vineyard was a gamble. So? "Life is short," she says. "Besides, how could I go wrong? I've always loved playing in the dirt."

Giving their time and money. Kitty and Fred Lipp's story »»

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Read more of MONEY's special report: The Dream Retirement


Lee Eisenberg is the author of "The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life," to be published by Free Press in January 2006.  Top of page

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