Do motorcycles and wine mix? At Doffo Winery in Temecula Valley they do. Just 60 minutes from San Diego, Temecula Valley is southern California’s largest wine producing region by volume. One of the finest wineries there is Doffo Winery, which creates exceptional hand crafted wines, and has been featured in Forbes.
In 1994, Marcelo Doffo, purchased an old cattle ranch in Temecula and planted his first vines. Marcelo had owned a collision repair body shop and was passionate about restoring motorcycles. Today, the tasting rooms of Doffo Winery are decorated with 253 motorcycles and scooters from around the world. Marcelo’s son, second-generation winemaker, 37-year-old Damian Doffo, is the CEO and Damian’s two sisters also work at the winery. All three, passionate about wine and bikes, ride around Southern California racing vintage motorcycles.
Doffo Winery’s total production sits at about 6,000-8,000 cases annually, depending on the harvest. They have gone as small as 100-bottle runs as they’d rather bottle an incredible wine even if it’s only 100 case runs as opposed to blending it out to make more. I caught up with Damian Doffo in Temecula Valley by Zoom.
What wines are you best known for?
Our Red Wines, particularly our Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. However lately our Zinfandel has gained a following. It won “Best Wine in Temecula Valley” two years in a row at the Peoples’ Choice Wine Competition.
What happened during the pandemic to your business?
It got turned upside down. We were a very direct-to-consumer retail-oriented business. When they pulled the plug, we had to follow a 100 percent digital type of a business model. We were very fortunate as we had the marketing agency in place, a very good website and the shopping experience, but what it made us do is really focus on the digital shopping experience. We found widgets and tools to make the shopping experience better.
How did you do that?
We were very aggressive with our sales programming. We started hosting virtual tastings, wine Wednesdays, and getting online to stay in front of our customers via Facebook live. I didn’t do Zoom. I felt like our audience was already on Facebook.
I felt that we could reach more people if we used a broader platform even if we weren’t charging for my actual time to be online. We decided to sell bundles. To this day, I still get people who visit us at the winery and say, “Hey, I love your virtual tastings. I love hearing what’s going on at the winery.” It was really engaging and a learning tool and we continue to do it. And we have a virtual tasting this Friday (tomorrow April 29th) and another May 14.th We sell the bundle and people get to taste the wines and follow along.
When you say you sell a bundle, how ?
The bundle is the three wines that we’ll talk about and offer a special price. If you want to taste with us, you buy this bundle. And as I speak during the event, our wine club director and sales director embed links into the comments, so we actually capture sales through Facebook live either of the things I’m talking about or upcoming events or wines or products. We are getting sales pre event and post event.
The event May 14th is actually a lot of fun because it’s just like a happy hour with my sister Samantha, and where we do virtual tastings. People just hang out online and we have a glass of wine with different guests and bring people in to talk about their business or their cause or whatever. On May 14th, we’re unveiling a wine for a nonprofit, with a commemorative wine bottle and efforts to raise money for this cause.
How have you sustained business during Covid?
I knew as soon as they shut us down that when they did allow us to reopen, the model was going to be different. I had a sixth sense they weren’t going to let us do in-person tastings, so by the time they announced it was going to be by reservation and with outdoor seating, we had already narrowed down which reservation system we would use; so immediately when we opened, we were ready.
When they said that you had to have food, I already had a catering company in place because of our production of chimichurri. We spun into high gear and rolled up our sleeves. I was making sandwiches until four in the morning, sleeping, waking up at nine, opening the winery at 10am, and getting bombarded because everybody had to buy a sandwich to sit down. I think in one month I rolled 2,500 sandwiches.
Will you continue the sandwich business?
I jumped off the deep edge and rented a restaurant space, so I have a five-year lease on a restaurant space we’re using as a catering kitchen. The winery now has food during the week, pasta, platters, chicken wraps, hummus plates. On the weekends, we operate a top-up Argentine style grill. Our signature right now is steak diced up over breaded chimichurri French fries with a chimichurri and chimi Mayo on top. That has been a tremendous hit and will be permanent.
I bought a food trailer so we can do food and wine and events. Every month we host a wine-maker dinner with vertical tastings paired with different food selections. This summer we’ll do a five course Argentine barbeque experience paired with a selection of wines.
Have things changed since Covid?
We have to relearn because now there are new guidelines. We have four patios simultaneously operating and we’re about to establish a fifth patio and two more indoor tasting rooms. We’ve been closed down, we have 24 employees right now and I’m sitting at about 70 employees. I feel like some wineries did better than others at retaining their employees. I didn’t let anybody go, even when we shut down, we furloughed everybody.
What have you learned that may make the wine experience better for consumers as a result of everything you’ve learned during Covid?
The biggest takeaway I took from, from Covid was to be a little bit more cautious with the assumptions of the business. I also learned to look for and figure out where the opportunity is and just say, “Hey, this is the direction that we’re going.” I’m very happy with how we fared. And then the fact that we ended up the year with positive sales figures and we’re having another record-breaking year is just incredible because out of this whole situation, the opportunities are phenomenal.
Had it not been for Covid, we were able to form some relationships since we were the only open venue. The motorcycle industry looked to us to host a few very key opportunities and we capitalized on them and were able to further ingrain ourselves into the motorcycle industry. We’ve kind of niched ourselves into this position of where we are the only wine of the Moto industry.
How did you happen to marry the motorcycle to wine?
I was being groomed to run the company. I kept seeing my dad buy motorcycles and I was trying to figure out how do you monetize 100 vintage motorcycles? I was wracking my brain. And then it dawned on me, well, you make wine stupid, and make a wine label with a motorcycle on it. It was really that simple. And that’s how it started.
I quickly learned that motorcycle people aren’t always wine people. It’s a big beer crowd. However, as they mature, they drink wine. We were becoming a destination for people to come look at our vintage motorcycles on display, but they weren’t buying wine and we didn’t have anything else to sell them. So I said to my sister, “Hey, make us a hat and a t-shirt that has MotoDoffo on it.” Now the apparel is one of our fastest growing revenue streams. My sister Bridgette, the artist, really diversified the apparel line. We have women’s, men’s and kids’ apparel.
You have a wine club. Is that for locals only, or do you ship wines?
Our wine club ships everywhere UPS goes three times a year, with options as to how many bottles you want shipped. The Legacy Club is a four-bottle allotment of the newest releases and the Heritage Club is a two-bottle allotment. Average price of the Legacy shipment is about $225-$250 while the Heritage Club is about $100-$125 per shipment.
Are you allowed to open indoors now or are you still limited?
They’re just allowing the indoor tastings. I did my first indoor tasting. I hadn’t done that in almost two years. It was awesome to get back in behind the counter and have that experience, letting people taste different wines.