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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Missouri Couple Turns Hobby Into Wine Excursions Shuttle Service


Couple turns hobby into Vines 2 Wines Excursions shuttle service

Friday, January 14, 2011

What began as a hobby of growing grapes, making homemade wine and learning more about the wines of Missouri turned into a small business venture for Cape Girardeau empty nesters Suzanne and Tom VanderFeen. They created Vines 2 Wines Excursions to give patrons an opportunity to explore wineries and vineyards in Southeast Missouri.
In the summer of 2009, the couple was returning home from a trip to Iowa when Suzanne VanderFeen suggested to her husband they trade in her vehicle and get a bus to take people on visits to wineries, because the couple made frequent trips themselves. They are members of a wine club and said they love learning about wines.

"I was always the [designated driver] for my friends anyway," said Suzanne VanderFeen.

Soon after, Tom found a white shuttle bus for sale on Craigslist in St. Charles, Mo. The couple drove to see the bus the next day, taking along Suzanne's brother, a mechanic.

"We asked each other, 'Are we really going to use our savings to do this?'" Suzanne VanderFeen said. "And we bought it, and drove it home and looked at each other like, who does this kind of thing? Especially in a recession?"

The venture has turned into a win-win for them, she said.
In July 2009, the VanderFeens began taking their first patrons on daylong trips. On the way, Suzanne has conversations with the patrons about the wines and gives them information on the wines they will taste. Tom, she said, is great to ask about pesticides and grape growing, because he has a background in horticulture. The couple is licensed to take patrons to any location within the state. They mostly visit wineries in Southeast Missouri, but have traveled as far as Hermann, Mo., and St. James, Mo.

About once a month, Vines 2 Wines Excursions organizes a tour with open seating, but it takes groups with certain destinations or themes in mind. The couple either plans an excursion to a certain winery for the public tour or bases the stops off the patrons' wine tasting preferences by choosing wineries known for particular varieties.

She said people often schedule tours for bridal showers, birthday parties, anniversaries and fundraisers. They often bring picnic baskets or coolers onto the bus for the ride to and from a winery.

Seats are limited to 13 passengers per trip. Going on excursions during the winter, Suzanne VanderFeen said, often means even more time to spend with winemakers because it is a downtime for the wineries. Most are still open and have indoor seating, but people don't think to go to them when it's cold. 

For more information on upcoming trips, visit http://vines-2-wines.com/index.html. To make reservations, call 579-9009. 

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