July 2, 2019
In honor of the Fourth of July, we are highlighting four Paso Winemakers who served in the United States Armed Forces.
Stuart Goldman – Frolicking Frog Cellars, Hal Schmitt – Volatus, Greg Martin – Seven Angels Cellars, and John Pianetta – Pianetta Winery, we salute you and thank you, along with all the others who sacrificed so much for our freedom.
What branch of the military did you serve? When? My service number was called during the Vietnam conflict. I had a ticket to Woodstock Concert, but it was the same day that I had to report for enlistment, duty to my Country that is! – the rest is history. I enlisted in the US Navy, served on two ships during 1969 to 1974, USS Amphion, (AR-13) was the lead ship of her class of repair ship and the USS Falcon, (AM-28/ASR-2) was a Lapwing-class minesweeper.
How and when did you venture into winemaking? In the fall of 1989, I ventured in making a Rosé out of our Old Mission vines and another Rosé from our vigorous Santa Rosa Plum tree. I received Silver Medals in the Homewine competition in 1991. I originally had an AP under Rainbows End Winery in San Miguel then was able to obtain my permit for our winery at our current location residence in Atascadero. This year will be our 19th harvest as a bonded winery.
Transitioning from the armed forces to winemaking? Any similarities? Biggest differences? No similarities actually at all in these two responsibilities. Actually, a lot more decision making as a winemaker. In the military you have a job, you are required to perform, and some parts are more risk-taking than others. The challenges you faced in the military you just accomplished to the best of ability. Winemaking has decision making that is made easier with information. The military and winemaking can both be defined as “grueling” especially during harvest.
Boot camp or harvest- what is tougher? I will respond by saying, “boot camp is not for the faint of heart!”, and as far as harvest is concerned, this too is a winemaking aspect that can be equally as tough. As you know each harvest has its own important exceedingly unique aspects based on Mother Nature, along with the winemakers’ virtuous expectation of his wines.
Does your wine or brand have any military connection? Our brand name, Frolicking Frog Cellars, the significance is where the winery is on Frog Pond Mountain, a real landmark founded by E.G. Lewis, founder of what is now known as the City of Atascadero. Our wines though, such as Frogman, a Red Blend, and Rosé the Ribbiter, a Cabernet of Rosé, were directly inspired by Distinction, Honor, and Sacrifice that many before me gave of themselves for our country and it is most fitting to remember our brave military men and women who protect our country 24/7 for the freedoms we have when these two wines were made.
If you were to characterize each branch of the military as a wine, which variety would best fit each branch and why? An interesting question you pose here. All I know is that the five branches of our US Armed Services are defined by their mission calling of our US security and peace. They all blend extremely well to carry out their orders with dedication in serving our Nation. Army, the oldest branch of the military, considered our mighty ground forces, I would relate this military branch to our Zinfandel grape. Our Marines, our second small branch of military but also an infantry integral force part to the Navy branch, I would relate this military branch to the Petite Sirah grape. Our Coast Guard is the most forgotten branch of the military and the enforcement of all coastal and maritime matters to our homeland, I would relate this military branch to the Syrah grape. Our Air Force which is the most recent established branch of service in 1947 but had roots in 1907 since before WW1, I would relate this military branch to Chardonnay as it is the best known white grape. Ahh yes, our Navy, a military branch known for being the strategic defender of the seas established in 1775 to support the Air Force. I would relate this military branch to Cabernet Sauvignon also known as the “King of all grape varietals”. My father-in-law, Daniel, was a Seabee in Korea, I loved the many stories of his time in the Navy.
What lesson from your service do you still live by today? The takeaway lesson I learned while in the military and remember today is “how to take orders” and the special bond that was created with your military brothers.
What branch of the military did you serve? When? I served as a Naval Aviator flying the FA-18 Hornet and Super Hornet from 1992 until 2006.
How and when did you venture into winemaking? In late summer ’98, I was stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Station, located about an hour and a half northeast of Paso up Highway 41. We, the squadron pilots, would often venture out of the valley and our favorite destination was Paso. During one of those visits, I was fortunate to meet Rich Hartenberger of Midnight Cellars and offered to help him make wine. I worked part of harvest that year and became somewhat wine-obsessed from that point on. I have worked every harvest since, apart from 1999 and 2003 when I was on deployment aboard USS Constellation and USS Nimitz.
Transitioning from the armed forces to winemaking? Any similarities? Biggest differences? Transitioning from flying fighters to winemaking was a relatively simple process. Both are a combination of art and science that requires tracking multiple variables and adjusting your response to optimize performance/wine quality. The biggest difference in winemaking is, fortunately, much less stressful. Most years, there is no one shooting at you and you don’t have to throw yourself at the back of a pitching, rolling, yawing, and heaving aircraft carrier at night in bad weather with no divert airfield.
Boot camp or harvest- what is tougher? I did not attend boot camp but the most challenging military training I attended was TOPGUN, a nine-week graduate level course in Strike Fighter Tactics taught at Fallon Naval Air Station. Compared with my time as both a student and an instructor at TOPGUN, the harvest is pure fun. It is a lot of work and requires much attention to detail but the most important things in life do.
