Success: Collecting stray golf balls at the age of 5 and reselling them as a sideline to his lemonade stand. Also, writing a one-page sheet of horse-racing tips and hawking them “around town, for a quarter.” Failure: Watching Dad try his hand at raising Australian freshwater lobsters and developing a market for them in Ruidoso, only to find that his best customers were the local beavers – who left only the shells.
“That is entrepreneurialism, the true spirit of it,” said Riddle, president and winemaker at Noisy Water Winery. “You’re going to fail more than you succeed, but when you really get kicked in the teeth and you feel like you really just spent everything you had to make it, that’s your opportunity to go find more and to spend it again.”
Riddle, 31, gave up a career as an NBC Sports production assistant and college football coach to return to Ruidoso and take over a fledgling family business.
That was about eight years ago, and the winery has since boomed, with 50 employees and a new tasting room just off the Santa Fe Plaza. Riddle was named second runner-up in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s competition for business owner of the year this year.
It turns out that for Riddle, making wine was a natural. His mother’s family had an orchard in upstate New York and his father was a sommelier.
“So it wasn’t a big leap for me,” he said. “Honestly, it was a party trick in college. I knew how to make alcohol.”
You were a producer for NBC Sports and a college football coach. Was it hard to give that up and return to Ruidoso?
In broadcast journalism, you’re gone a lot, and then for coaching, you end up in different universities, and your odds of working at any of these institutions for longer than two years is slim to none. I had this sort of aha! moment looking for my Social Security card so that I could get hired on at the next university, and after I had three of my friends in different cities going to look for the card in the different storage units, I started thinking, ‘What am I doing? I don’t have a home base. I’m missing funerals, weddings, the births of kids and all that other stuff and there has to be more out there than me just running around for the rest of my life.’
Were there any highlights during your time at NBC?
Watching Tiger Woods win a major sporting event, or watching some young 19-year-old kid not knowing what he’s doing about to win a tournament that’s going to put a couple million in his pocket – those are all pretty amazing in their own right. I watched Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open when it was at Pebble Beach. It was almost like “Tin Cup.” He just kept hitting the same shot a couple times in a row, and it kept rolling back to his feet and he just kept hitting the same shot. So watching that mental break kind of happen and seeing this kind of machine malfunction for a second. … You get to see these people that are the best, but you could interact with them and see a little more. Seeing that they’re human is pretty unique. Some of those guys don’t show you that they’re human very often.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I love really good food. I think everybody does, but I’m horrible with it. So if there’s … a very nice dinner, and they put out really nice food and everybody’s supposed to take one or two off the tray, I’ll take three. I also like craft alcohol across the board. So I like to have somebody’s weird beer or mead, you know whiskey that’s made in a country I never would have drunk whiskey from.
Is there any kind of food you won’t eat?
The only thing I don’t like is raw tomatoes. It’s the texture thing. I’ll drink bloody marys like it’s my job. My mom’s family’s Italian, so pasta everything. And cooked tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, but a slimy raw tomato, I can’t do it.
Over the course of your various careers, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Taking this project on upfront (the winery), I wish I would have done all the things they tell you … like what’s your mission statement? It probably would have helped keep me from making some of the bad choices along the way. Also, learning how to talk to people (before) transitioning from coaching football to running a retail establishment with winery employees. There’s ways I could have learned, this is not a 21-year-old athlete. Some people aren’t motivated by saying, “Hey, wake up.” Some people just need to be hugged and loved and told, ‘You’re doing a really great job.’ So understanding that different things motivate different people.
What are your pet peeves?
I don’t like excuses. I don’t like them to come from me; I don’t want them to come from anybody else. I don’t like people who don’t problem-solve. So I hate people that will just call and tell you a problem. My favorite people are people who call and say, “Look, we have a problem. Here’s kind of what I think we should do.” Those people are worth their weight in gold. And negativity, people who are “woe is me” all the time. The people who think their back hurts more than everybody else’s. It’s tough to grow with those people.
What do you like to read?
My grandmother would tsk me for this, but I’m books-on-tape city because I drive so much. … I really like a variety of books. When I was a kid, I really got into the old Greek stuff. I like those old stories and tales. They’re cool, and they have great life application.”
What makes you happy?
I love to see success from what we’ve tried. When you really do put your blood, sweat and tears into something, I love to see it come to fruition.