Starting in the early 1970s Dave Caparone spent years making wines from grapes grown in the new vineyards planted in three coastal counties: Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo. He shared his wines and interests with those growers. This collaboration developed his original winemaking style and his knowledge about the impact of microclimates on grape quality. His style of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes chosen from specific vineyards in specific microclimates to develop the flavor, balance, and structure he was seeking.
As Dave studied, tasted, and analyzed European wines, his attention focused on the great wines of Italy. It has been said that the next best thing to being in Italy is to sip Nebbiolo crafted by winemaker Dave Caparone. Dave has spent years researching the three noble Italian grape varieties, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico. His focus on premium grape growing led to his search for the best microclimate in which to grow those Italian varieties to proper maturity in San Luis Obispo County.
Caparone Winery is the first in the United States to commercially produce Sangiovese and Aglianico wines. Caparone was the second winery to produce Nebbiolo wine in the United States. Nebbiolo was first produced in Amador County in the 1970s but was not successful. Dave’s diligent research and his selection of the perfect microclimate in San Luis Obispo County in which to grow the Nebbiolo grape, have produced an elegant and complex varietal. By the 1990s his Caparone wines proved that winegrowers in San Luis Obispo County were capable of producing premium quality grapes and wines from Italian varieties. His efforts were praised by California and national wine writers and critics.
Dave Caparone’s Impact on the Wine History of San Luis Obispo County
- Dave is the first to focus on red varieties grown in all three coastal counties and to examine the impact of the microclimate on each variety.
- Dave is the first in San Luis Obispo County to determine the importance of matching the varietal to the appropriate microclimate to maximize grape quality.
- Starting in 1973 Dave shared his research and conclusions on varietal characteristics with grape growers in the three coastal counties by making wines from grape varieties in specific vineyards, each located in a different microclimate.
- Dave is entirely self-taught; he developed his own unique style of winemaking. His style produces wines that age well.
- A Merlot wine, made in 1980 by Dave Caparone, was produced in the full-bodied style rather than the softer French style, thereby introducing a new “California style” in San Luis Obispo County.
- Dave is the first grower to focus on using the legacy of great Italian wines, rather than French wines, as the gold standard for California winemaking.
- Dave conducted a six-year study of the microclimates in the County to select the best location in the County to plant his vineyard with the three Italian varieties.
- Dave is the first to determine that most Italian varieties are planted in the wrong microclimates in California.
- Dave Caparone is the first grower and winemaker to complete extensive research on the three noble Italian varieties of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico.
- Dave planted the first experimental vineyard of 800 vines of Nebbiolo in San Luis Obispo County.
- Caparone Winery is the first to succeed commercially in producing the Italian varietal Nebbiolo in the United States.
- Caparone Winery is the first in the United States to commercially produce Italian varietals Sangiovese and Aglianico.
- Dave is the first grower, based on reviewing Italian research on multiple clones of Nebbiolo, to select the most suitable clone of Nebbiolo to grow in the Paso Robles AVA to meet the goal of producing a rich complex wine.
- Dave planted the first Sangiovese vines in San Luis Obispo County in 1982; the vines were propagated from cuttings brought to Sacramento from the famous Il Poggione Estate in Montalcino in Italy.
- Dave is the first to research the Aglianico grape and obtain cuttings from both UC Davis and from the plant collection of the Germplasm Repository, a Federal Agency.
- The winemaking of Dave Caparone is unique, developed over the years from the combination of his own research, experience, observation, and his palate. Dave does not fine, filter, centrifuge, micro-oxygenate, or accelerate the wine-making process.
- Jack Foott, the County Agriculture Advisor, visited the Caparone Vineyards multiple times to document the progress of the Italian varietals planted there.
- Caparone Vineyard design is focused on attention to water retention and his vineyards are weed-free with the spacing of the vines, 6 feet x 12 feet. Vines are planted perpendicular to the hill so that discing with the tractor creates small terraces between the rows of vines, collecting water and minimizing erosion on the hillside.
- Caparone wines are 100 percent varietal; there are no blends.
- The quality of grapes grown and the Caparone wines produced are comparable to their finest Italian counterparts; this has been recognized by many Italian wine critics.
- Caparone is one of the longest family-owned and family-operated vineyards and wineries in San Luis Obispo County dating back to 1979.
- The Caparone Winery, tasting room, wine club, and vineyards are staffed by two men: Dave and his son Marc. There are no other employees.
- Dave Caparone poured his 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1981 Merlot at the first Paso Robles Wine Festival in 1983. He continued pouring at the first eight festivals in Paso Robles.
- Caparone Winery is the first winery to have a 20-year relationship with Trader Joe’s to sell their wines, starting in 1984.
- In 1986 Dave produced Winter Mist, the most unique dessert wine made in Paso Robles. The grapes had endured over 50 nights of frost before Dave harvested them on January 18. The sugar content was 38 percent by weight. It was the first and only “ice wine” produced in San Luis Obispo County.
