From Napa Valley Register: “Tour company grows from dream to reality”

Posted on January 09, 2014

We recently got a nice write-up from local paper Napa Valley Register on the origins of our company in honor of our 10th anniversary. Check out the article here: Tour company grows from dream to reality. Text of the article below.

Platypus Wine Tours owner Don Rickard with wife, Kathy, and their companions (left to right) PJ, Roscoe and Gertie. Nicole Marino/BigShot in Wine Country photo
Platypus Wine Tours owner Don Rickard with wife, Kathy, and their companions (left to right) PJ, Roscoe and Gertie. Nicole Marino/BigShot in Wine Country photo

Platypus Wine Tours officially celebrated 10 years of service to the Napa and Sonoma valleys this past September, though owner Don Rickard said he had dreams about creating this touring company long before its launch.

Rickard’s inspiration to start Platypus came from a tour he took in Bruges, Belgium, in 1999. It was his first trip to Europe.

“It was magical,” recalled Rickard.

Though traveling alone, Rickard said he was surprised at how much fun he had. “I could do whatever struck me at the moment; people would strike up conversations with me all the time,” he said. “Since I was alone, I was approachable — travelers tend to be very social people.”

Which is how he heard about a little bus tour in Bruges called Quasimodo Tours.

Rickard admitted he wasn’t inclined to take a bus tour as this trip was supposed to be his great backpacking adventure. Nevertheless, several travelers Rickard met while on his travels emphatically recommended that tour. “I learned firsthand the persuasive power of a personal testimonial,” he said.

Reluctantly, Rickard purchased a ticket, took the tour and loved it. He said the entire experience was more than he could have asked for: a tour guide who not only owned his bus, but had back-door access to all of the places toured that day.

“He was more than just a guide, he was a true insider,” recalled Rickard.

Three years later, Rickard settled down in Napa Valley, and took on the position of general manager for a restaurant called Market in St. Helena. This job gave him the perfect opportunity to connect with guests who were visiting the area to taste wine. At the same time, Rickard was building treasured relationships with owners and employees of many local wineries, including top-notch winemakers, he said.

It was then that Rickard started thinking about that little tour in Bruges, and how well that venture might play out in the valley.

In September 2003, Rickard purchased a used bus on eBay. After procuring all of the necessary licensing and permits, he started driving. He said his primary focus was on taking folks to back-road wineries, where he believes guests will be privy to an experience like no other.

“Getting my tour business off the ground was tough at first, but I did my very best to knock the socks off of every person who was willing to tour with me,” Rickard said. “Eventually that elusive word-of-mouth referral network began to kick in, and our little tour business started to grow.”

Rickard admitted that the name “Platypus Wine Tours” might be a tad unusual for those who don’t know him. After all, his tours have no connection whatsoever to marsupials, Australia or anything remotely aquatic.

The answer might be surprising, but is rather quite simple. “First, I like that word. It’s short and sweet. It’s also informal and sort of playful, which are themes I have always sought to associate with my tours,” Rickard explained. “I didn’t want us to be confused with any other tour company.”

Today, Platypus conducts multiple tours each day in Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and the Russian River/Healdsburg area. The business runs like a well-oiled machine largely thanks to its culture, the business owner said.

“We are a family of tour guides and support staff who embrace the same philosophy: Find a way to live up to, and hopefully exceed, the expectations of every single tour guest, every single day,” Rickard said.