Marcelo Doffo came to Southern California's Temecula Valley in the mid-1990s to buy fruit, never expecting this area would be where he would begin an award-winning winery. "My great-grandfather migrated to Argentina from Italy in the 1900s and my dad, Marcelo, was born in 1951 and migrated to the United States in 1975," says Damian. "He tried his hand at making wine at home in 1994 and won a silver medal from the Orange County Wine Society in 1997. At that time, dad went to Temecula to purchase fruit and saw a piece of property that had an old schoolhouse and cattle ranch on it. The property reminded him of his home back in Argentina so he purchased it, and started a home-based winery that grew into a full business."
Today, Damian runs the winery that manufactures a modest 5,000 cases annually, but with a quality and consistency that earned them the distinction Temecula Valley Winery of the Year at the 2018 Xenia Hospitality Awards.
"I learned a lot from my dad at an early age, who taught that you have to treat the land and vineyard accordingly," says Damian. "Our vines are precious, so for the people that handle them, we take our time to train on pruning. We're a no-till property and are adamant about composting, mulching, and more. I feel it's important to our industry here and I sit as the viticulture chair on our board and talk about farming best practices and trying to improve viticulture across the Temecula Valley."
Doffo Wines' unique pruning and farming practices have earned them a reputation for their Malbec, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and unique red blends. "Our grapes are grown on location, 27 acres where everything is produced onsite," says Damian. "We farm the grapes ourselves and all of the fruit that we purchase comes from our relationships with growers that also have good farming practices. Our vineyard team has developed over time. As we've grown and taken on more people, there is a definite learning curve. I prefer they have never worked a vineyard before so that they haven't developed bad habits. Nothing is more critical, especially during pruning season where it makes a difference in quality."
Damian attributes some of the success of the winery (and its region) to diversity of fruit. "The Temecula Valley suits many varietals, and my dad positioned our brand in such a way to be bold and wasn't shy with price points," he explains. "He believed that our quality was the best and pushed our wines at $50 to $100 a bottle when others were at $20. Once people tasted it, they realized why."
From Doffo's exclusively direct-to-consumer sales model and its utilization of sustainable practices, it all comes down to the numbers, says Damian. "In my mind, a winery business is a very linear equation. Some business owners don't feel the same way we do and conform to the 'buy cheap and sell high' model. Running a winery is very capital-intensive. You have to be able to shoulder the costs because the product cycle is so long. Anything of quality takes at least 18 months minimum."
Challenges: "The biggest thing is sustainability," says Damian. "The state is making it challenging to run a farming organization. The shortening of hours and rising minimum wage have a direct impact on pricing. We now have crews working fewer hours, so it is important for us to develop a solid vineyard crew. Most of them are families that we've brought on board. It's an interesting dynamic but has helped maintain our quality."
Opportunities: "We are developing a second brand with our motorcycle interests," says Damian. "I'm a motorcycle enthusiast, and as we brought our collection of vintage motorcycles into the winery, it has attracted other enthusiasts who normally don't drink wine. It's done very well for us and continues to expand. We are also adding more to the property, including a catering company to provide food service on the property."
Doffo Wines is also located in a growing tourism area. "Temecula is so unique because we're 100 miles away from 22.5 million people," says Damian. "It's become a unique destination and the Temecula tourist board is a big help in the area's success. The nearby Pechanga Casino is also a great partner who sees a value of the Temecula Wine Country, and are working closely with the tourism board to make this area a unique destination that will continue to help us grow."
Needs: "We've made a lot of good moves to bring everything in-house but cash flow is always a problem," says Damian.
He adds, "Coupled with compliance issues of running farming, manufacturing, and hospitality company, there are a lot of agencies breathing down our backs. We just need to deal with this and continue to push forward."