This is a story about Marcelo and Damian Doffo, a father-and-son team with a passion for vintage Italian motorcycles and fine California wines. With admirable characters, vintage motorcycles (and lots of them), vintage motorcycle racing, a motorcycle museum, fine wines, and an epic story spanning three continents, what’s not to like? In our two-wheeled classic motorcycle world, it just doesn’t get much better than this.
It all started more than a century ago when Marcelo Doffo’s grandfather, Bernardino, immigrated to Argentina from Italy. Bernardino Doffo settled in the Pampas region of Argentina and farmed wheat, corn and cattle. Marcelo grew up on that farm, taking in the agricultural arts and his shared Italian and Argentinean heritage. Times were different: There was no electricity or running water, and people got around with horses and old cars. That changed in the early 1960s when Argentina started importing Italian motorcycles. Motorcycles quickly became a dominant form of transportation, and there were soon no fewer than three dealers in young Marcelo’s hometown of Los Surgentes, Cordoba, Argentina.
To say the Argentines (and in particular, the Doffos) were enthusiastic about motorcycles would be an understatement. Marcelo’s cousin had a motorcycle and his uncle, who owned a dealership, built a dirt race track, and Marcelo’s family bought their first motorcycle, a 125cc Vicentina. As Marcelo explains it, the Vicentina’s fragile frame required a rider with good welding skills. Marcelo used the Vicentina for going to work, school, dances and on dates. Ah, to be a young Italian motorcycle rider …
Motorcycle racing was in the town’s blood, and when Ducati displayed a 175cc Sport at the local race track, Marcelo remembers feeling as if he were seeing a nave spaziale (a space ship). The Ducati had it all: candy-apple red paint, gold stripes, chrome, noise, speed — and style that just wouldn’t quit. The hook was set. We all have had that first magical encounter with a motorcycle. For me it was a 1957 Harley-Davidson Panhead parked outside a restaurant in Pennsylvania. For Marcelo Doffo it was a Ducati 175 Sport in Los Surgentes.
Coming to America
Marcelo immigrated to the United States in 1975. He had worked as an automotive body repairman in Argentina specializing in welding (the experience with the Vicentina served him well). He sailed through job interviews in the U.S. for similar positions by answering “yes” to every question; it was the only English word he knew. After a succession of body shop jobs, Marcelo started buying, repairing and selling auto wrecks one at a time, and that led to opening his own repair business. In the 1990s Marcelo visited a great-uncle in Italy who created handcrafted wines, and he decided that’s what he wanted to do. Marcelo purchased an old farm in Temecula, California, and that led to the birth of the Doffo Winery four years later.
During all of this, Marcelo’s love of motorcycling never waned. He drifted away from motorcycling as family and work intervened, but his interest was rekindled when he bought and restored a basket case Harley-Davidson. After the restoration, he rode the Harley to Hollister, California (made famous in 1953’s The Wild One starring Marlon Brando), and found that the Harley and the Harley lifestyle were not a good fit. Marcelo sold the Harley, but the restoration bug had bitten hard. The next project was a frame-up restoration of a Ducati Bronco, and that motorcycle was the seed that grew into the MotoDoffo Collection.
With interests in both Argentina and California, Marcelo’s duties require frequent travel to and from South America. He combines business with pleasure, finding parts and complete motorcycles for the MotoDoffo Collection during his business travels. His son Damian (now the Doffo Winery production manager) explained that Marcelo will accumulate enough bikes to send home in a shipping container. “It used to be easier to fill a container with vintage motorcycles at reasonable prices,” Damian says, “but prices have gone up.”
Marcelo purchases bikes he remembers from his childhood, and they are mostly bikes that are small, Italian and have interesting features — and are machines he couldn’t afford when younger. “The bikes I search for must be small cc European motorcycles with some special characteristic,” Marcelo says. The Doffos buy both restoration projects and, when possible, complete motorcycles.
Marcelo and Damian do nearly all of the restoration work themselves including painting and pinstriping (a task handled personally by Marcelo), and the MotoDoffo Collection now includes something north of 150 motorcycles. The Doffo Winery has a building dedicated to motorcycle restoration and maintaining their racing fleet, and Damian says a restoration can take up to two years. The principle challenges have been finding parts for the unique machines they tend to buy, and not “over-restoring” the bikes: The Doffos want their bikes to look like they did when new, not better than new.
