A DROP OF RED
Southern California’s Doffo Winery is famous for two things. Wine, obviously, and something equally intoxicating – a fantastic collection of classics including 100 pristine Ducatis, rather a lot of which are a particular colour...
Perhaps the finest Ducati collection we’ve seen, on show in a Californian vineyard. Really
Perfectly located in a sun-drenched valley near Temecula, California, the Doffo winery is a successful producer of bottled excellence. However, it’s also just as well known by bike riders in the region as the ‘motorcycle winery’, thanks to a fabulously-presented collection of over 190 machines – more than 100 of which are classic and iconic Ducatis.
This eye-opening stash of desirable two-wheelers is the work of Marcelo Doffo. The son of an Argentinian farmer, Marcelo would skip school as a child to help his father and left education a little shy on qualifications. He did, however, have a gift for all things mechanical, so was hired in a local workshop to fix up old cars. Then he got hitched to a young Californian tourist and moved to the United States in 1975.
Having no money and speaking no English weren’t seen as obstacles. “Finding a job was easy”, Marcelo remembers. “I just answered ‘yes’ to every question asked and they would hire me. I never lasted more than a few weeks though, because I didn’t understand anything they said…” Hired and fired 16 times in the first year, he lost his 17th job on the same day his first daughter was born. “This was the decisive moment. I decided nobody would fire me any more and I would work for myself.” Using his car skills, Marcelo quickly started making money. He bought his first motorcycle in the USA (a Honda Passport), took his brother on as
‘CUSTOMERS WERE COMING TO BUY WINE, BUT WOULD TALK MORE ABOUT THE BIKES’
partner and bought them a garage of their own. Working day and night, they built a successful business.
There was another step change ahead, though. Visiting family in Italy, Marcelo discovered one of his uncles was producing wine. After learning the process, he returned to the US and started doing the same in his backyard at weekends. It paid off – after 10 years of effort, Marcelo was awarded a silver medal for the second-best wine of Orange County in 1997. Encouraged, the new wine maker bought a small lot near Temecula with a little house and five hectares of good earth. Vineyards were planted with his son Damian, and at their first harvest in 2002 they were surprised to see how much wine they’d made. Tourists started stopping by to test their produce; Marcelo had no website, not even a sign on the road, but locals liked ‘the guy from the garage’ and sent visitors his way.
Everything changed the day a customer offered to buy two bottles for $100 each, and Doffo knew he was on to something big. “Everybody else was selling the bottles for $14, but our wine was excellent and people were willing to pay this price.” With a manager employed to take over at the garage and the wine business now paying the bills, Marcelo could turn his attention back to his love of mechanical things – and bikes in particular.
“I should never have sold my first motorcycle, a Vicentina 125cc, but I didn’t know that one day I would start a collection,” admits the Argentinian. Marcelo started buying bikes from the 1950s that he had dreamed of as a child. Without appropriate storage, these acquisitions went in the warehouse along with the barrels. “Customers were coming to buy wine, but they would talk more about the bikes because they were so surprised to see them.” Over the years, more joined the collection, along with helmets, tanks, stickers and rare parts. It all went on display, the cellar becoming more and more like a museum. “I planned to stop at 100 bikes, but today we have over 190,” he laughs.
As display space ran out, Marcelo had to get creative. He hangs bikes on the walls and from the roof. But the heart of this enviable collection is hidden in a barn, not far from the winery. Here, Marcelo restores the most famous models by his favourite marque: Ducati.
Extreme attention to detail is the rule, and all the bikes run with the accuracy of Swiss timepiece. To
‘I ORIGINALLY PLANNED TO STOP AT 100 BIKES, BUT TODAY WE HAVE OVER 190’
emphasise the point, Marcelo insists that I try one of his bikes – a 1959 Ducati Elite. It’s a revelation to find that its clutch and throttle are smoother than those of a brand-new bike. The torquey engine adds to the easy ride, with no vibrations and a delicate tune played by the chromed silencers, the right-side gearchange controlling an extraordinarily smooth gearbox. Riding this exceptional bike with no helmet around a sunsoaked vineyard is definitively memorable…
The collection’s many delights include production models tuned by Marcelo, factory racers restored to as-new condition, rare mopeds and even an original Ducati radio set. The inventory is as long as a day with no wine. There’s a prototype single-cylinder engine displayed on a shelf, a rare 1966 Ducati SC racer, an autographed Paul Smart Sportclassic 1000 still in its shipping box and some weird Ducati scooters. I find a 1947 Moto Guzzi 500cc GTW tucked in there as well – and that’s before Marcelo reveals that the jewels of his collection are so important to him they’re in the house.
His living room contains a 1957 Gran Sport 175cc, a 2002 MH900E and a 2006 Desmosedici RR – and he starts the Motogp-based RR where it stands, revving the deafening 989cc, 197bhp V4 with a childish smile. Older bikes are restored in pairs, usually a production model with its racing counterpart, though there are
‘WE’VE LAUNCHED A NEW LINE OF WINE WITH MOTORCYCLE ART PRINTED ON THE LABELS’
three versions of the Gran Sport 125 displayed near the chimney – the family use them as Christmas trees and stack presents under the wheels.
Marcelo’s passion for bikes and competition started when he watched racing on the dirt track next to his parents’ house as a kid. Then, at the age of 40, he borrowed a 250cc Ducati to race in the AHRMA vintage championship. Hooked, he roped his son Damian and daughter Brigitte into the venture and the trio started modifying their own Ducatis for competition. Marcelo grew to know everybody within the American motorcycle industry – KTM USA even asked him to organise a fundraising event for the Kurt Caselli foundation at the winery (which is why there’s a Dakar prototype in the cellar).
From those first few purchases permitted by the fruits of his hard work, Doffo has gone on to create something truly unique. It’s even reached the point where he’s started selling his own branded apparel; the riders who regularly stop at the winery are not very good customers, as they don’t test wine and consequently don’t buy much, but they all want a souvenir of their visit. “We never planned to become the riders’ winery,” explains Damian. “We didn’t even plan to sell wine at first! Now we’ve launched a new line of wine with motorcycle art on the labels – we’ll be only be producing 800 cases, yet 400 are already pre-sold.”
Despite his huge success, Marcelo’s life hasn’t really changed, however. Between long rides in Argentina, Italy and India, the retired wine maker is still developing new flavours, still restoring motorcycles and still welcoming all customers like old friends. And, every once in a while, he still races his Ducati on the road circuits of California. Living the dream indeed.
Marcelo Doffo has created heaven on Earth: his own winery, a fine collection of classic bikes – and this living room to die for
The place is so overflowing with bikes, some have to hit the roof
Modern classics like this Ducati MH900E live with the older bikes
Like a fine wine, this Sportclassic Paul Smart 1000 has been laid down in its crate
No problems with dehumidifying damp sheds around here, we suspect
There’s a strong flavour of Ducati here – this is a 1958 Sport 125
No word of a lie. All the servicing is carried out on the bikes on-site
Wines, bikes... everything at the Doffo Winery is of a fine vintage
With so many bikes and climate like this to enjoy them, no wonder he’s smiling...
A skilled restorer and mechanic, Marcelo likes to sign his own work
Prototype singlecylinder Ducati engine displayed on a shelf
Marcello’s son, Damian, on a ’59 Ducati Elite, with father on a Moto Guzzi GTW 500
The inevitable outcome of a long game of ‘Ducati sardines’
This son of an Argentinian farmer is living the American dream
Damian loves riding old Ducatis on the winery’s roads as much as racing them on the track
A drop of Marcelo’s Motodoffo Supertinto goes down well after a hard day’s riding