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Sky Devil Wines Takes Flight

By Nora Heston Tarte | Photos by Ed Darack

How does an early career as an AV-8B attack pilot later translate to running production for a boutique Napa Valley wine label? If you ask Marine Corps Veteran Matt Vogt, it makes more sense than you’d think. The businessman and Princeton graduate who started Sky Devil Wines with his partner, Jeff Goldberg, says that the basic Sky Devil ethos is about meaningful work and the relentless pursuit of excellence. But simply creating a label—the F4-U Corsair, a legendary gull-winged fighter plane from World War II, is the winery’s official symbol—that echoes the principles of the Marine Corps and Naval Aviation Service isn’t enough. Vogt, a third-generation military pilot, felt strongly that Sky Devil Wines should also give back to veterans by creating business school scholarships for those transitioning from active military service to the corporate world. The wine’s name comes from the nickname Marine pilots gave themselves as a play on the term “Devil Dog,” which Marines famously earned during World War I.

In summer 2020, Sky Devil Wines endowed its first scholarship, the Sky Devil Wines Business Innovation Fund at the Pennsylvania State University. Penn State has a reputation for educating one of the largest veteran populations in the country. This milestone has helped the duo to realize their ultimate dream of serving veterans while building their own business from the ground up.

They began by using a lucky lot of purchased wine from someone else’s failed winery venture. Sky Devil Wines’ subsequent vintages have been produced from fruit grown at Reisacher Vineyards in Knights Valley and wine purchased from various Napa Valley wineries. Lovers of premium wine who feel a connection to the service of veterans are the key demographic, whether that connection was built through personal experience, family legacy, or simply gratitude.

For Vogt, the biggest similarity between his military service and the world of wine is the feelings both evoke. He likens the connections built over a bottle of excellent mountain cabernet sauvignon, which Sky Devils Wines produces, to the camaraderie he found with fellow Marines while serving on active duty for 12 years and during his subsequent years as a reservist. “The best moments [with wine] legitimately remind me of the joy and exhilaration that I’ve only previously felt when deployed with elite units in the Marines,” he says.

The charitable aspect of Sky Devil Wines is the foundation of Vogt and Goldberg’s business; they always intended to make wine that gives back to a cause about which both felt passionate. Goldberg, who lives in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington DC, is the grandson of a member of the storied World War II USMC F-4U Corsair squadron VMF311. In many ways, Vogt’s military experience led him to become a successful vintner. “Marines are generally very serious about their work and about mission accomplishment. Similarly, most winemakers and vintners are very passionate about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” he says. It’s the behind-the-scenes aspects that bond the two, specifically a keen attention to detail and an undeniable work ethic. “Though the consequences of failure might differ between the Marine pilot and winemaker or vintner, the result of either job well done is a perfectly balanced work of art that makes its owner feel extremely proud,” says Vogt.

In addition to endowing scholarships for veterans and building a network of like-minded corporate leaders, Vogt hopes that Sky Devil Wines will tell a motivating story. “We want to inspire others to challenge themselves to take chances,” he says, “to do things that are hard, to do things that are intrinsically rewarding.”

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