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Jim and Mary Thompson

 

It was the bed and breakfast business that brought Jim and Mary Thompson to Texas.  “We always dreamed of running a B&B and had researched doing so in California and New Hampshire,” says Mary.  “My brother-in-law is a Realtor in San Antonio, so we often visited Fredericksburg and looked at property with him.  We happened to find a piece of property we thought we might like and within two months we had both retired from our jobs in California and moved to Texas to follow our dream of having a B&B!”  The property we bought had one guest room; over the next three years, we added three more rooms and a kitchen, creating a complex that could accommodate twelve guests at A Barn at the Quarry in Grapetown.

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It was a dream come true meeting guests and getting to know visitors, sharing past experiences and the limited knowledge we had about the Hill Country. We baked pastries and served breakfast in a picnic basket which was an appealing concept for people staying out in the country. We planted flowers and decorated rooms in seasonal colors creating a welcome nest for the weekend.

However, as busy as we were with the Bed and Breakfast, when an opportunity presented itself to become involved in the wine industry, we jumped at the chance and added a wine tour company to our business plan.Before arriving in Texas, we had spent several years exploring the Temecula and Napa Valleys of California.  We saw many similarities between of the expansion of the wine industry in California and what was happening in the emerging Texas wine industry.  In preparation for starting a wine tour business, we worked for a year at a local winery to learn more about the wine industry and the making of Texas wines.  We worked in the administration office and in the tasting room and lab studying the blending of wine with the winemaker.

When we added the tour company to our business operations, we performed all of the job requirements  ourselves.  We were the tour guides, the marketing staff, the administration staff and the payroll staff. We made contacts with business partners and planned events for corporate groups.

We bought our first limousine coach from another tour company and in that first month of operation we had only 12 customers.  The fleet of coaches grew from one coach to four within the first three years; and the number of guests grew from 12 to over 300 per month. We had to hire and train ten tour guides who became a critical part of our team.

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There were only six wineries to choose from in 2007 when we first began so we visited every winery every weekend.  That gave us the opportunity to develop relationships with all the wineries.  As new wineries came on board, it was possible to give return customers some choices and it gave us the chance to meet new winery owners.

We enjoyed the creativity of the wine industry and used what we learned to create an engaging experience for our tour customers.  It was exciting to be part of such a rapidly expanding industry.  Our tour guides also worked for the enjoyment of the experience as much as for the pay.  They loved people and pampered our guests with their Texan charm and hospitality.  We had a magnificent team that worked well together, supporting one another and learning from each other and representing our company in the manner which brought many compliments from customers, the wine community, and Trip Advisor awards.

As the number of wineries in the area rapidly increased, Jim knew the types of wines that were being produced and the personalities of the wineries was changing and developing.  Consumers were not aware of what kinds of wine were available because the wines were growing so rapidly in number and complexity that there were new products available monthly.  Due to our affiliations with the wineries our team was able to remain informed about these changes and to present to their customers with an array of informed experiences.

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Overall, we saw a trend toward the customers becoming more sophisticated wine enthusiasts, which allowed for the development of new tour products.  For example, the company began offering a Wine Connoisseur Tour, complete with food pairings and barrel tasting.  We also began a Mixed Drink Tour which pulled breweries, distilleries and wineries together in one excursion.  As we studied our demographics we changed our product to better serve the changing population and match the venues to the people and their tastes.

Three years ago, we decided to retire a second time and sold both businesses with the plans to spend more time with our families, volunteer in the community, and to travel.  We now live within three miles of several family members and are able to spend weekends and holidays with them.  We volunteer with our local Rotary Club and at our grandson’s elementary school.  We have also been able to travel to various parts of Texas, New England, The West and to several countries in Europe, Canada and Mexico.

It is, as a result of our travels, that we have decided to begin a new adventure.  The love of sharing our experiences with family, friends, and new acquaintances has motivated us to share with a larger audience through social media.

We want to tell lots of people about the places we have seen and enjoyed and the people we have met.  By sharing these experiences, we may encourage others to make the trip either vicariously through reading our travel blog or by actually using one or our itineraries to make their own  journey.

One of the things we have learned about traveling is that there are hundreds of people just like us who have lived in similar locations, had similar experiences, have similar feelings as ours.  They have similar hopes and dreams as we do.  Meeting these people and sharing their stories is part of what we do. Getting to know people around the world helps us understand one another better.  Through these cultural exchanges we gain more knowledge about others. Mothers and fathers fret over their adult children being able to support themselves  in Malaga, Spain as much as we do here in Texas.  Vineyard growers and wine producers in Cully, Switzerland still depend on the weather and the customers and the economy to make a living. Wool manufacturers in Vermont employ part time family members as they try to grow their businesses.  Winery owners fill in for their staff when a sick child needs to go to the doctor. A mother and son are thrilled to have wine tasters show up as they open the doors to their new winery for the first time.

Our connection with Rotary International has opened many doors for us.  Wherever we go we try to find a Rotary meeting to attend.  Wherever we attend meetings we are welcomed as friends.  Before we leave the meeting, we have made new acquaintances. This is a great way to get to know the business leaders in the community we are visiting.  It also helps us understand the issues of the community, what drives their passions and motivates them to volunteer, sponsor fundraisers, and write for grants. We have been invited into the homes of Rotary friends around the world and have continued friendships over the years through email, Instagram, and Facebook.

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