Viticulture for Veterans

Dan Education, General, This Land of Ours

Robb Zimmel

Robb Zimmel

As we’re learning more about the Agriculture Department’s efforts to encourage more veterans to consider careers in farming and ranching after their duty is over, we’re also hearing from some of those service members who have not just considered it, but have actually followed through. Cathy Isom tells us about the career-move for one military service member that took him off the front lines and into his own agriculture-based business. That’s coming up on This Land of Ours.

Veterans in Viticulture

From: Cerebella Wines

Zimmel Unruh Cellars was established in 2012 by Robb Zimmel, a former Army medic, and Jon Unruh, a former U.S. Marine.
Robb made wine for years as a hobby while serving his community as a flight paramedic and serving his country as an Army medic. After completing two tours in the Middle East, Robb decided to change careers to winemaking. Together, he and Jon made the dream a reality.
In 2013, the first grapes were carefully selected and harvested by hand. Two years later, Robb and Jon released their first four wines: Chardonnay, Riesling, Malbec, and Merlot.

Inspiring Perseverance

From Army medic to up-and-coming winemaker, Robb Zimmel has done what most are afraid to do: He took a chance and pursued his dream.

Saving lives in a war zone

veterans viticultureIt was a rainy evening in 2010 in a swampy region of southern Iraq, and Washington State University alum Robb Zimmel was slogging through mud so thick it nearly swallowed his combat boots. A sergeant first class in the U.S. Army Reserves and leader of a 10-member forward surgical team, Zimmel was getting chores done in the medical tent after a busy day.

Wind whipped its way through the tent, causing the new soldiers to worriedly glance around. It almost sounded like gunfire.

A team of Navy SEALS burst into the tent with several sailors severely injured. A medic with more than two decades of experience in the military and as a civilian, Zimmel jumped into action. He and his surgical team fought through the night finding emergency transport and performing blood transfusions to save the sailors. All of them made it, though one nearly died.

veterans viticultureAs the Iraqi sunrise capped another sleepless night of nonstop, adrenaline-fueled battle to save his fellow Americans, Zimmel knew one thing with certainty. He needed a change.

Within a year, Zimmel would find himself at WSU as a wine science student. Four years later in 2014, Zimmel would graduate with a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology. Just a year later, Zimmel would release his first four wines under his own label.

Perhaps it might sound odd to go from deployment in a war zone to studying the chemistry, agriculture, and business behind winemaking. To Zimmel, it was natural… and necessary.

Read more.

Image credits: (top right) Courtesy of Cerebella Wines.

(middle left and bottom right) Courtesy of Washington State University.