Serving Those Who Served: Six brands of wine owned by veterans in the United States
“I will never leave a fallen comrade”, “I will never leave an aviator behind me” and “Semper Fidelis” (Always Loyal) are at the heart of the beliefs and values of the US military. Memorized in initial formation, their meanings are experienced throughout the service. But even after hanging up the uniform, veterans still feel the inexorable pull of standing up for those beliefs.
These veteran winemakers, vineyard owners and brand owners use their civic occupations to support their veteran siblings.
1. Dauntless Wine Company, Willamette Valley, OR
After serving in Iraq, Marine Corps veterans Ben Martin and Paul Warmbier and Navy Corpsman veteran Ryan Mills founded the Dauntless Wine Company. Understanding that good wine comes from good grapes, their majority team of veterans craft wines from grapes grown in the Willamette Valley.
Location and quality are important, but Dauntless believes that the people who take care of the vines are also paramount. The team created the Dauntless Veteran Foundation (DVF) to help veterans translate skills learned in the military into agriculture.
2. Tackitt Family Vineyards, Paso Robles, California
While serving in the US Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Leon Tackitt was responsible for securing explosive materials. Upon retirement, he and his wife took over the family business, Tackitt Family Vineyards, in Paso Robles.
Some of Leon’s EOD siblings had more difficult transitions to civilian life, so the Tackitts established EOD cellars to provide donations to organizations that support the EOD community. These include the EOD Warrior Foundation, which provides support to injured service members and their families, as well as the families of deceased service members.
3. Purple Heart Wines, Sonoma County, California
Winemaker John Moynier served as a squadron training non-commissioned officer in the US Air Force from 1968 to 1972. A graduate of the University of California, Davis, he was a winemaker with C. Mondavi & Family from 1985 until upon his recent retirement in 2021.
In 2015, Moynier developed the blend for Purple Heart Wines Sonoma-called Vin Rouge, which is part of the C. Mondavi & Family portfolio. Napa Valley winemaker and pioneer Peter Mondavi Sr. was also a veteran, having served in the United States Army during World War II.
Each year Purple Heart Wines donates to the Purple Heart Foundation. Named after the medal awarded to service members injured or killed in war, the Purple Heart Foundation supports veterans and their families.
4. Bella Luna Estate Wines, Paso Robles, CA
Kevin Healey and Sherman Smoot grew up as best friends, although they served their country in different ways: Kevin was in the military in Vietnam, and Sherman flew F-4Js for the navy. The two came together at their home in Paso Robles to found Bella Luna Estate Winery.
Sporting an image of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bella Luna produces Fighter Pilot Red, a single-vineyard Zinfandel sourced from the Adelaida District AVA. A portion of the wine sales support the children of injured and deceased veterans.
5. Singing Water Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, TX
Andy and Missy Ivankovich worked in different career fields before turning to wine production, and Andy’s time as a team leader in the US Air Force had a lasting impact on the couple. As co-owners of Singing Water Vineyards, the Ivankoviche continue the winery’s tradition of championing Texas Hill Country wines and supporting veterans.
Singing Water’s Freedom Red Blend supports the U.S. military and veterans through organizations such as United Service Organizations (USO). The USO aims to keep “military personnel connected to their families, homes and countries” during their tenure and transition to civilian life.
6. Nine Iron Wine, California
After several deployments over 14 years, Brandon Casella left the military to work as director of wine and spirits sales. Casella met Blake Barnes on the golf course, and although Barnes had a civilian background, he shared Casella’s passion for golf, wine, and service to those who served.
The duo founded Nine Iron Wine. Every bottle of red, white and rosé Nine Iron’s sold provides donations to Camp Hope. Located in Houston, Texas, Camp Hope helps veterans and families of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on their journey to recovery.