Winery serves as veterans' sanctuary

June 6, 2011 7:23:49 PM PDT
It's a small winery nestled in the Livermore Valley, but Lavish Laines is more than just an ordinary vineyard, it's a safe haven for veterans, many of whom have had difficulty transitioning into civilian life.

A hand-painted sign on the side of a dusty road in Livermore directs you to the winery. Lavish Laines is anything but lavish. The tasting room is a converted barn on 10 acres of bare land which will someday become a vineyard.

Lavish Laines produces about 3,000 cases of wine a year -- not bad for a start-up winery. Its scarlet red and gold-colored label gives you a clue about its origins; they're the colors of the Marines.

"I've been shot, blown up and stabbed. So I've had it all, but you know what? I'm still here, still alive," said Josh Laine.

Laine, 25, is a former Marine who's done two tours of duty in Iraq and was on the front lines of the Fallujah invasion. Laine started his wine making business out of an old rusty bus in the summer of 2007, when he just got out of the Marines.

"It was very small. We were only doing about 25 cases or so and we slowly upgraded to a shipping container," said Laine.

From the shipping container, Laine saved enough money working as a plumber to move into the barn. He and his partners didn't know the first thing about winemaking, but his girlfriend who worked for a winery, convinced him to open his own business.

"We basically learned from our own mistakes. We learned a lot from YouTube," said Laine.

To cut costs, Laine manages other wineries' vineyards. In return, they give him grapes to make his wine. For Laine, this is a family business -- a business where he can take care of his military brothers and sisters.

"This is their safe haven and they're welcome here and I want them here because we're all on the same page," said Laine.

The walls of his tasting room are decorated with service flags, medals, and photographs. Laine's vision is to create jobs for veterans here, where they can find the same kind of camaraderie they had in the military. So far, he's hired about 30 vets.

"I was a former drug addict and homeless vet," said Tim Chapman.

Chapman was a Humvee gunner in the Army. He was treated for PTSD in a rehab program. Working here is a new chapter in his life.

"I moved to Livermore, started working for Josh, and going to Los Positos College, using my G.I. Bill," said Chapman.

Chad Fillion, an unemployed Navy veteran, became the production manager.

"They got me motivated to get off my butt and not be so, I won't say depressed, but just coming here was an uplifting experience," said Fillion.

Jeff Emanuel is the operations manager. He served in the Air Force. Emanuel suffers from Gulf War Syndrome because of his exposure to chemicals from burning oilfields. He says the vineyards are like a psychiatrist's couch?a place where veterans can talk openly about their issues.

"A lot of them have a lot of things they need to talk about. They don't talk to family, definitely not to spouses, moms or dads because they don't want them to worry," said Emanuel.

"They can be having war issues or family issues, either way, they come here and they feel free. All their problems go away," said Laine.

Lavish Laines is of course a business. It's also a place where veterans can get a second chance at life.

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