Marine Corps birthday celebration at Dauntless / Photo by Ben Martin
“I will never leave a fallen comrade,” “I will never leave an Airman behind” and “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful) are at the core of the U.S. military’s beliefs and values. Memorized in initial training, their meanings are lived over the course of one’s service. But even after hanging up the uniform, veterans still feel the inexorable draw to uphold those beliefs.
These veteran winemakers, winery 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 who tend the vines are also paramount. The team established the Dauntless Veteran Foundation (DVF) to help veterans translate skills learned in the military to agriculture.
2. Tackitt Family Vineyards, Paso Robles, CA
When he served with the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Leon Tackitt was responsible for rendering explosive materials safe. In retirement, he and his wife took over the family business, Tackitt Family Vineyards, in Paso Robles.
Some of Leon’s EOD brothers and sisters had more difficult transitions to civilian life, though, 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 wounded EOD service members and their families, as well as to the families of fallen EOD service members.
3. Purple Heart Wines, Sonoma County, CA
Winemaker John Moynier served as a Squadron Training Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) in the U.S. Air Force from 1968–1972. A graduate of the University of California, Davis, he was a winemaker at C. Mondavi & Family from 1985 until his recent retirement in 2021.
In 2015, Moynier developed the blend for Purple Heart Wines Sonoma-appellated Red Wine, which is a part of the C. Mondavi & Family portfolio. Winemaker and Napa Valley pioneer Peter Mondavi Sr. was also a veteran, having served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Annually, Purple Heart Wines donates to the Purple Heart Foundation. Named for the medal awarded to service members wounded or killed during wartime service, the Purple Heart Foundation provides support to combat 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 reunited back home in Paso Robles to establish Bella Luna Estate Winery.
Emblazoned with 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 wounded and deceased veterans.