Dauntless Wine Company: Wine Helping Warriors
A Winery Using an Ancient Technique to Get Veterans Back on Their Feet
A veteran-owned and operated winery serving the veteran community
2018 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Prize Winner
Dauntless Wine Company
Dauntless Wine Company co-owner Ben Martin was working for a nonprofit agricultural project when he heard a bit of history that would take his life in a new direction. “I learned years back the French Foreign Legion built a chateau they would bring retired legionnaires to in order to grow grapes and make wine,” he said. “I thought it was a fantastic business model.”
The idea itself goes back thousands of years to Roman Legionaries. According to the Dauntless Wine Company website, “Soldiering and farming have been intertwined for millennia because both require hard work and attention to detail, while tending the land is perhaps one of the oldest methods of post-war therapy.”
Dauntless Wine Company aims to serve the veteran community through charitable contributions and helping veterans transition after their service with a unique professional alternative. The company was founded by three Iraq war combat veterans who felt that they could do more for their fellow veterans.
“There is a need for farming and a need to find steady employment opportunities for veterans, so the ideas went hand-in-hand for us,” Ben said. “Veterans know how to work long hours and have experience focusing on the details, both skills needed to become a good farmer.”
Ben shared the concept with his friends and fellow veterans Ryan Mills and Paul Warmbier, who loved the idea and became co-founders. Ben enrolled in a wine studies program with the goal of growing grapes and owning a vineyard, but they soon found that vineyards come with a high upfront cost. Instead, they decided to start a winery, trading grapes for access to the needed equipment to launch their brand. “The long-term goal is still to own a vineyard for veterans to come and decompress in an agricultural setting,” said Ben.
In their first year, they partnered with nonprofit Farmer Veteran Coalition, which helps veterans become farmers. The organization provided Ben and the team with their initial grant to bottle their first vintage wine, purchased from another winemaker. The following year, they received help from a family member with a vineyard who told the team they could pick as many grapes as they could handle. They walked away with eight tons, allowing them to start making their own wine.
Ben credits his work ethic to his time in the military where mantras like “adapt and overcome” and “do it better for less” were engrained into his daily habits. “I learned how to be flexible and make things work, no matter what it takes,” he said. “We have a small and scrappy team with a large vision that resonates with a lot of people.”
Ben said the name of their company says it all. “Be dauntless. Don’t be scared of diving into the unknown. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. Hard work and attention to detail are the biggest skills that help me stay motivated on a daily basis.”
2018 is the first year they’ve surpassed 1,000-case production. “Our two- to three-year goal is to hit 5,000-case production and eventually max out at 10,000 cases. We are at a point where we would like to bottle the wine at our own facility with our own equipment, but we want to maintain a boutique level of quality and not lose sight of who we are.”
Right now, Dauntless Wine is carried in a few local wine shops in Bend, Oregon, but breaking into the distribution world has been an uphill climb. They do as much direct-to-consumer selling as possible, and Ben has had to primarily distribute by himself. “I’m a competitive person, and I don’t want to lose no matter what,” he said. ”I also want to strive for excellence in everything that I’m doing. I like being the underdog, and I have no problem putting our wine up against some of the biggest names in Oregon.”
Ben attributes the positive feedback their wine receives to the time he personally spends in the cellar. “I’ve heard from people that it tastes smooth and has great flavor depth,” he said, pointing out they have a personal relationship with every tank and barrel. “I don’t want to lose that relationship because that’s what makes our wine great.”
The owners' experience rallying votes in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest helped them see that Dauntless Wine has a loyal following. They plan to put the grant money to use right away with a larger campaign to expand their location and hire more veterans.
“We would like to employ more veterans as we grow,” Ben said. “Our vision is to produce multiple products and use our site for more than just winemaking. We want to offer a wide array of products that allow veterans to get their hands dirty and work in multiple ways. To do that, we need to find a new location and distribution into some large markets.”
Ben sees a bright future ahead, but he has kept himself grounded by recognizing where they started. “I never thought I would be where I am today. We didn’t come from deep pockets, so to be where we are now is incredible.”
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