"This is My Downtime" - Ranelle Rundquist

"This is My Downtime" - Ranelle Rundquist

As I begin driving, I run through my list one more time. Did I return that call? Check. Did I schedule that follow up meeting? Check. Did I document the revised product development gate process? Check. Did I update the budget for next month? No, but I wrote it down for Monday so it won’t get missed. I turn up the radio and watch as the buildings fade and the road opens up to green rolling hills intermingled with creeks and trees. As I pass through a number of sleepy, small towns my list quiets and I focus on the music. 60 minutes later, I pull up to a sprawling acreage covered with neat rows of green, vibrant vines. It’s 80 acres to be exact. 40 owned by myself and my husband and 40 owned by his parents.

I step out of my car ready to work. The unencumbering silence hits me. Peace, tranquility, calm. My shoulders relax and any remaining items on my to-do list fade from my mind. The check marks disappear. The what-did-I-forget questions go silent. I begin my work. And as my body moves, my mind stills. It’s just me. The air. The soil. The vines. And our grapes.

About 10 years ago, my father-in-law was getting ready to retire. But he wasn’t the type to adopt a life of leisure. Instead, he wanted a project to keep him occupied and challenged. Something new. Something close to farming he told us. So we began looking at acreages and having soil tested. We were looking for the perfect location to start what would become our family vineyard, and eventually lead to our winery.

The process of growing grapes is not a fast one. In fact, it typically takes 3-5 years before the first harvest. It takes time, dedication and a lot of hard work. The first few years we focused on developing the root system. Ensuring they were hearty and deep. We watered the young vines and pruned unwanted shoots to train a strong, straight trunk. We regularly weeded the rows and protected them from invaders, such as rabbits, deer and birds.  Once a strong main trunk was established, we had to focus on desuckering the vines. It’s admittedly a funny term, but a crucial step in cultivating a healthy, bountiful vine system. It refers to the process of removing low, unwanted shoots that will ultimately “suck” energy from the main trunk, and later, the fruit itself. Without removing these shoots and branches, the vine system will essentially spread itself too thin and fail to produce quality grapes, or even grapes at all.

After about five years of preparation, we had our first harvest. It took a team of eight to harvest over 300 pounds of grapes. We initially sold our grapes to a near-by winery. Meanwhile, my husband started to experiment with the art (and science) of wine making in our home. In 2015, he corked over 500 bottles of wine made from the grapes that weren't sold. I told him it was time to expand. To find a permanent place for our grapes and wine that did not include our kitchen, mud room or basement—as I would very much like to use those spaces for something other than wine making, storing supplies and bottling.

We found a beautiful old bank in Syracuse, Nebraska. Built in 1886, it holds a natural historical charm and even has the original vault and safe. We opened the doors to Safehouse Winery in 2016. The brand was developed around the concept of the bank, outlaws and the idea that everyone needs a safehouse both in life and beyond. 

One of my favorite parts of our vineyard and winery is that it is a family affair. Brian’s parents bought into the winery and vineyard; producing the majority of the grapes, while mine bought into the winery. We get to share our passion with the people we love most in the world and that is an amazing gift—a gift that working at Geist has afforded me with.

Working at Geist has allowed me to pursue my passion. As Director of Product Management, I am challenged to improve our offerings so our customers have products that solve problems and improve their day-to-day lives. It’s not unlike vine growing. Every day I strive to focus my energy on projects and people that will provide quality results. I eliminate the distractions that threaten to take my energy away from our business goals and, instead, concentrate on outcomes.

While my role at Geist challenges me mentally, my passion for our vineyard challenges me physically. It gives me a balance between mind and body. It provides focus, clarity and a spiritual connection to the people and world around me. Every day I am reminded that growth is developed from a well laid root system requiring hard-work, dedication and patience. To bear the fruits of our labor, whether in nature or in business is a direct reflection of our motivation to innovate, learn and improve. It’s a lesson I take with me in everything I do—for Geist, for my family and for myself.

See More Downtime Stories

All my life, I’ve been drawn to the water.  In fact, I’ve always known how to swim. When I was two years old, I decided to join my older brothers who were swimming in the deep end of the pool. I took off running and, with my mother in hot pursuit, I jumped fearlessly into eight feet of water—I’ve been water-bound ever since.