It was a curious place to meet. Not because the place itself was curious—an old, Irish bar in Newport Beach that appeared just as deeply green, darkly wooded and Celtic-ly spirited as you’d expect—but because the topic at hand was so very American, it felt almost unpatriotic to be discussing it at a pub with painted leprechauns on the wall. Almost.
“My grandma used to sing here years ago,” said Patrick Merrell, partner at PTS Marketing Group and founder of We Believe Wines, the latter of which we’d gathered to talk about that day. “Just right through there.”
He pointed to an adjoining room, slightly bigger than the one we sat in, with thin, afternoon light spilling warmly across the empty space. And then it made sense. Maybe this was the best spot to talk about his new, patriotic wine brand called We Believe, a welcoming backdrop where the past and present joined together, happily sharing a drink or two. What could be more American than that?
I had been introduced to Merrell’s product one week before at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival. Strolling from station to station, I stopped by his booth for only a taste of Chardonnay and left with an incredible story I knew had to be told. Not more than two weeks earlier, Merrell launched the brand as a grape-filled ode to America and the values that those who serve our country fight every day to uphold.
“We wanted to put good juice in the bottle and have a compelling label to match,” Merrell explained. “Of course, there’s an obvious tie-in to the national pride you find at sporting events but We Believe is bigger than sports; it’s life and it’s our country.”
“Faith Family Freedom,” reads the front of the bottle, right below a sketch of the Statue of Liberty, wielding a glass of wine—drawn to look like her famous torch held ablaze—before the gently lilting hillside of a California vineyard. For now, this eye-catching label appears on the two We Believe Wines offered—a fruit-forward Chardonnay with notes of pineapple, lemons and baked pears, and a vibrant Pinot Noir, accented by layers of wild strawberry and plum. A We Believe Cabernet is set to be released in the coming weeks.
“Wine is a great industry,” Merrell said. “It shows off nature at its best.”
To craft the Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Cabs, We Believe tapped Chateau Diana, a winery in the Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg, CA. Founded in 1981, Chateau Diana is a family-owned operation dedicated and committed to producing wine that has a loving, handmade touch. In other words, the ultimate collaborator for a brand seeking notes of the highly personal to add to its juice.
“We’re just rolling out distribution now in California,” explained Merrell, adding that by Oct. 17, We Believe Wines will be available in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas and then, the plan is to sell nationwide.
“It was important for us to have very drinkable wine,” he told me. “But faith, family and freedom is what it’s really all about, what our country was founded on, what we thank our military for maintaining, and in our case, why we thank the Green Berets.”
As if on cue, we were joined by Aaron Anderson, founder of the Green Beret Foundation, whose charitable organization is the official benefactor of We Believe Wines.
“I like to say meeting Aaron was divine intervention,” Merrell quipped as Anderson settled in beside him. “We were creating the wine, had the packaging all ready to go and just needed a partner.”
“I met Pat at a fundraising gala I was attending with my wife,” Anderson recounted. “I learned about his wine and he learned about my background and that was it.”
Anderson let the word “background” roll off his tongue with a quiet pragmatism that humbly belied the meaning behind it. His background is serving for the United States Army Special Forces as a Green Beret.
On Feb. 28, 2006 in Afghanistan, Anderson was badly injured by an explosion that blew through his leg. The blast left his limb crooked at a 90-degree angle, a bone protruding from his boot. After enduring 24 surgeries, Anderson recovered enough to return to duty and stayed on as a Green Beret for several months before ultimately deciding there might be another way he could help.
Soon after, Anderson founded the Green Beret Foundation, which provides direct and continuous support to the Green Beret community and its families through casualty care, extended care, family care and scholarships. To date, the Green Beret Foundation has aided more than 800 Green Berets, assisted over 1,000 families and spent more than $4 million to ensure Green Berets and their families can prosper and thrive.
For the Green Beret Foundation/We Believe pairing, support comes by way of financial donations; $1 of every bottle sold is donated to the Green Beret Foundation.
As the brand extends throughout the U.S., Anderson suspects the wine will also become a go-to for Commanders seeking something to gift. “We’ll make it available to people within the Special Forces who buy alcohol for their teams and friends,” he said. “There’s an opportunity here to provide Commanders with wine to give out and in turn allow them to directly support a cause that’s supporting them.”
And even before Commanders wrap We Believe in a holiday bow, Southern California oenophiles can get their taste of We Believe Wines; the brand will host its first tasting event Oct. 18 at the Wine Gallery Corona Del Mar 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. Guests will sample We Believe Wines as local band, PawnShop kings, serenades the crowd.
“It’ll be a night of food, wine and good music,” said Merrell, who noted all proceeds from the evening will be donated to the Green Beret Foundation.
To Anderson, the tasting serves as yet another reminder that the Green Berets and wine made an ideal match. “The Special Forces has so much depth, much like a great wine,” he explained. “You never stop learning about wine and in the special operations, you’re also constantly learning, constantly training, there’s a constant pressure being applied so you can grow.”
It’s a tale of parallel characteristics and one, as Anderson described it, that’s highlighted on the label of all We Believe Wines.
“The story printed on the wine bottle talks about what you do when your back is up against a wall and doesn’t talk about how nice life is and how easy things are,” he said. “It talks about when you’re challenged and pushed to your limits, what are you going to do? Complain or step up and be strong and take the hard path?”
I nodded and Merrell nodded, letting a brief silence fill the space between us at this old, Irish bar.
“And then,” Merrell said with a knowing smile, “you have wine.”