Get to Know Some of Oregon's Veteran-owned Wineries

Get to Know Some of Oregon’s Veteran-owned Wineries

Oregon has a long tradition of formal and civic observances of Memorial Day, the last Monday of every May that the federal government asks citizens to set aside work to remember those who have died during their U.S. military service. People attend parades and gather for programs held at local cemeteries or memorials. Volunteers, relatives and friends place flags and flowers on graves of American military veterans. Wine lovers in Oregon can find plenty to do on Memorial Day and the weekend preceding, especially in winery events listed here on the OWB calendar.

Why not take an active part in Oregon veteran viticulture by visiting some veteran-owned wineries on or around Memorial Day? Here are three stories from veterans now earning their stripes in winemaking located throughout Oregon:

Los Rocosos Vineyards

Vietnam veteran Roger Lemstrom and his wife Lucinda run Los Rocosos, with its tasting room neatly tucked into the primary vineyard behind their home in the heart of The Rocks District AVA of Milton-Freewater, Oregon. Los Rocosos means rocky, and the vineyard lives up to its name.

The relaxed setting of their tasting room tells stories of their lifelong travels as Roger also served in the Peace Corps in Fiji. Now 70, Roger began his wine education at Southern Oregon Wine Institute (SOWI) at Umpqua Community College at the age of 60.

The story goes that Roger was living in the Medford area doing high-end construction project work when his doctor suggested he get into a less demanding line of work. Armed with a nice bottle of wine and Netflix, one night he watched the movie Bottleshock and was awestruck with the story “of the middle-aged guy leaving his law practice, and trying to make a go of starting a winery.” Needless to say, Roger followed suit.

Having lived in both Oregon and Washington, after graduating from SOWI he did a few internships until he was ready to start his own wine adventure. In 2016, he bought a distressed vineyard in Milton-Freewater that had been on the market over a year. Many who visit his estate vineyard and tasting room leave refreshed, hopeful and exuberant having talked with Roger and his wife about second, and third chances in life. They often receive hugs upon leaving, destined to return. Over half of their visitors travel from Portland, Boise, Spokane, Salt Lake City, and Montana, and Los Rocosos has experienced double digit growth over the past two years. All viticulture is organic and sustainable and all fruit is hand-harvested. They make between 400 – 900 cases of wine per year, and source to nine additional vineyards throughout Oregon and Washington.

This spring at the 2024 Savor Northwest Wine and Culinary Festival, Los Rococos netted three gold medals for their 2021 Sangiovese, the 2019 Tempranillo, and the 2022 Sauvignon Blanc. 

The fruit for Los Rocosos wines is primarily sourced at their estate vineyard, where they grow Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, with eight acres under vine. 

They also own two smaller vineyards located near Walla Walla in Washington, where they grow their estate Sangiovese as well as Italian grapes Nebbiolo, Barbera, Carménère, Dolcetto, and Counoise.

They source their Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc fruit from Oasis Vineyards in Prosser, Washington and their Albariño from a nearby Oregon winery.

Are they open on Memorial Day? Yes, they’re open everyday from noon to 5. Drop ins are welcome and reservations are welcome too. More on Los Rocosos here on the OWB site.

Dauntless Wine Cø.

Another Veteran owned winery in Oregon has roots running deep in the Willamette Valley. Originally called Leatherneck Cellars, Dauntless Wine Cø was founded by Marine Veteran and winemaker Ben Martin, and two fellow servicemen Paul Warmbier and Ryan Mills in Forest Grove in 2014.

Shortly after the winery began, Dauntless was awarded a grant from the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), and then received a second grant the next year to bottle its first vintage. Harvest of 2016 saw 11 tons crushed in total.

Much about their origin story involved collaboration with partner wineries such as using production space at ADEA in Gaston and Laurel Ridge in Carlton, volunteering at A Blooming Hill vineyard (now Sidereus) in return for cellar space, and sourcing Pinot noir from Jesse Estate Vineyard.

In 2018, Ben took the keys to the first Dauntless tasting room in Forest Grove, his hometown. He received further funds from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2020 to buy 2.63 hectares (6.5 acres) in the Chehalem Mountains AVA for an estate winery and vineyard.

Robust sales have launched Dauntless, including its wines at the National World War II museum in New Orleans. “They reached out to us and wanted to carry our wines – in particular our Riveter Rosé,” says Martin in an interview with Lyn Archer for The Drinks Business, “which fit in nicely with their rooftop bar named after Rosie the Riveter.”

Additionally, the Dauntless team established a philanthropic foundation for veteran farmers in 2021. Through the non-profit, Dauntless Veteran Foundation, awarded more than $50,000 has been awarded annually to farmer-veterans each year in the past two years.­­­ Recipients of the grants include students, farmers, veteran dependents, and most reside in the Pacific Northwest.

Dauntless Wine Cø. currently produces almost 1,500 -1,800 cases annually and their fun tasting room in the heart of Forest Grove is almost like a military museum in itself. Wines they make are the typical Oregon pinot noir, Merlot and Syrah and they also carry some special varieties people may have not tasted, such as Schöenburger and Blanc noir.

Open Memorial Day from in downtown Forest Grove Friday and Saturday from 3-9pm, and at Old 47 Estate Saturday and Sunday from 1-6PM. Live music Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Weekend proceeds benefit the non-profit Fallen Patriots whose mission is to provide college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty.

Cerebella Winery and Zimmel Code Cellars

Situated in Eastern Oregon is Veteran-owned Cerebella Winery, also known as Zimmel Code Cellars. Owned by Robb Zimmel, founder and winemaker (Code is his father-in-law’s last name), he founded the Pendleton winery in 2010. Originally from North Dakota, Zimmel is a U.S. Army Reserves veteran who served as a combat medic in Iraq and Afghanistan. He first came to Oregon to work as a paramedic in the Portland/Vancouver area.

While deployed in Iraq, he said “the tempo of caring for patients was overwhelming.”  In the first nine months, he saw “well over 1,000 patient contacts, performing over 300 surgeries. There was no finish line, they just kept coming one after another and it takes a lot out of you, not to mention the horrific cases you see,” he said.

Having taken some wine coursework at Clark College before his deployment to the Middle East, he knew he was ready for a career change, but didn’t know if he could successfully do it at 43 years-old when he was coming back stateside. After explaining that to an older medical colleague, the man laughed and said he may as well be 43 with a degree rather than without.

He made one call via a satellite phone stationed in the desert to a Washington State University Viticulture and Enology professor and asked one question: “tell me about your wine science program.” The professor did, and the rest was history; Zimmel wasted no time and said that literally off the plane, he went to campus to enroll.

He graduated with a degree in viticulture and enology, and he reflects on his decision to switch careers as something he needed to heal and take care of himself, while still nurturing others.

Cerebella Winery specializes in producing small-lot, handcrafted wines using grapes sourced from some of the best vineyards in the Pacific Northwest. The winery’s portfolio includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.

Interest in the winery is on the up and up, with online sales recently spiking and Walla Walla tasting groups taking note of Cerebella. Robb and his GM Michelle think this may have something to do with winning a double gold for their 2019 Malbec at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Forbes columnist Joe Micallef also noted Cerebella’s as the top Malbec in the competition, with these tasting notes:

“Great fruit, including cherries and blackberries, with lovely aromatics that lead to a juicy middle and a really nice finish. The oaky and well-balanced characteristics further enhance the wine, creating a delightful expression of this varietal.”

To try this winning wine, visit Cerebella Winery’s reservation page to book a spot for the holiday weekend if you’re in or around Pendleton on Memorial Day, or anytime!