June 2014




Ophthalmologist brings medical spin to wine brands in Napa Valley

by Ellen Stodola EyeWorld Staff Writer


Jessup Cellars is in Yountville, which is ideally located at the epicenter of the California food and wine world.

Source: Joel Quigley

Dr. Thompson, his wife, and two other families manage Jessup Cellars and two additional wine labels

Vance Thompson, MD, Vance Thompson Vision, Sioux Falls, S.D., has been juggling a career in ophthalmology and a wine business going on 10 years. He discussed his interest in wine, acquiring a vineyard, and how his business has evolved over the years.

"My passion is ophthalmology, but my wife and I have always enjoyed cooking and wine," Dr. Thompson said. "My parents brought me up that way; they both loved to cook and they loved to pair wines."

Getting into the wine business

It has now been about 9 years since Dr. Thompson acquired his wine business with his best friend from medical school and their wives. They used to travel together to Napa Valley and ended up loaning money to a winemaker who later declared bankruptcy. When the bankruptcy court gave them the rights to the wine business, the two families decided to stay in the business and then invited in a third partner family. "Originally, we did not intend to be in the wine business. But when this all occurred we had a decision to make. Do we sell the assets of this business or move forward with it? We decided to move forward and it has been an exciting journey," Dr. Thompson said. That winery is now called Jessup Cellars and is owned by Dan and Becky Blue, Roy and Cheri Eisiminger, and Dr. Thompson and his wife, Jana. Jessup Cellars is located in Yountville, which Dr. Thompson explained is ideally located at the epicenter of the California food and wine world. The tasting room is just north of the French Laundry, a world-famous restaurant in Napa Valley. The winery itself is on the southern edge of the town of Napa.

The winemaker for Jessup Cellars is Rob Lloyd, who Dr. Thompson said has a great Napa Valley winemaking pedigree and has taken the winemaking to higher levels.

Because of the success of Jessup Cellars, two other brands were started, the Handwritten and Humanitas labels. Many people were asking for recommendations for other places to enjoy a wine experience like they had at Jessup Cellars, so the team decided to expand, Dr. Thompson said.

Handwritten features handmade wines and handwritten notes. "We loved the fact that all our wines are handmade, with old-world techniques; there was a lot of neat theming that we felt we could do," Dr. Thompson said. In this digital age, a handwritten note is such a precious gift, he said.

The Humanitas label focuses on the connection to medicine. "That has to do with all three families [being] in the world of medicine, and our goal is to not only make great wine but to give back." With the three wine businesses, Dr. Thompson said the goal has been to create an entire wine experience for visitors.

Comparing wine and ophthalmology

"In my practice, one thing we've worked hard on to differentiate ourselves is, besides using the world's best technology for anterior segment surgery, creating a great patient experience," Dr. Thompson said. "There [are] a lot of synergies between creating a great patient experience in an ophthalmology practice and creating a great customer experience in the Napa Valley." He has found the experience of learning how to treat people and how much this plays into success important in both fields.

Other similarities are the science of wine making and the science of medicine, Dr. Thompson said. Majoring in chemistry in college has helped him in both ophthalmology and winemaking. In ophthalmology, one of the keys is education, and physicians not only educate each other but they educate their patients, Dr. Thompson said. Visitors to the winery and tasting room are educated on the different wines and other workings of the winery. "I've learned how to do a wine tasting so people understand the vineyard and understand that great wine is grown," Dr. Thompson said. "Our philosophy is to manage that vineyard well and stay out of Mother Nature's way so that we can create great wines that don't need much human interaction."

Jessup Cellars events

The winery tends to do a lot of direct-to-consumer marketing, catering to its wine club. Typically this includes wine that people can't get unless they order directly through the vineyard, he said.

"We've started a new wine club dedicated to ophthalmology, and it's called the 20/20 Club," Dr. Thompson said. The 20/20 Club offers wine from the Jessup Cellars, Handwritten and Humanitas labels. In addition to 20 bottles of wine, members get four bonus gifts. The club gives 20% of the cost of each shipment to an eye related charity.

The featured charity this year is SightLife, which is an organization that provides corneal transplant tissue to those in need. "Our goal was to start something that would have a philanthropic component to it, and we're really excited about that," he said.

He added that a lot of companies use the winery as a setting for investigator meetings or think tank sessions because Napa Valley is such a great location. Dr. Thompson frequently helps to organize these events.

Dr. Thompson is intricately involved in the workings of the winery, and he and his wife are there once or twice a month. He stressed that his practice is of paramount importance, but he is also involved in a lot of the decision-making, strategizing, and social aspects of the winery.

Contact information


Ophthalmologist brings medical spin to wine brands in Napa Valley Ophthalmologist brings medical spin to wine brands in Napa Valley
Ophthalmology News - EyeWorld Magazine
283 110
216 149
True, 6