A Vine-Ripened Vision

Different can end up looking A LOT different than you originally imagined.

If this doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.

That’s a great attitude to take with you on the way to Different. It puts the priority on your vision for doing Different, not on the precise way you decide to get there. If you settle on one way and it doesn’t work, your Different dreams may fall apart.

Being willing to come up with Plan B is a key I learned from a couple of folks who have made their own amazing path to Different. And so that you don’t always have to “take my word for it,” I thought I’d share a case study of sorts that I wrote a while back about Jeff and Debra Hale.

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To enter the wooden-fence-lined, hilltop driveway of Jeff and Debra Hale’s flourishing vineyard, you would think nothing else could ever have been on this exquisite spot. Yet the master plan for Lexington Vineyard (Jeff and Debra would call it the Master’s plan) came about exactly because the Hales just wouldn’t quit trying something else.

Why 2K?

Except for Jeff’s two-year stint in Boulder City, Nevada as a pre-teen, Jeff and Debra were life-long residents of Maine until several major something-elses happened in 2000. That was the year they married and then moved south about 1300 miles (2,000 kilometers) to middle Tennessee and a place they decided was meant for them. The street address of the farmland they wanted to purchase was the final confirmation: 2000 Dog Hollow Road.

Look for (sometimes literal) signs along the way.

Jeff’s construction and mechanic work paid the bills while the couple studied what they could do to turn empty land into a profitable farm of some sort. A house was the starting point, so while he wasn’t building for someone else, Jeff worked on their own place. Debra sorted through the over-abundant agricultural options in luxuriant, water-rich Giles County to find the right niche for their operation.

And where did they live while they pieced together the plan? Jeff points to the vineyard’s 12-foot by 20-foot storage shed. “I just had to add electricity and plumbing, and it worked.” In fact, it worked as home for the Hales for more than four months.

Debra’s research eventually brought them to their first serious plan for a specialty agricultural product: Shitake mushrooms. The market appeared promising, but when the Hales analyzed the details of the state ag consultant’s business plan and what it would take to mass-produce the product in their location, the only thing that mushroomed was their concerns.

A casual comment by the consultant, though, caught Debra’s attention. He mentioned something about the need for more grapes to support the fledgling but rapidly growing wine industry in Tennessee.

Abundant Shortfall

The Hales enrolled in an agricultural extension course for “small fruit production,” and by 2007, their first vines were in the ground. The third year is a standard target for yielding a full crop, so the 2009 season looked to be exciting for Jeff and Debra—until black rot eradicated every grape in the vineyard.

The devastation of 2009 turned into a vibrant, healthy harvest in 2010, and Jeff was off to the established wineries to sell their product. But the sales trip was short-lived.

None of the prospective buyers wanted less than grapes-by-the-ton. The Hales' bounty turned out to be too small to garner interest from wineries already in production. Obviously, they would have to try something else.

Jeff and Debra began fermenting wine in the basement of their house while Jeff set about constructing a winery building. Friends who privately sampled the start-up wines agreed that the Hales had “the knack,” and on January 1, 2012, Lexington Vineyard’s wine-tasting room and sales counter opened to the public.

Lexington Vineyard resulted from hours of research by Debra Hale to find alternative ways to make Different happen for them.

In addition to the cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot gris, and pinot noir grapes they raise on site, the Hales offer a luscious seasonal assortment of southern fruit wines including strawberry, apple, peach, blackberry, and persimmon.

Counter Intuitive

Besides the fun of sampling fine wines, if you’re in the neighborhood, the ambiance of the tasting room is more than worth the four-mile drive off of either Highway 31 or 245 south of Columbia, Tennessee. Jeff built the tasting counter from the trunk of a century-old oak tree which fell in a neighbor’s field right about the time he was hoping to build a counter from oak wine-aging barrels.

“But the problem with the barrels,” Jeff explains, “was that they weren’t tall enough.” The solution dawned on Jeff as he arrived to chainsaw his elderly neighbor’s fallen sentinel. “With the oak tree, I could cut the trunk to a comfortable height for people to stand and enjoy their wine.”

The Hales' wine-tasting bar represents a tangible symbol of how to do Different.

Embedded in the countertop of the tasting bar are three items that represent the Hales' journey and core values: a small silver cross, a U.S. flag emblem, and a one-dollar coin minted in the year 2000.

The Hale’s division of labor generally finds Debra caring for vines and monitoring development of the grapes while Jeff handles the fermentation process, facility maintenance, and continuing upgrades the two hard-working visionaries always have in mind for the winery.

But “Lexington”? The name sounds more like Massachusetts than Middle Tennessee. Again, Jeff points to the tool shed. “We bought it from a company that mass produces outbuildings, and the model name of ours was ‘Lexington’.”

The shed is a bit of a cornerstone. After it came the house, then the vineyard, and finally the winery itself. The small structure reminds the Hales—and anyone who stops by in need of encouragement—that no matter what happens, there’s always something else.

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What more can I suggest about your trek to Different than,

“Go and do likewise”?

(You might want to see just how ready you are to do Different.

If you haven't reviewed my post "How Ready Are You to Do Different"

you should check it out.)


(To get weekly ideas and action steps for doing Different, subscribe to this blog

and get a free copy of my e-book, Better than Perfect.)

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