Rooted in Family

Seven generations have lived or worked on Mallow Run farm

By Glenda Winders  //  Photography by Tony Vasquez

Gentle winds peacefully blow across fields of open space on the Mallow/Richardson Farm in Bargersville. In fact, on any given day, whispers of family and tradition echo throughout the seemingly endless grounds of what is now recognized as a 600-acre farm.
Certainly, things are much different today than they were when the area was settled in 1835, and understandably, at least to outsiders. The farm, now publicly known as Mallow Run Winery, is commonly thought of as an occasional social hot spot and entertainment venue. However, despite its numerous public-friendly offerings, John Richardson, his son, Bill, and daughter-in-law, Laura, think of Mallow Run as home.
George Mallow, John Richardson’s great, great grandfather, moved his wife and eight children from Virginia to Indiana in 1834, and one year later, purchased what is now the Mallow/Richardson Farm. Sometime thereafter, he constructed a barn on the same spot where the Mallow Run Winery tasting room is located today.
Many years later, John was born.
“We farmed beef cattle and hogs, and I was in 4-H,” John said.
But John wasn’t convinced that farming would be a part of his future. He attended Purdue University and graduated with a B.A. degree in English and spent 35 years teaching in New Albany, mostly at New Albany High School.
However, over time, he developed an interest in wine.
“I had been making wine in my basement as a hobby for several years,” he said. “When I retired from teaching, I saw an article that said Indiana wineries were wanting farmers to provide grapes and the idea interested me, so I moved back to the farm to retire. I thought I could just plant (the grapes) and then sit back and watch them grow. Little did I know how hands-on the process would be.”
Bill, on the other hand, maintained childhood interests in the possibility of farming.
“I visited my grandparents on the farm in what is now my house; the house my dad was actually born in,” he said. “I figured I would eventually be a part of this place.”
Bill also attended Purdue University before settling into the original Mallow/Richardson home, spent some time working at a bank and then worked at Charles Schwab Corp. before leaving the financial field all together in 2003.
Through high school and college, Bill played the French horn, and his interest in music eventually connected him with Laura.
“I hadn’t played for seven or eight years but I thought it would be fun to sit in on rehearsals with the Carmel Symphony,” he said. “However, within a few weeks, one player had to quit so I joined and agreed to be the assistant stage manager, as well. A little less than a year later, Laura walked in, and of course, as assistant stage manager, I had to show her where to go and what to do.”
Laura, a speech pathologist who grew up in Indianapolis and attended North Central High School, spent several years in Ohio while attending college and graduate school. A clarinetist, she moved back to Indianapolis in 2001, and through pre-existing music industry connections, she was asked to serve as a substitute for the Carmel Symphony.
Through Bill, she was introduced to farm life.
“When I met Bill, I was a city girl living in Broad Ripple,” she said. “I was astonished by the farm. I hadn’t ever even seen corn being grown before.”
The first Mallow Run Winery grapes were planted in 2000. So Bill and Laura’s relationship grew from their shared love for music, wine and rural living as vineyards of potential began to blossom around them.
The couple married in 2005. That same year, the Mallow Run Winery Tasting Room opened to the public.
“The winery had already been in the thought process when I first came around,” Laura said. “So after we were married, our vision was that I would keep working at the hospital and that I might help at the farm on weekends.”
Based on tasting-room popularity and other developing concepts, that plan quickly changed.
“It was Laura’s idea to make things more exciting around here to help draw people in on weekends, like having concerts,” John said.
The Mallow Run Winery Picnic Concert Series, the facility’s annual picnic concert series, is now a widely anticipated summertime event.
“I feel like when we first started, we were one of only a few venues in the area to offer music,” Laura said. “I think that’s why people responded so well to us. We were one of the first to provide an opportunity to sit outside and listen to music.”
According to Bill, weekend concert opportunities are now abundant throughout central Indiana.
“People are still attracted to us because they’re trying to retain that rural feel,” John said. “They like to be out in the country.”
Seven generations of Mallow and Richardson family members have apparently felt the same way, choosing to live or work on the farm at one time or another.
“This was still a very rural area 75 or 80 years ago and that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move back here,” John said. “The population boom has been slowly moving south from Indianapolis. It feels very good to know that we still have some green space here.”
Laura agreed.
“When you drive up 135 and throughout much of the area around here, all you see is growth and development,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not against that. But it’s also nice to have spaces like ours.”
Even with limited development on the farm itself, including the addition of The Sycamore at Mallow Run, an event venue where weddings, parties and professional events take place, Bill embraces memories of secluded farmland space that in some ways, still exists today.
“Where The Sycamore now stands, I remember that area being a far-away place on the farm that we never went to,” he said. “Now, I go there every day, but it still feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, out in nature.”
On any given day, John can be found close to the winery tasting room, serving as the unofficial face of the business. He also handles a lot of the winery’s bookkeeping while helping Bill with the bottling process.
Bill, who oversees wine making, also handles bookkeeping for The Sycamore.
“Laura covers everything else,” John and Bill both said almost simultaneously.
According to the Mallow Run website, vineyards now cover roughly 12 of the family’s 600-acre farm. From other areas of the property, more than 50,000 bushels of corn and soybeans are still raised each year.
“With everything we do here, we try to respond to what we feel the community has enjoyed and requested from us,” Laura said.
Wine is essentially the driving force in that regard.
“Our onsite winery growth was a lot bigger and faster than we expected,” Bill said. “Wholesale efforts have been more organic. We’re still slowly moving toward increasing production to address wholesale demand.”
Community support is also important to the family.
“We want to be as supportive as possible of local nonprofits,” Laura said. “We donate to a lot of tasting parties. One of the most rewarding things to me is being in a position to make more of a difference in the community than if I were trying to do so as an individual.”
Ultimately, the Richardson family has excelled in blending tradition and progression into a successful business venture without having to sacrifice peaceful, front porch, countryside views that have been shared from one generation to the next.
“We continue to live in the house John grew up in so when we did a recent kitchen remodel, I asked him if it made him sad,” Laura said. “His response was ‘Not at all. There’s nothing wrong with change when it’s done the right way.’”