From California to Italy, wine tasting used to be a formal occasion marked by exclusivity and sophistication. Today, members of the military community say wine is becoming an inclusive industry with room for anyone who enjoys it.
“I really loved the whole experience,” said Maj. Jen McClary. “Anything from tasting and smelling wine, but also really learning about wine.” McClary loved it so much that she turned it into a second career. She is currently serving in the Army as an Operations Research Systems Analyst at West Point (she’s also a military spouse). But when she’s not in uniform, you’ll find McClary making wine approachable over at her website, Grape Juice Mom. What started as a simple way to share her experiences has blossomed into an entire community of wine lovers eager to learn more. “I love connecting with people and helping them find the right wine for them and why they love what they love.”
Like so many others, McClary took advantage of the virtual opportunities that became available in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I started with a Level 2 Certified Sommelier program through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust,” said McClary. “I had stacks of note cards to memorize a lot of different facts about wines across the world.”
McClary says wine is a versatile industry with a range of career opportunities. While she focuses on education, others use formal wine education to have a leg up in the service industry or to pursue wine sales and marketing. What’s more, many opportunities can be found outside of the traditional wine production regions, and even remotely. “I think that’s where we’re starting to see a lot of opportunities for military spouses specifically,” McClary said.
In fact, the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarship can be used to cover the cost of some of these certifications. The workforce development program provides up to $4,000 in financial assistance to eligible military spouses seeking employment in certain career fields, wine and spirits included. “The wine industry is really fun if your passion is there and there are a lot of collaboration opportunities,” said McClary. “There are also a lot of veterans in the space,” she added.
Ben Martin, owner of Dauntless Wine Cø., is one of those veterans making a name for himself in the business. Martin served as an Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) crewman with the 7th Marine regiment before attending college to study viticulture and enology, a move that paved the way for starting Dauntless. “We just jumped in headfirst, and that’s kind of how we got our name,” Martin said. “We had no prior experience, but we had a mission in mind and a can-do attitude.”
Each wine label at Dauntless depicts military history, using striking images to ensure the past is never forgotten. It’s fitting that Dauntless Wine Cø. is also home to an entire team of veterans. “Everybody that’s come to us has sought us out, which has been great,” Martin said. “It’s kind of a nice affirmation that we’re on track and doing the right thing because people want to be a part of what we’re doing.”
So much so that Martin launched Dauntless Veteran Foundation in 2020. Their mission is to help veterans translate their strengths from the field to the farm. With training and mentorship, the hope is for rehabilitation through agriculture. This method of reintegration is personal for Martin. “I wanted to make something with my hands again,” he said. “I missed that, you know? Having a tangible result or product.”
As McClary and Martin blaze different trails within the same industry, they agree that there are opportunities waiting for whoever is interested. “If you’re really into wine, and you’re into the military, you can become one of the best proponents and advocates for spreading quality wine across the country,” Martin said. “It’s almost like the military to some degree. You have the military broadly, but then you’ve got all these jobs underneath. The same thing happens with viticulture and winemaking.”