One particularly interesting motorcycle is an iconic bike from Marcelo’s youth, a magnificent Gilera 500cc Saturno. Marcelo remembered seeing the Gilera as a boy, and after an extensive search he found it in Argentina. A 100-point restoration followed, but after that the story gets complicated. Suppose you had completed such a restoration and stored it on your girlfriend’s property (along with a 1947 Harley you also owned). Further, suppose that you broke up with said girlfriend and she announced her intent to sell both bikes. Finally, suppose you broke into that girlfriend’s barn, recovered the hostage Saturno, and spirited it out of Argentina to a family vineyard in Temecula. I’m not saying any of this happened, nor am I saying Marcelo was involved in any such shenanigans, but this hypothetical story ends well. The hypothetical former girlfriend sold the Harley (hypothetically still on display in Argentina), and a magnificent 500cc Saturno hypothetically resides in the private part of the MotoDoffo Collection.
Visiting the collection
There are two parts to the MotoDoffo Collection. One is public, and anyone who visits the Doffo Winery can see it in the MotoBarrel Room, where Doffo wines are aged in huge wooden barrels. The MotoBarrel Room is a treat for the senses, with magnificent motorcycles and deeply aromatic aging wines. Several vintage motorcycles are also on display on the grounds and in the tasting room. The other MotoDoffo Collection is the private one. It resides in the workshop where the restorations are accomplished and the racing stable is maintained, and the Doffo residence. I spent the day with Damian and saw it all, and it’s what you might imagine life would be like for a self-made and successful intercontinental agriculture baron. Imagine rich red Ducatis in your home and all forms of moto-exotica in your garage — including a new-in-the-crate Ducati Paul Smart 1000. I saw a small car under a cover and jokingly asked if it was a Ferrari. “Yes, it is,” answered my host.
There’s no business plan for MotoDoffo, and although they sell T-shirts and have a motorcycle-themed wine series, the Doffo Winery didn’t create the MotoDoffo concept to make money. “We do it because of the passion we have for the motorcycles,” Damian says. That’s the best reason there is.
Marcelo and Damian are riders, racers, restorers and collectors. Both are active in AHRMA vintage racing and they do their own wrenching. In their shop I saw things I had never heard of before, including a stunningly beautiful Ducati “jelly mold” gas tank that had recently been repainted by Marcelo and a vintage Ducati primary chain cover that had been extensively grooved by hand. “The grooves are for cooling,” Damian told me, explaining that they provide more surface area.
The Doffo Winery is tucked away on 15 magnificent acres in the northeastern corner of California’s Temecula wine country. The vineyards are hand-planted and tended by the Doffo family using techniques Marcelo brought from the old country: They play classical music in the vineyards because the Doffos believe it soothes the grapes. Wine making and motorcycle restoration are labors of love on these grounds.
The MotoDoffo motorcycle museum is a great place to visit and the ride to it through Temecula’s rolling wine country is spectacular. Damian says they appreciate that riding and wine tasting don’t go well together, so they don’t expect you to sample the wines if you ride there. If you’ll take my word for it, you really don’t need to taste them. Buy a bottle — or a case — of the Malbec (or any of the other Doffo wines) and you can thank me later. There’s more information on the motorcycles at MotoDoffo.com, and the Doffo Winery at DoffoWines.com. MC
A taste of Argentina: Doffo Winery’s Malbec
Doffo’s focus is on handcrafted, award-winning wines. Doffo offers many of the wines most folks know about (Cabernets, Syrahs, and the like), but the winery’s real secret is the Malbec, a rich, dark, and full-flavored red wine well known in South America. South American Malbecs have been trendy in the U.S. for the last few years, but the Malbecs that U.S. wine snobs get all excited about are really run-of-the-mill $2 or $3 wines in Argentina. The Malbec produced by Doffo in Temecula is a substantial step up. Trust me on this; I’m one of those wine snobs and Doffo’s Malbec is nothing short of spectacular. The winery also produces a special red wine bearing the MotoDoffo name, a blend of their Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, with four different labels available, each highlighting a different vintage Ducati single from the MotoDoffo Collection. — Joe Berk