The first thing that caught my eye, when Aspen wine supplier Rob Leventhal told me about Sky Devil Wines, was the winemaker’s pedigree: Kirk Venge. Venge is a legendary Napa producer who has made wines for several outstanding labels that I have enjoyed. But as Leventhal, who represents Sky Devil in Colorado, spoke in more detail about the backstory and explained that co-founder Matt Vogt is a third-generation naval aviator who is committed to improving the lives of veterans. with his wines, I was intrigued on another level. .
And then I saw the bottle. There, on the front label, was an image of a magnificent gull-winged F4U Corsair, a single-engine American fighter jet that is a relic of another era. The image had the power and classic beauty of, oh, I don’t know, maybe a Porsche tub? The label was as evocative as it was understated, and I was compelled to learn more about the wine and its origins. Such is the effect of a good brand image. It wasn’t just another wine story. It was one of our times.
Sky Devil Wines was founded as a passion project by Vogt and his good friend Jeff Goldberg. “We have both enjoyed great wines together for years as consumers. We both loved big, bold Napa taxis,” Matt explained. “Then one day Jeff was offered the opportunity to buy two barrels of wine. It may sound like some kind of joke, but we sat down to lunch with a glass of wine and started crafting a plan on a napkin.
It may sound like a cliché, but this towel has become one of Napa Valley’s most unique and inspiring wine projects.
Vogt is the real thing. He is the seventh naval aviator in his family since his grandfather, who served in World War II aboard the USS Nevada. A graduate of Princeton, Vogt was on active duty or in the reserves for more than 20 years before retiring in 2022. During Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, he flew Marine AV-8B Harrier jets with VMA-542 and VMA-231 as an attack. pilot. “Many of the best times of my life were spent serving my country and with the team I worked with,” he said with the belief that only a veteran can pass on.
For his part, Goldberg’s grandfather had also been a Marine, having served in the South Pacific with an F4U-Corsair squadron. As is often the case in marine families, his sense of commitment and discipline was imprinted in his family. So when Goldberg and Vogt began crafting a concept for their wine business, it was inevitable that these influences would be part of the package.
“There had to be meaningful work, a sense of purpose that would be built into the company philosophy. We both wanted it,” Vogt said. As the plan evolved, they decided to honor service and support veterans with their wines. It started with the name.
It seems that since World War II the Marines have taken particular pride in describing themselves as “devil dogs” and that Marine pilots have adopted the variant “Sky Devils” to describe their aerial exploits. Indeed, in the classic movie “The Great Santini,” Navy pilot Bull Meacham (memorably played by Robert Duvall) gives an exuberant toast to “that special breed of Sky Devil . . . the Marine Hunter! There is no force that can defeat us in battle, deny us victory, or interrupt our destiny – the Marines!”
Not your usual wine nickname.
Then they pledged to provide educational and financial support to veterans. Both Goldberg and Vogt had past ties to Penn State University, known for its education of veterans. In the summer of 2020, the duo endowed the Sky Devil Wines Business Innovation Fund, which funded a pool of veteran talent. Vogt sees this as the start of his initiatives which will also offer free consulting services to veterans working to start their own businesses.
But it is far from being a simple charity project. In fact, the two Sky Devil Cabernet Sauvignon wines I tasted were superb when they debuted (see Under The Influence). While producing less than 1,000 cases, Sky Devil Wines strived to find the best possible mountain fruit and find a winemaker who could achieve their lofty goals of producing, not just wines that will sell, but wines that will be enjoyed. ‘they like.
“We were very lucky to meet (winemaker) Kirk (Venge),” says Vogt.
As affable as he is tall – he’s over six feet tall – Venge is a towering figure in the Napa wine world and was born in 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial. His father Nils (who himself toured Vietnam as a naval reservist) attended the University of California, Davis and is credited with making his 1985 Groth Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon receive a score of 100 points per Robert Parker, supposedly the first American winemaker. to be so rewarded.
Kirk, also a UC Davis graduate in oenology, knew early on, growing up in Napa Valley, that his dream was to make wine and now he’s not only realized it, he’s spending a much of his time making other people’s dreams come true. while also producing their wines. Customers have included beloved Napa wines such as JAX Vineyards, Eleven Eleven Wines, Macauley Vineyard and, of course, its own namesake wines.
Sky Devil Project wines are sourced from a variety of premier mountain fruit-focused wineries and are crafted by Venge at Napa’s B Cellars Winery. High mountain vineyards are appealing to both partners and they were able to secure a well-known vineyard in Knights Valley in Sonoma County which sits at 1,800 feet, very high by California viticultural standards, just north of the Napa Valley.
And the sky is a place of inspiration for the winemaker and Sky Devil partners. “I think part of the appeal of Kirk is that we can talk about both wine and flight. Kirk is a young aviator who flies a Cirrus SR-22,” Vogt explains, adding with a laugh: I want to talk about barrels and coopers, and he wants to talk about airplanes and navigation.
While previous Sky Devil releases were Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, there are plans to release a Cabernet Franc and even a Malbec-based wine in the future. In Aspen, wines are pouring into the market and are currently available at the Caribou Club and various wine shops, including, appropriately, Airport Liquors in the Aspen Business Center next to Roxy Market.
These are heady times for the Sky Devil team as they negotiate their way through an endeavor that can be as difficult as it is enjoyable. “The feeling of working with a team, of working hard and having a goal, a goal, is really part of what we do. Just like it was in the service,” explained an enthusiastic Vogt. “J ‘gets a sense of satisfaction when someone enjoys our wines, but it’s also the process that’s important. We started this thing, it’s not like a business where we just bought a dream. It’ is serious business, and we’re getting there. We like it because it’s hard.