Shuttle taps winery market

Bonnie Richards, owner of American Spirit Shuttle, shows her new tour vans and SUV parked at the Graystone Winery. The company offers vineyard and agricultural tours in the Palisade area.

What started as a small business with a funny name 15 years ago still is in the western Colorado transportation industry, working its way into niche after niche.

American Spirit Shuttle,, began business as “Get in, sit down and hold on,” or, GISDHO.

Owners Bonnie and Mike Richards changed the name soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, because it was a bit too odd and people “were looking for a hint of security in their travel plans,” Bonnie Richards said.

When she and Mike started the business, they knew they would be unable to offer taxi service because that license already was held by Sunshine Taxi.

They started with providing scheduled bus service to Powderhorn Ski Area and have since found new ways to take customers for rides.

The most recent is American Spirit’s trademarked Brewilery Tour.

“It has an emphasis on how beverages and spirits are produced,” Bonnie Richards said. The Brewilery tour starts with a lunch and tour at Palisade Brewery Co., then takes people to De Beque Canyon Winery and ends up at the Peach Street Distillers in Palisade.

Don’t mistake the “spirit” in American Spirit Shuttle for anything more than an educational tour for those interested in the making of adult beverages, though, Bonnie said.

“It’s with an emphasis on moderate tastings,” she said. “It’s really about how things are made, and it’s not about drinking to excess.”

The brewery-to-winery-to-distillery tour is just one of the niches American Spirit is working to fill with an updated fleet of two large passenger vans and a Chevrolet Suburban that the company purchased for a combined $67,000.

There’s another tour yet to come, and American Spirit is hoping to use the new vehicles to make some inroads into serving the oil and gas industry, Bonnie said.

With the advent of summer approaching, American Shuttle is geared up to begin filling a summertime niche, tours of Palisade’s orchards of peach, cherry and other trees, vineyards and wineries, roadside stores and the like.

“We’re really excited about the Palisade agriculture tour,” she said. “People love to come from the Front Range” to see the Palisade area, as well as Colorado National Monument, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the national parks across the state line in Utah.

“We are the wine-train people,” filling yet another niche, she said.

In that, American Spirit Shuttle provides the road transportation for Amtrak’s wine-country tours, taking people from the railroad depot to the wineries.

Bonnie also provides “step-on” service to motor-coach tours of the Grand Valley and surrounding attractions.

Perhaps the best part of that, she said, is “I don’t have to drive while I impart pearls of wisdom” about local history, culture and even paleontology.

During the winter, American Spirit’s niche shifts largely to shuttling passengers from Grand Junction Regional Airport to ski resorts such as Vail, Aspen and Telluride when airlines are unable to land their jets at the resort-community airports.

Summer also includes some similar work when the light, warm air makes it impossible for the same jets to land at high elevations, so they drop off passengers at valley airports such as Grand Junction. From there, American Spirit takes them by shuttle “to where they got their ticket for,” Bonnie said.

American Spirit also provides group transportation for conventions, weddings and other events, and it does some designated-driver jobs.

Early on, Bonnie and Mike took classes on how to run a small business at what is now the Grand Junction Business Incubator Center, she said.

On the list of things not to do, “We did every single one,” she said. “But we were still in business, and we still are 15 years later.”


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