A former Air Force special agent-turned winemaker is teaming up with veteran-focused nonprofits to bless military members and their families.
Retired Master Sgt. Corey Christman is the owner of Bravery Wines, a New York wine label named for the “courageous character” of veterans and first responders. During the month of May, every wine duo sold will generate $5 for the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a charity focusing on wounded service members and their families.
“I want to be known as a giver, not a taker,” said Christman. “We knew from a very early point with Bravery Wines that we would be giving back to some organization that worked with veterans.”
Agent to agriculture
That team-focused attitude is something Christman learned in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). From 2004 until his retirement in 2012, the native New Yorker served as director of operations and chief of police/special agent in charge. It taught him how “to be a chameleon,” he explains.
“We had to wear many hats in OSI,” Christman said. “Those of us in business now thank our lucky stars we got to serve in OSI first ― because it prepared us for the many challenges of entrepreneurship.”
Once Christman finished his 20 years as an airman, including in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he briefly entered the corporate world. But the lifestyle wasn’t for him, and he began looking for alternatives. He considered himself a “country guy” and occasionally tried his hand at winemaking through at-home kits. But what would happen, he wondered, if he attempted to make wine with actual grapes?
“I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t know much about the wine-making process, and that I needed to get more education,” Christman said.
He discovered a hybrid certificate program at Washington State University in enology (the study of wines). After a year of classes on topics like wine chemistry, marketing and “sensory evaluation of wine,” he graduated in 2015.
Next came an internship at a vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York, an area world-renowned for its wines. Christman fell so in love with Anthony Road Wine Company that he held his wedding there in 2017 ― on Veterans Day, of course. Their vineyard continues to grow the grapes that eventually make their way into Bravery bottles.
In November 2020, after several years of learning and working in vineyards, Christman and his wife Jennifer (a Yellow Ribbon Fund board member) officially launched Bravery Wines. From the beginning, he said, the “goal has been to raise awareness for our military members.”
“We still, right now, have service members in harm’s way, people who are doing spectacular things,” Christman said. “I hope the little bit we’re able to do [with Bravery Wine sales] can ease the pain of what they’re experiencing, because they help us be the nation we are.”
Currently, Bravery offers a Riesling, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Vignoles and a white blend. Despite the length of time it took to arrive here, Christman is still getting used to living his dream.
“I could have created a label in 2014, but that wasn’t the mission,” he said. “The mission was to learn how to make great wine and learn how to do the process ― not just take the easy way.”
One look at Christman’s schedule shows he rarely takes the easy way. He and Jennifer have plans to add more vintages in the future, as well as support more military-connected nonprofits.
He shrugs away any adulation. “I love keeping what the grapes are giving us and translating that into a product that people will enjoy,” he said. “And build a brand they believe in.”