Veteran-owned wine company in Gaston wins national grant
When Ben Martin joined the U.S. Marine Corps just a week before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he had no idea what to expect. He didn't know he would be part of the invasion on Iraq in 2003, and he didn't know he would be serving alongside two men who would later become his good friends and business partners.
After getting out of the Marine Corps in 2006, Martin, who grew up in Forest Grove and graduated from Forest Grove High School, tried out several career paths before deciding to go back to school. After arguing the same point as another student in his philosophy class at Portland Community College, the two struck up a conversation. His classmate Paul Warmbier and Martin had both served in the Marine Corps at the same time, both stationed in Twentynine Palms, Calif., just east of Los Angeles, but they hadn't met before.
Warmbier introduced Martin to a friend of his, Ryan Mills, who was also stationed in Twentynine Palms at the same time. The three became good friends, and one day in 2014, after drinking a few glasses of wine, Mills and Warmbier listened to Martin's business pitch. They decided right there and then they would open up a veteran-owned winery, Dauntless Wine Co. in Gaston.
Four years later, while Dauntless is still a work in progress, the company is quickly earning recognition from all over the country.
The winery was one of this year's FedEx small business grant recipients. The company was awarded $7,500 in grant money as well as $1,000 in FedEx print and office services.
Dauntless was chosen as a finalist for the grant not only for its viable business plan, but also for using their business to impact their community in a positive manner, said Andrew Fromm, a media consultant with FedEx.
"While these entrepreneurs are a driving force in the success of our economy, they're also giving back to their local communities and we're proud to fuel their contributions," said Tracy Brightman, senior vice president of Human Resources and Communications for FedEx.
After finalists were selected, it was then contingent on which 10 companies got the greatest number of votes online, and in the end, Dauntless was one of them.
Although Dauntless is still a small business, the three veteran owners made sure giving back to other veterans would always be part of the plan. Dauntless donates 100 percent of its year-end profits to veteran charity groups.
"We have been giving back to the Farmer Veteran Coalition because they helped us in our first year," Martin said. "We also donate wine to veteran charity auctions. By sending our wine to these galas, it can then raise more money than we could afford to send."
The Dauntless owners also work with Folds of Honor, Pets for Vets, Bunker Labs and hope to soon work with the local Returning Veterans Project, Martin said.
While Dauntless doesn't yet have its own winery space or vineyard, the owners are working actively to pursue this goal. They currently rent space and equipment from Adea Wine Co. in Gaston to make their wine, while they get their feet underneath them.
When Dauntless is using the tasting room at Adea, there are military hats hung on the walls and on the bar, as well as a large American flag. Once the wine company has its own space, it will include much more symbolic military decor, Martin said, to share stories of history with guests.
"Our mission besides helping veterans is to make great wine and tell a story with it at the same time," Martin said. "There are a lot of interesting things that come out of the military that we take for granted."
Each of Dauntless' wines has a label with symbolic war art and includes a message on the back sharing the history of the image. The images include the Battle of Trenton, a trebuchet, a howitzer, Rosie the Riveter and no-man's-land, as a commemoration of opening their business on the centennial of World War I.
When Martin found out Dauntless was a winner of the FedEx grant from 7,800 entries, he was shocked. He applied on a whim, he said, after a friend told him about it.
"I mean, I wanted to be optimistic the whole time, but still when you get told that, it's still a great feeling," he said. "The money is great, but all of the extended relationships that are forming because of that are probably more valuable than the money itself."
Since winning the money, Martin said he has been contacted by several people wanting to help the business grow further, including a restaurant in Chicago that wants to sell bottles of Dauntless' wine on their shelves.
"A lot of people have just been supportive across the board," Martin said. "It's way more than we anticipated happening."
While Martin and his two partners had no idea what they were getting themselves into initially, they knew one thing for sure: They were fearless and determined, or in a word, dauntless.
"I didn't plan to be at this point," Martin said. "We have a very supportive group behind us. It's been quite an incredible process.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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