Does your wine or brand have any military connection? Our brand, Volatus, is based in aviation; the name itself means flight or flying in Latin. Most of our wines are Naval Aviation-themed using terminology and slang from fighter or aircraft carrier operations. For example, our rosé is called Bolter, which is when an aircraft tries to land on a carrier but misses the wires and must go flying again. Leveraging my time in Fallon, our most popular wine is the TOPGUN Cuvée, a Cabernet-based blend. We are also very fortunate to work with The Battle Buddy Foundation, a charity that provides service dogs to combat disabled veterans. We bottle a red and white Hero Dog blend each year to support Battle Buddy; the wines are delicious and help an incredible cause.
If you were to characterize each branch of the military as a wine, which variety would best fit each branch and why? Coast Guard – White Zinfandel, self-explanatory. Air Force – French rosé, well-funded and refined but ultimately leaves you wanting something bigger. Army – Mourvèdre, earthy and rustic, but a solid group once the exciting services open the war. Marines – Merlot, underfunded and underappreciated but a historic and incredibly combat efficient group of Devil Dogs. Navy – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, and more, impossible to classify this professional, powerful, and diverse group that does everything (aircraft, ships, subs, EOD, SEAL) as a single varietal.
What lesson from your service do you still live by today? There are many lessons I apply daily from my time flying fighters with the Navy. One of my favorites is trying to make my OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop as effective and efficient as possible for every task.
What branch of the military did you serve? When? US Coast Guard 1973-1979 in the Bay Area and Kure Atoll.
How and when did you venture into winemaking? My interest in wine grew from being raised in San Bernardino with a neighbor who grew wine grapes. He patiently talked to me and showed me the growing process and winemaking as well. Being in Sonoma and Napa during my stint in the USCG , I was able to get to know wine and developed a passion. I married a girl who got me and we both shared this passion and she said let’s do this!
Transitioning from the armed forces to winemaking? Any similarities? Biggest differences? The biggest similarity is the chain of command. I was ordered to perform my duties without question and the wine does the same damn thing, however, I can talk back to the wine and question its performance and I hold it to a very high standard.
Boot camp or harvest- what is tougher? That’s easy, I was 20-something while I was in the military and now a few decades down the road, the harvest is a huge unknown and can be an unruly beast that is a force to be reckoned with, but I happen to end up with positive results despite the heavy load! Every winemaker dreads and looks forward to the harvest at the same time.
Does your wine or brand have any military connection? Our label is not military driven. It’s R&R driven and reflects our passion for family.
If you were to characterize each branch of the military as a wine, which variety would best fit each branch and why? I don’t want to get myself in trouble here. When it comes to the armed forces we are kindred spirits, all brothers and sisters in arms.
What lesson from your service do you still live by today? Tenacity, hard work pays off, a positive spirit. Isolated duty (Kure Atoll) taught me how to get through the toughest times. No opportunity wasted, each moment is meant to be lived, and lived well.
What branch of the military did you serve? When? United States Navy 1968-1976.
How and when did you venture into winemaking? My grandfather made home wine when I was a kid. I got into commercial winemaking in 2001 at the encouragement of a winery buying my grapes.
Transitioning from the armed forces to winemaking? Any similarities? Biggest differences? Winemaking is easier than the military. Although you need a little science background, when you’re all in there is much on the line. You need discipline and concentration for both.
Boot camp or harvest- what is tougher? Definitely, boot camp. I thought I was in shape coming from 4 years of college football and 3 generations of farming guidance. Although my father and uncle are yelling at me while working on the ranch could rival any drill instructor I ran in to, the physical and mental demands of boot camp and officer training are extremely challenging; requiring both disciplines and focus to complete. In my case, it took the better part of 2 years before I was ready for combat and daily carrier operations as a naval aviator. (Which was what made up my naval career)
Does your wine or brand have any military connection? Yes, we actively support quite a few military groups and we have a label featuring aviation themes. We are very excited to be partnering with the Honor Flight of the Central Coast. 3 years ago we produced a special reserve wine featuring one of our local WW2 Army veterans (and fellow pilot) on the label. We are honored to be in the early stages of producing another label for Honor Flight which we will be releasing around Veterans Day. All proceeds from the sale of this wine were donated to Honor Flight of the Central Coast. In addition to Honor Flight, we have hosted groups from NAS Lemoore and participated as much as we can with Fort Hunter Liggett, Camp Roberts as well as The Monterey Bay Post Graduate School. With 2 sons currently serving in the Navy, being able to participate in anything to benefit the military is obviously very near and dear to my heart.
If you were to characterize each branch of the military as a wine, which variety would best fit each branch and why? Navy – Cabernet- strong, complex, and flavorful. Carriers, ships, submarines rule the sea. Marines – Petite Sirah – bold, strong, goes with most things. Land and air, best battlefield warriors. Army – Syrah – earthy, land and infantry. Air Force – Any bulk white – very structured and unable to adapt well to combat operations. Coast Guard – Merlot – stay close to home. Special Warfare – blend of Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese – ultimate warriors, sea, air, land, covert ops.
What lesson from your service do you still live by today? God, Country, Family, Business. Honor, courage, loyalty, integrity, commitment, situational awareness. If someone entrusts you, defend it with your life.