Couple turn hobby of winemaking into supplemental retirement income

Posted by DB Wilson on Thursday, August 4th, 2011 at 4:50pm.

Most people look forward to traveling, spending time with friends and family and playing lots of golf when they retire.

Jackie Thompson dreamt of making wine and sharing it with others who enjoy drinking it.

That dream became a reality in 2003 when Jackie, with the emotional and financial support of husband Mike, opened Boulder Creek Winery.

But Jackie, who is from Vermont, was anything but a novice when it came to making wine. Both sides of her family are French, and she grew up in a home in which making wine was common practice. She then went to college for a degree in plant and soil science with plans of applying it to a future in vineyards and winemaking.

When Jackie and Mike, who is from Massachusetts, met in Vermont, she was a divorced mother of one, waiting on tables and going to school, and Mike was working for IBM. They married in 1985 and Mike looked for opportunities to move his family to Colorado, which they had visited numerous times and loved. He accepted a position with Apple in Colorado Springs in 1996.

In the couple of decades between waiting tables and opening the winery, Jackie worked in landscaping and, after getting a degree in public administration, land-use planning for local government.

“It’s enough to drive you to drink, for sure,” she says of that career, laughing.

But her love of winemaking remained, and Jackie sought out Colorado grapes to continue her passion in the Rocky Mountain state. Eventually, as retirement drew near, making homemade wine for her family and friends’ consumption wasn’t enough.

“We were talking about it for a long time,” Mike says. “I got tired of saying no and eventually caved.”

In 2002, the Thompsons made their official entrance into the wine industry with the purchase of a forklift off eBay, Mike says. “The first piece of equipment is a forklift to unload the other equipment from the truck when it shows up,” he explains.

And the forklift was only the beginning of their spending: the first one to three years of starting a winery is just outflow of cash – no income – on equipment, rent and supplies, Jackie notes.

“It’s not an easy industry to break in to. You can’t open without having anything to sell. We were paying rent on space about nine months before we got grapes,” she says.

When Boulder Creek Winery opened in 2003, it offered wines from other Colorado wineries in its tasting room while its grapes were in the winemaking process, Jackie says. Boulder Creek offered its own white wines in the summer of 2004 and its first red wines two years later.

“It’s a long process, a long financial strain,” she says. “You’ve got to have faith. That’s a lot of money to pour into it.”

Although the Thompsons buy grapes from vineyards on the Western Slope rather than growing their own, Jackie has found her degree in plant and soil science still comes in handy in communicating with the growers and understanding their practices, she says.

Mike continued to work to support the family and the business while Jackie launched the winery: “My role was to pay for everything and her role was to do all the (winemaking) work,” he says.

He retired from the high-tech world 3½ years ago and began working with his wife “at a greatly reduced salary, I might add,” he says. “I actually enjoy the business quite a bit. I get to taste a lot of wine.”

Among his duties are forklift mechanic, purchasing all the grapes and arranging for trucking, while Jackie is the master winemaker, Mike says.

Mike and Jackie’s son, Will, who was 13 when Jackie started the business, has learned the entire process of winemaking and running the business. He works about 20 hours a week at the winery during the summer, a little less during the school year.

Soon to be a senior at the University of Colorado in the fall with a double major in pre-med and film literature, his parents pray he will choose working in the medical field versus the wine industry.

“That would be the hope or otherwise we’ll have to support him all of his life,” Mike laughs. “You have to sit in a cubicle for a couple of decades to appreciate working in a winery.”

Yet Will has already shown he could do well in the wine business: “He’s made wine on his own, unsupervised, and has won gold medals,” Mike says. “He understands the science behind winemaking.”

Aislynn, Jackie’s daughter from her first marriage, is married with three children and lives in Baton Rouge, La. She is also a graduate of CU.

And with a small winery restricted from expanding in to something more by city ordinances, it won’t likely do more than provide supplemental income for the Thompsons or anyone who buys it from them once they choose to sell it, Jackie says, unless the new owners find a way to take it to the next level.

“It’s a semi-retirement business for us,” she says. “You definitely wouldn’t be able to accumulate a retirement nest egg or put your kids through college.”

But Jackie’s hope is whoever does buy it someday will put the effort in to changing city code so wineries can operate in more attractive locations, offering beautiful views and tasty fare to accompany their wines.

Boulder Creek Winery is one of four wineries in Boulder. It offers 10 different varieties, from big, bold reds to great dry whites and semi-sweet whites.

“Whoever walks in to the tasting room, they should find something they will like,” Mike says.

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Boulder Creek Winery is located at 6440 Odell Place in Boulder. For more information, visit www.BoulderCreekWine.com; e-mail info@bouldercreekwine.com; or phone (303) 516-9031.

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