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...

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: OLIVIER DE VAULX

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

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