Serving Those Who Served: Six Veteran-Owned Wine Brands in the United States
“I will never leave a fallen comrade,” “I will never leave an airman behind,” and “Semper Fidelis” (Forever Faithful) are core beliefs and values of the U.S. military. Memorized in initial formation, their meanings are lived throughout the service. But even after hanging up the uniform, veterans still feel the inexorable need to uphold those beliefs.
These veteran winemakers, vineyard owners, and brand owners use their civilian occupations to support their veteran brothers and sisters.
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 veteran majority team crafts wines from grapes grown in the Willamette Valley.
Location and quality are important, but Dauntless believes that the people tending the vines are also paramount. The team created the Dauntless Veteran Foundation (DVF) to help veterans translate skills learned in the military into farming.
2. Tackitt Family Vineyards, Paso Robles, CA
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.
However, some of Leon’s EOD siblings had more difficult transitions to civilian life, so the Tackitts established EOD wineries to provide donations to organizations that support the EOD community. These include the EOD Warrior Foundation, which provides support to injured EOD service members and their families, as well as the families of deceased EOD service members.
3. Purple Heart Wines, Sonoma County, California
Winemaker John Moynier served as a squadron training non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the U.S. 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 his recent retirement in 2021.
In 2015, Moynier developed the red wine blend Called Sonoma from Purple Heart Wines, part of the C. Mondavi & Family portfolio. Napa Valley winemaker and pioneer Peter Mondavi Sr. was also a veteran, having served in the US Army during World War II.
Each year, Purple Heart Wines makes a donation to the Purple Heart Foundation. Named after the medal awarded to military personnel injured or killed during wartime service, the Purple Heart Foundation provides support to veterans and their families.
4. Bella Luna Estate Wines, Paso Robles, CA
Kevin Healey and Sherman Smoot grew up as best friends, though they served their country in different ways: Kevin was in the Army in Vietnam and Sherman flew F-4Js for the Navy. The two met at their home in Paso Robles to establish 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 wine sales supports 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 crew chief in the US Air Force had a lasting impact on the couple. As co-owners of Singing Water Vineyards, the Ivankoviches uphold the winery’s tradition of championing Texas Hill Country wines and supporting veterans.
Singing Water’s Freedom Red Blend supports the United States military and veterans through organizations such as United Service Organizations (USO). The USO aims to keep “service members connected to family, home, and country” during their tenure and transition to civilian life.
6. Nine Iron Wine, California
After multiple deployments over 14 years, Brandon Casella left the military to work as a wine and spirits sales manager. 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 Nine Iron red, white and rosé wine sold is donated 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.