Vets in the Vineyard
November 7, 2017
This Saturday, November 11, we honor the men and women who put it all on the line to keep our homeland safe. Today, we recognize our Paso Wine veterans who transitioned from the service to making wine in Paso Robles.
John Backer, August Ridge Vineyards, Leon Tackitt, Tackitt Family Vineyards, and Sherman Smoot, Bella Luna Winery all served in the United States Armed Forces before making their way to Paso Wine Country. Learn about their experience in the service and help us honor them in this week’s Paso Uncorked.
John Backer, August Ridge Vineyards
What branch of the military did you serve? When? I was in the US Navy from 1983 – 2005. 10 years on active duty, 13 years in the active reserve. Retired as a Commander.
How and when did you venture into winemaking? I started making wine in the late ’90s. I married a woman of Italian descent who is the world’s best cook. She promptly kicked me out of the kitchen and into the garage so my choice was either work on cars or make wine. Since I really like to eat, I went with wine. We did Italian varietals as that is the best food/wine pairing in the world; we like to do things together. The growing was a natural outgrowth of my family history — I am the fifth generation in my family to farm grapes in California. My daughter loves being a sixth generation California farmer but I don’t think she actually knows what it means…
Transitioning from the armed forces to winemaking? Any similarities? Biggest differences? The military is very directive and winemaking is an opinion based science! The similarities are that things have to happen when they have to happen and both are very cyclical in nature. That’s about it. And the fact that winemakers and sailors both tend to drink a lot…
Boot camp or harvest- what is tougher? Harvest is much harder! In harvest, things are never the same and as the winemaker, I’m always having to figure out what to do next. In boot camp, everything was always the same, and I was always being told what to do next! …and the food is better at harvest (see answer #2 – “the world’s best cook”).
Does your wine or brand have any military connection (name, label, donation to military charity, etc.)? It does not. I’m proud of my service but that was a different period in my life on which I tend not to dwell. The charities we will always support are children’s charities and animal welfare charities of various sorts.
If you were to characterize each branch of the military as a wine, which variety would best fit each branch and why? I’ll go with rum for the Navy, whiskey for the Marines, beer for the Army, and Sprite for the Air Force. Huh, no wine? The Navy is the traditionalist and rum is the sailor’s drink. The Marines are the point of the spear, ready for anything and need the backbone stiffener. The Army is in it for the long haul and needs the complete meal that beer brings along. And the Air Force is a highly technically competent group that isn’t old enough to drink yet!
What lesson from your service do you still live by today? Get up early. Meet your responsibilities first. Take care of each other and take care of those who take care of you. Know when to follow orders and when to ask questions. A leader works for their people not the other way around — listen to them. Family is really important. Your family isn’t just the people you are related to. Be grateful to whatever it is in which you believe that another dawn is here and that we are still here to see it.
Leon Tackitt, Tackitt Family Vineyards
What branch of the military did you serve? When? Navy, 1980 – 2007. Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). Military Bomb Squad
How and when did you venture into winemaking? After spending 27 years in the Navy, my wife and I were looking for a new path to fame, fortune, and indebtedness. We figured, what better way than the wine industry.
Transitioning from the armed forces to winemaking? Any similarities? Biggest differences? Team effort. Paso is one big winemaking team, and we all have a similar goal -to put Paso on the winemaking map. No one is in a hurry to get anywhere or care when you get there. The Military is hurry up and wait all of the time.
Boot camp or harvest- what is tougher? No contest, harvest for sure. They at least let you sleep in boot camp!
Does your wine or brand have any military connection (name, label, donation to military charity, etc.)? EOD Cellars – portion of every bottle goes to the EOD Warrior Foundation www.eodwarriorfoundation.org
If you were to characterize each branch of the military as a wine, which variety would best fit each branch and why? Marines: Malbec, the bully grape. Army: SauvBlanc, the green machine. Airforce: Pinot Grigio, when we get there, we get there. Navy: Cabernet Sauvignon, anytime, anywhere.
Write us tasting notes for one of your wines in military speak. EOD Cellars “Master Blaster Red” – An explosive scent of raspberries, cherries and rose detonate from the glass in this unique blend. Its flavor is grounded out of intense pomegranate, blueberry, and juniper. The finish is firm and demanding, like a drill sergeant who missed his morning coffee. You will drink this wine for any occasion or drop and give me 20!
Sherman Smoot, Bella Luna Winery
What branch of the military did you serve? When? US Navy fighter pilot. 1971-1981. I Flew F-4 Phantoms.
How and when did you venture into winemaking? Started learning winemaking from partner Kevin Healey in 1998 when we started Bella Luna together.
Transitioning from the armed forces to winemaking? Any similarities? Biggest differences? After leaving Navy active duty, I flew for Continental Airlines for 28 years and retired in 2005. I started the winery in 1998. With a degree in BioSci learning winemaking was fairly painless. Owning a winery is great. I get to do the two things I love the most… Flying and drinking wine.
Does your wine or brand have any military connection (name, label, donation to military charity, etc.)? We produce a wine called “Fighter Pilot Red”, a Zin which just scored 92 pts from Wine Enthusiast Mag. We have been making this wine since 2001 and it sort of put us on the map. Very popular with the aviation community. The label has a rendition of a military type medal. We donate a portion of the sales of this wine to a military charity.
If you were to characterize each branch of the military as a wine, which variety would best fit each branch and why? Zinfandel for the US Navy, high in alcohol but can still maintain its boldness and character. US Army would be a Barbera, rich in tradition age-worthy, and for the US Air Force, a Cabernet, complex and many different styles to choose from.
Write us tasting notes for one of your wines in military speak. “Fighter Pilot Red” – Nose, attention on deck; Palate, 56K LB cat shot; Finish, OK 3 wire.
What lesson from your service do you still live by today? Simple! Honor, Country, Flag.