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Marrying wine with military values

Oregon's veteran-owned-and-operated wineries

Lena Varner and David Traul, owners of Ledger David Cellars, run their winery with military ideals in honor of their families’ military contributions. Photo courtesy of Ledger David Cellars

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"Our fathers and grandfathers expected us to work hard and be humble ... to have fortitude and commitment to overcoming life's challenges without grumbling along the way."

This might sound like something a military servicemember would say, but it was spoken by David Traul, a fourth-generation physician and owner of Ledger David Cellars. Traul isn't a servicemember himself, but he and Lena Varner, his wife and co-owner of Ledger David Cellars, have a long history of military service in their families.

Oregon is chock full of people like Traul and Varner, people with strong ties to the military who are making a name for themselves in the wine industry.

Phelps Creek Vineyards is owned by veteran Bob Morus, who served as a C-141 pilot in the Air Force Reserve for eight years. Morus still flies commercial aircraft when not at home working on the vineyard. Photo credit: Christina Butcher

"We hold ourselves to military values," Traul said. "One value we embrace is grit, the idea of achieving long-term goals while embracing adversity along the way."

Traul and Varner founded Ledger David Cellars in 2009 in Oregon's Rogue Valley Appellation. Throughout the years, they've worked hard to honor their family's military contributions and embrace military ideals while managing their vineyard. Both Traul and Varner's fathers served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Varner's grandfather fought during World War II, and their nephew graduated from Army basic training earlier this summer.

"My family's experience was all about enduring hardship to achieve your ultimate goals," Traul said, "but with that delayed gratification there are a lot of rewards, too ... There are rewards in waiting a few extra days to harvest and in walking the vineyards to look for changes ... We teach our children similar values, like paying attention to detail and instilling a commitment to excellence as a way of life."

Ledger David Cellars' winemaker, Rob Folin, is also a military veteran. Folin served 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a heavy equipment operator before returning to his family's farm in Oregon. He's been making wine with Ledger David Cellars since 2013, and has been winemaking at his family's winery, Folin Cellars, since 2009.

"His time in the Marines has had a significant impact on how he operates," Traul said. "He's humble, and when there's work to be done, he'll take care of it."

Ledger David Cellars, noon to  5 p.m. daily, 245 N. Front St., Central Point, Oregon, 541.664.2218,

Another of Oregon's veteran-owned, wine-focused businesses is MountNbarreL, an agro-tourism company that offers guided wine tours by bike in Hood River, Oregon. MountNbarreL was founded in 2016 by Ali McLaughlin, who manages the company alongside her husband and director of operations Matthew McLaughlin. Matthew served 13 years as a harrier pilot in the U.S. Marines and is now a veteran.

"We have a broader reach and an awesome, tight business network through our connection to the U.S. Marines," McLaughlin said. "We've had a lot of people we know from the military come out for our tours. They're coming from all over the world and because of that, our business has much more of a global reach."

While MountNbarreL isn't a winery itself, it offers guided bike and wine tours through many of Hood River's most notable wineries, including Marchesi Vineyards, Phelps Creek Vineyards, The Gorge Whitehouse, Viento Wines, WyEast Vineyards and Mt. Hood Winery. The bike tours consist of six to eight-mile routes and include wine tastings, light lunch pairings and opportunities to harvest fruit from U-pick farms. As a small token of thanks and support to the military, MountNbarreL offers a 15 percent discount to servicemembers and their families.

"Making friends, finding connections with people and building a community are all part of being in the military," Ali said, "and we've been able to make those connections with the wineries and people we work with locally."

MountNbarreL, daily tours scheduled online, 1850 Country Club Rd., Hood River, Oregon, 541.490.8687,

Hood River is also home to Phelps Creek Vineyards, a boutique vineyard complete with tasting room, private vineyard tours and a popular wine club. The 34-acre vineyard was founded in 1990 by Robert Morus, a veteran of the Air Force Reserve and a civilian pilot. Morus served eight years in the AF Reserve as a C-141 pilot before leaving the military to try his hand at winegrowing.

"(Since then), I've kept flying for an international airline, meaning I depend extensively on my team at home on the vineyard," Morus said. "When you have good people, they watch your back, even when your focus needs to be on a different job."

With the help of his team, Morus produces 5,000 cases of estate-grown wine using sustainable agricultural methods at Phelps Creek Vineyards. In addition to producing high quality pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris wines, the vineyard is known for its stunning views of Mount Hood and the surrounding Columbia Gorge wine region.

"It takes a village to make fine wine. It's truly not a solo experience," Morus said. "Success comes through team effort. You learn how to manage that team environment in the military -- bringing people together from many backgrounds to achieve a common, lofty goal."

Phelps Creek Vineyards Tasting Room, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, 1850 Country Club Rd., Hood River, Oregon, 541.386.2607,

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