Old friends and good wine

October 1, 2006

Like many of us, Vance Thompson, MD, loves wine. For Dr. Thompson, director of refractive surgery for Sioux Valley Clinic in Sioux Falls, SD, vacations to California's Napa Valley led to a business opportunity that teaches him much about wine, people, and business.

Dr. Thompson, who also is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, and Jana, his wife, have enjoyed visiting the Napa Valley since he was in medical school in the early 1980s.

"We love to cook and wine enhances appetite," Dr. Thompson said. "It's a neat mystery."

Mark Jessup remains the winemaker at Jessup Cellars ( http://www.jessupcellars.com/), a boutique winery producing about 5,000 cases a year. Mark is a wine-country native who is experienced in working with large wineries including Inglenook and Mondavi.

Jessup Cellars specializes in "big reds"-Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard's Petite Sirah and other reds are award-winning. The winery also produces two Port wines and one Chardonnay.

"I enjoy that in making estate-grown wine, you control the grape from beginning to end," Dr. Thompson said. "The wine is personal, handmade, non-filtered, and delicately handled the old-fashioned way. It's got full body and deep personality."

Jessup Cellars' vineyards are in Pope and Wooden Valley, CA; the tasting room is in Yountville, CA.

Learning the business

Dr. Thompson travels from South Dakota to California once a quarter, but talks with the staff on a daily basis.

"I really have a passion for all aspects of this business," he said. "I like to be active with blending and tasting. I try to attend team meetings. I love to work in the tasting room with customers and learn from the people I work with.

"It's amazing what I've learned over the years," Dr. Thompson said. "Many of the skills I use in my ophthalmology practice transfer to the hospitality industry: marketing skills, dealing with customers, and providing excellent service. [Just as] in my practice, it's all about a quality product and making people happy."

Friends and partners

"My friend and partner [Dr. Blue] has an MD and an MBA, and an acute business sense. He's a good business leader; he notices trends," Dr. Thompson said. "I am a good listener and I am good with people and building the team. Our strengths complement each other.