Female Feature Friday: Kim Kelliher of Grapeline Wine Tours

We are back at it, bringing you another Female Feature Friday. We are so excited to be sharing a new amazing Girl Boss every week. The inspiration behind this series was to highlight the brilliant women running small businesses in an effort to inspire other women to bring their talents to the table. We can do it all, ladies!

Kim is a huge small business leader in Temecula, where I grew up, and I have always looked up to her. I always admired her contribution to the small business community in Temecula, as well as the many ways she chooses to give back. Kim has been a big role model to me in so many ways, but specifically because she’s curated such an amazing team and it’s been wonderful to see and take notes on who she chooses to be a part of her business. I was lucky enough to add Grapeline Wine Tours on as a client in 2017 and I am so excited to share her story today.

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Name and Occupation:

Kim Kelliher, Founder, Grapeline Wine Tours

Briefly describe your business:

The Grapeline offers daily wine adventures for both individuals (on “shared” tours) and private groups in five California wine regions: Temecula, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Sonoma and Napa.

How did Grapeline Wine Tours come about and what were you doing before you became a small business owner? 

A former journalist turned mom, turned winery groupie, I was working for Wilson Creek Winery as a special events manager in 2002 before we started our business. My husband, John Kelliher, was working in medical sales and traveling a lot internationally. John really wanted to start a business in Temecula and decided airport shuttle service was sorely needed and would be a great business idea. I thought that sounded pretty boring and suggested a wine shuttle instead. No one was doing it at the time. Our original game plan was to do airport shuttles during the week, and wine shuttles on the weekend. The airport idea faded, and we started our business originally as “The Grapeline Wine Country Shuttle.”

Why is small business so important to you? 

Small business is the heart and soul of this country! The fact that you can take an idea, and have the power to pursue it and make a living from it, is what makes America such a dream destination for people all over the world.

What was your first real job?

After several journalism internships at TV stations, magazines and newspapers, my first real job was as a political reporter for a Capitol Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C., called Roll Call.

What motivates you to keep going on the less than awesome days?

My employees. To see how hard they work, and how much they truly care about the company and the happiness of our customers, keeps me motivated to push forward and be the best leader I can be.

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What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business? 

Don’t do it unless you have the “fire in the belly” -- the true passion for what you’re doing to succeed against great odds. You have to be willing to be “on” 24-7. You have to be ready to do everything from wooing customers, to cleaning toilets. Prepare to hyperventilate a lot the first year. It’s scary. It’s risky. Ultimately, if you make it, it’s very rewarding.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and what/how did you learn from it? 

I’d say our biggest mistake as a business was getting involved in a lawsuit. We felt we were in the right, and it was worth the fight. Two years later and a lot (a lot!!) of money down the drain, we achieved nothing. I learned it’s better to keep your money than to be right. Avoid legal action at all costs. Only the lawyers win.

What has surprised you most about running a small business? 

The lack of business-friendly laws in this state. California laws are extraordinarily stacked against small business, and they continue to get worse. It’s like the legislature is trying to drive businesses out of California. If our business didn’t require vineyards and wine, we would definitely go somewhere else.

Who have you looked to for advice and mentorship?

John and I are fortunate to have come from entrepreneurial families. Both of our fathers have run their own businesses and have a lot of good, practical advice to offer. We saw how hard they worked and what it took to succeed, so we weren’t naive about that. Locally, the Chamber of Commerce has been a great resource when we were in a bind or needed to find an expert to talk to. The Wilson family members of Wilson Creek Winery have been incredible mentors and advisors. I personally love the way they give back to the community and wanted to emulate that in our own business. And their winery’s support of the Grapeline gave us a good kick-start.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in small business? 

For the most part, I think it’s an asset to be a woman in small business. Women tend to take a softer, more collaborative approach that is results-oriented and leaves egos out. I love working with other women on projects because they are generally highly productive and masters of multi-tasking.

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What is it like to run a business as husband and wife?

Challenging!! It’s definitely the hardest thing we have done as a married couple, which is saying something because we raised three sons! You have to define your areas of responsibility and stick to them. You have to bite your tongue a lot. You have to agree not to disagree in front of your employees (I’m not particularly good at this). We are both strong-willed and highly opinionated. Sometimes, one of us just has to back the hell down. We apologize a lot. Of course, we are both very proud of what we have achieved together, and that is bonding. We have a lot of respect for each other’s capabilities. John is the visionary, and I am the practical one who looks at the steps needed to get to that vision. Overall, we complement each other.

Grapeline has such an amazing team and staff - what advice would you give someone on hiring?

Hire based on personality and attitudes. Skills can be taught. But does the applicant reflect the culture of the company? Our business is all about hospitality. We need to be joyful and somewhat humble about serving others. We look for that character trait when we hire. No matter what you’re hiring for, first define the personality traits required. 

What’s next for Grapeline Wine Tours? 

We have been in a growth and expansion mode for the last decade. Now, after 17 years in business, it’s time to take a step back and really evaluate the things we are doing, their competitiveness in the current market, and their profitability. That’s our current next step.

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What brought you to Temecula, CA?

We were living in Tucson, AZ, when John took an international sales job based in Irvine. I was about to have our third child, so we decided I would stay home full-time for a while as he was traveling and working. We had visited family here in Temecula for a graduation at some point, and I thought it was a great little town. Plus, we could actually afford a nice sized house with a yard here back in 1997. So, we moved to Temecula, and John commuted to Irvine.

Favorite wine in Temecula?

Ooooh. This is like choosing your favorite child! For a lighter red, I love the Melange de Reve at Leoness. Wilson Creek’s Sparkling Rose is perfect on a hot day. Fazeli’s Shiraz is rich and delicious. Renzoni’s new Chardonnay is delightful. … I could go on and on!!

Favorite wine region in California?

Another impossible question. Since I live in Temecula, I know and love it on a very personal basis. But I also really enjoy visiting all of our other regions. Paso Robles is probably the closest to a “hidden gem” with its endless rolling hills, oak trees, and more than 200 wineries. The Zinfandels they produce there are my favorite in the state. But for Pinot Noir -- which is my favorite varietal -- Santa Barbara County is the hands down winner!

Favorite restaurant  in Temecula?

The Goat & Vine

Favorite way to spend a Saturday in Temecula?

I would say wine tasting on any other day, but the wineries are too crowded on Saturdays! So, I have to say going out to brunch or lunch with my husband in Old Town, NOT talking about work, and then catching up on mundane things like laundry and gardening.


The business community in Temecula that I work and serve with is a friendly, close-knit group with big hearts. People really support each other here and support our local charities. I love being a part of that.


Temecula Lavender Company

The Katwalk Boutique

Temecula Olive Oil Company

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