By Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt, Co-owner, DB Commercial Real Estate, Green Bay and Past District Director for SCORE, Wisconsin
I saw an inspirational quote the other day that said something to the affect that successful entrepreneurs stick with their plan. After talking to SCORE client Holly Boettcher, it would be much easier to make the case that smart business owners are flexible and open to change.
Boettcher, who owns Whistler’s Knoll Vineyard in Hortonville with her husband, Tom, is a case study in coming up with a great business plan, but discovering that the best plan might evolve into an even better plan.
It all started about 40 years ago when Tom Boettcher became an enthusiastic wine-maker.
“He started making small batches of wine and was very good at it,” his wife commented. “Family and friends started offering different fruits like pears and wild grapes. He also started ordering juices from around the world to make wine. Eventually, he turned a large part of the basement in our home into a winery with all of the equipment.”
Then, he started to outgrow the space. And, as the couple was approaching retirement, they thought it would be fun to own a vineyard. A search for perfect soil led them to the Hortonville property.
Boettcher explained, “It was a distressed farm, and since we were working full time, we worked on it on evenings and weekends. Dumpsters came in and dumpsters left for about two years.”
The vineyard was planted with cold, hardy varietals with the plan of producing single grape wines. Tom, having studied Viticulture and Enology at the University of Missouri, was well prepared to grow the crop over the next five to 10 years that it takes for vines to mature. Holly, a Master Gardener, was at work creating memorable gardens and nature areas throughout.
Their business plan, with the guidance of Fox Cities SCORE, was created. Whistler’s Knoll (www.whistlersknoll.com) would become a vineyard with a small tasting room. But, the plan soon changed.
Boettcher related, “People starting calling and asking if we did weddings. And, we thought sure, that will pay the bills until we have the wine. One thing led to another. We hadn’t dreamed this, but it became our core business.”
The barn was renovated for small gatherings and a large, beautiful pavilion was constructed for events of up to 200 guests. As they encountered State of Wisconsin regulations regarding the use of a winery for events, they decided to sell the grapes when they are ready and put wine production on hold for now.
Events have been added including wood fire pizza nights and bloody mary Sundays. The pavilion and barn are booked with weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, reunions, and corporate events. There are workshops, and probably most gratifying, is the space that has been created.
“I designed all of the landscaping and plantings – acres of gardens. There are three corncrib gazebos, butterfly gardens, perennials, and a lot of seating throughout the property where people can sit and enjoy nature and have privacy,” Boettcher commented.
The “retired” couple, who say they work now more than ever credit their son and daughter with helping them get the business off the ground. Despite having families of their own, they help with construction and events.
As the business grows, people are talking. Whistler’s Knoll has 3,300 followers on Facebook after just 3.5 years. Boettcher has an email list of more than 1,000 and says that her passion shines though in everything that is shared.
“People are excited about the vineyard here, and they love the peace and serenity that surrounds them. But, it is kind of challenging because they don’t understand the agriculture part of it. Even though we have a winery, it isn’t up and running yet,” Boettcher said.
If the future goes as planned, and regulations are changed, she would like to see the day where the original business plan and actual business can be incorporated.