NEWS / FEATURES
Iraq war veterans Ryan Mills, Paul Warmbier and Ben Martin create wine with a mission. Here they stand at the Evergreen Air & Space Museum in McMinnville. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser.

Dauntless, Determined

By Viki Eierdam

More than any other sector, veterans struggle with homelessness and unemployment. Even those returning with few physical injuries must deal with significant mental and emotional scars. One group of men in the Willamette Valley has taken their personal stories and launched a wine company aimed at tackling these tough issues, restoring dignity to wounded soldiers in the process.

Ryan Mills (2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment) at combat outpost in the Zaidan (30 kilometers south of Fallujah), Al Anbar Province, Iraq, fall 2005. ##Photo provided

Dauntless Wine Cømpany was founded in 2014 by Marine veterans Ryan Mills, Ben Martin and Paul Warmbier; each served at least one deployment in Iraq.

From the battlefield to their communities back home, they continue to apply their unique skills in helping others. For example, Mills and Warmbier worked for Team Rubicon, an organization that joins the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency rescue teams.

After years of working with other nonprofit organizations helping veterans, the three decided to try a different approach, drawing inspiration from the French Foreign Legion. Evidence dating to Roman times suggests that land was granted to returning soldiers, which many planted in vines. More recently, the Institution des Invalides de la Legion Etrangère was created in 1953 in the shadow of the Sainte Victoire Mountain in the south of France. It is a château where retired legionnaires can live out their days and tend to The Legion vineyards.

Ben Martin (AAV Plt. 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 31st MEU) at Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, during Philippine civil war (Global War on Terrorism), summer 2005. Photo provided ##Photo provided

This concept resonated with Martin.

“Studies have shown that tactile therapy — being able to work with your hands and be in a comfortable environment — is good for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and PTSD. Combat veterans, for their whole enlistment, are trying to destroy with extreme prejudice. We’re introducing the flip side; creating something is the idea behind it,” Martin explained.

Still in its infancy, Dauntless currently crafts wines out of the ADEA winemaker studio in Gaston.

Their labels tell the story. No Man’s Land Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir, comprised of all Wädenswil, depicts the wasteland that claimed many of the 20 million lives lost during World War I.

Paul Warmbier (2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment) in the Zaidan, Al Anbar Province, Iraq, fall 2005. ##Photo provided

“We remember this war and horror so as to honor those who gave their lives in the trenches,” Warmbier added.

The wine itself, gently pressed, unfiltered and minimally fined, was aged in French oak, on the lees and stirred to provide a full flavor profile.

Dauntless’ most popular wine, Howitzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, pays homage to the artillery piece dating to the 1420s — American oak lends it a more robust character.

Offering a crisp balance of fruit and floral notes, Trenton Willamette Valley Pinot Gris depicts a scene honoring the Battle of Trenton, the historically significant conflict waged on a frigid morning in December 1776.

The fourth and final wine, Dauntless’ barrel-select Pinot Noir Reserve, is a sage offering with the complexity of experience and elegance of perseverance; the label’s rifle stack represents the three men coming together to create the winery.

Iraq war veterans Ryan Mills, Paul Warmbier and Ben Martin create wine with a mission. Here they stand at the Evergreen Air & Space Museum in McMinnville. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser.

Current case production for 2015 sits at only 300 — still in barrel, 2016 production is estimated at 800 to 900 — but the partners have a vision that’s gaining momentum. Their objective is to purchase a vineyard and support a totally veteran staff. They even envision long-term housing options for returning soldiers with rehabilitation opportunities.

“The thing with veterans is they want to be around like-minded individuals,” said Martin. “They need space to do meaningful work and a creative space to feel safe and not judged by society. Granted, right now, we can’t hire all the veterans we want to, but the ones we’re able to hire have been so grateful. Our goal is to offer them a safe place, and I don’t think a lot of veterans think of agriculture as an opportunity.”

The outpouring of support has spurred on Dauntless. From Dean Fisher at ADEA to Jesse Estate Vineyards and Sass Winery, the industry has shown support in ways Martin never would’ve imagined. He went on to say that Gary Mortenson of Stoller Family Estate was instrumental in helping Dauntless refine their brand before they even had a label. 

Trenton Willamette Valley Pinot Gris depicts a scene honoring the Battle of Trenton, December 1776. No Man’s Land Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir, made from 100-percent Wädenswil, shows the wasteland that claimed many of the 20 million lives lost during World War I. Howitzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir pays homage to the artillery piece dating to the 1420s. Dauntless Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir features three rifles representing the owners coming together to create the winery. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser.

Registered with Homegrown by Heroes — the branding arm of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) — Dauntless received a $5,000 grant from the FVC, instrumental in paying for bottles and labels for their 2015 vintage. They’ve made a voluntary decision to repay that kindness to ensure that the FVC is available for other veterans.

Future profits will support local veteran charities. NW Battle Buddies, located in Battle Ground, Washington, has been discussed. The organization trains and donates service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. “We love what they do for veterans on the person-to-person level,” said Warmbier .

When Dauntless case production grows, they’d like to earmark each individual offering for a different charity and give back even more on a national level.

Dauntless also wants to be a clearing house, of sorts, for vineyards seeking veteran help, veterans hoping to start their own vineyards and everything in between in the Willamette Valley area. They’re already fielding local calls as well as inquiries from California. Their driving force is to help veterans and they recognize agriculture as the synergistic platform for their cause.

“We need farmers. Veterans need meaningful work,” Martin said. “They (military veterans) have attention to detail. They know hard work. They’re accustomed to long days. They don’t shirk responsibilities. It’s just a perfect fit, I think.”

For more information, go to www.dauntlesswine.com.

Viki Eierdam is the wine columnist for The Columbian and a freelance writer. She lives in Battle Ground, Washington.

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