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Veteran starts winery to help comrades

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Veteran starts winery to help comrades

Veterans and Vines President Kenneth Faulkner showcases two bottles of wine from Livermore’s Valor Winery .

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin /


POSTED December 26, 2013 11:07 p.m.

LIVERMORE –  Josh Laine has been shot, stabbed and blown up.

It’s the kind of story that evokes as much emotion as it does a sense of appreciation for the service that young men and women give to the military.

But despite his war wounds and his decorations, Laine couldn’t find a job when he returned from what would end up being a protracted war – one that would end up producing thousands of young men and women just like him that wanted nothing more than a sense of normalcy but found nothing but closed doors and hurdles.

So he did something drastic – he started his own winery.

Tucked back in the low hills of Livermore, Laine planted the first vines of what would become the Valor Winery and laid the framework for an organization that he wanted to use to help veterans just like him and his friends that had trouble finding jobs and acclimating back into society when coming back home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

With knowledge that he gained from classes as nearby Las Positas College and guidance from a handful of established Napa Valley vintners, Laine took the Valor Winery from something that was merely a concept and turned it into a revenue-generating job machine for returning veterans.

Through the non-profit Vets and Vines Foundation, more people began to hear about the program and the purely hand-made wine project that started as the Lavish Laines Winery had become an entity that poured all of its money back into providing opportunity to vets that needed a helping hand.

Last year Kenneth Faulkner signed on as the foundation’s president, and has since used his background in marketing to further expand the reach of the organization.

In the end, however, it’s all about that one veteran that needs a helping hand.

“A lot of times these guys come back and they’re so used to being on-guard the entire time that they’re over there, they don’t really have a chance to unwind the clock at all,” said Faulkner – who served in the United States Navy from 1976 to 1991. “This gives them that kind of opportunity and the chance to be around people that understand what it is that they’re going through.

“A lot of times it’s your mind that just keeps racing, and manual labor is something for your body – it wears you out, and at the end of the day, you find that your mind is at ease.”

The idea behind the Valor Winery isn’t a new one. Veterans returning from war theaters have always found common ground with others that have shared similar experiences. And while tens of thousands of young men came home from Indochina in the late 60s and early 70s to find little for them in terms of jobs prospects and understanding, Laine’s organization marks a shift in attitudes towards those with combat experience that find it easier to gradually ascend back into the day-to-day world. 

With all of the parallels that Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn to it, this isn’t Vietnam.

But the idea of mixing a therapeutic release with an outright job is a unique concept. And it’s something that people have been gravitating towards. Just like any agricultural field the work is primarily seasonal, but as many as 50 people can be employed at any one time and has brought people like Faulkner – with his background in business and marketing – into the fold to help carry the business into an entirely new realm.

Markets are expanding. With California’s burgeoning wine industry as a backdrop, the winery – perched in the exploding Livermore Valley area that has gained a steady foothold with enthusiasts and critics over the last decade – is now cashing in with affordable offerings from the 2010 and 2012 vintages.

And while stores are still coming on-line, all that filters back through the program ends up going directly to benefit local veterans either a myriad of programs or employment opportunities.

“It’s a very unique program and it’s something that offers a lot of skills to the guys who get involved,” Faulkner said. “We’re always looking at new ways to get people involved, and there are some things on the horizon that we’re excited about. One of the things that we’re talking about is possibly creating an outside sales program where the guys learn about how to go out and develop some of those skills that they’ll hopefully be able to place elsewhere.

“It’s all about teaching these guys skills.”

Valor Wines can be purchased locally at Vino 100 located at 2467 Naglee Road in Tracy. For more information about the Vets and Vines Foundation, visit www.vvfusa.org.

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