- Dave and Marc Caparone are known for their musical talents on trombone and trumpet. They are professional musicians; Marc has traveled and performed throughout the country. They are members of the Basin Regulars Club and perform annually at the Jazz Festival, Jubilee by the Sea, in Pismo Beach. They perform with many groups at a variety of locations throughout the year. Their music can be found on CDs and on YouTube. Dave also played with the Cuesta Wind Ensemble for many years.
- Dave is a farmer who owns a tractor but has never owned a truck.
- Mozart Festival: Dave and Marc and their band played jazz at the Wind Down Parties for the musicians on the last day of the festival in the 1980s.
Mary Caparone with sons Marc and Steve
Dave Caparone grew up in Southern California and graduated from UCLA. Dave and his wife Mary wanted to move to a quiet rural area. They moved to Shell Beach in 1966 and spent time touring and learning about San Luis Obispo County. In 1970 Dave began to study the great wines of Europe and California. He purchased many varietals, spent time analyzing those wines and purchasing favorites for his own wine collection.
In 1973 Dave began to visit newly planted vineyards in the adjacent coastal counties of Santa Barbara and Monterey as well as vineyards in Paso Robles. As Dave’s passion developed, he became interested in making his own wines. He had read a great deal about winemaking, but his real education developed from his own direct observations, his hands-on winemaking experiences, and his discussions with local growers. He started making his own wines, using grapes from many of these new vineyards and comparing the results from the same grape variety grown in different locations. He found there was a wide variation with his results. He returned to individual vineyards to share his wines and observations with the individual growers. Over time, Dave was able to determine the microclimates that produced the best grapes for his own winemaking style. He made Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
In 1987 Los Angeles Times Wine Critic Nathan Chroman noted that the style of Dave’s wines, particularly his Cabernet Sauvignon, were of the long-lived style that was prevalent in the 1970s.
The history of winegrowing and winemaking in California is spread among many ethnic groups. However, the first-generation Italians who migrated to California in the 19th- and 20th-century founded some of the most famous and enduring wineries including Gallo, Martini, Mondavi, San Antonio, Sebastiani, and Italian Swiss Colony. The focus in the early years was on creating a commodity that would please a wide audience. Zinfandel was the grape most often used for red table wine, sometimes referred to as “jug wine.”
The focus on producing quality wines in California came much later; in the 1960s and 1970s, the French Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties became the gold standard for quality wines in California. French wines had wide distribution throughout the world and were written about, highly praised, and available in America. Both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were grown throughout California and soon became the “California classics”, gaining worldwide attention in International Competitions during the 1970s, including the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976.
Dave is of Italian and German heritage; his grandfather emigrated to Pennsylvania to find work in the mines in 1901. He and his wife Lucia came from a small village, Montanaro, in Northern Italy in the Piedmont region. Antonio Caparone traditionally made wine for his family. Each fall, he bought grapes from a fruit broker in Pittsburgh; the grapes were shipped from California by railroad in wooden lug boxes. Those grapes were most likely Zinfandel. Dave’s father, Michael, did not continue the family winemaking tradition. But Dave’s passion for wine launched his career as a grower and winemaker.
Dave’s favorite wines were full-bodied reds; he started collecting Italian wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco. He soon found that he was attracted to the wines produced from the Nebbiolo grape.
Dave began to study wines and grape varieties in San Luis Obispo County with depth and intensity. He introduced himself to the legendary grape grower Benito Dusi. The Zinfandel grape is San Luis Obispo County’s heritage grape. Benito Dusi, who had an exclusive contract to sell old vine Zinfandel to Ridge Winery, always saved a small percentage of his grapes for home winemakers. Dave bought his grapes from Beni who offered his own wooden lug boxes to Dave to pick his own grapes in the famous Benito Dusi Vineyard. Dave made three vintages of Dusi Zin, 1973, 1974, and 1975.
Since Dave made his first Zinfandel in 1973, he has continually made wine. He developed his own style, starting with the premise that winemaking starts with the selection of a properly mature quality grapes. His classical approach to winemaking favors the natural over the artificial as well as tradition over technology. He believes “the finest wines are created by nature – they reflect the vine and the place it grows. Truly great wines are an expression of nature, not of the gadgets and chemicals that are used so often in modern winemaking. So, we take great pains to interfere as little as possible.”
The Caparone Vineyard
By the mid-seventies, Dave had focused his research on the three noble Italian grapes – Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico – and the micro-climates in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Monterey counties. He recognized that each grape variety needs to be grown in the microclimate where it can achieve proper maturation. Dave states that “proper maturation provides good balance and varietal character.” He noted that Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon can mature properly in a wide variety of microclimates. However, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico only work well in a narrow range of microclimates. “These requirements are inherent in the grape and are the same whether the grape is grown in California or in Europe.”
Dave spent six years studying microclimates in San Luis Obispo County and to determine the best place for him to grow the grapes for the varietals he wanted to produce. He wanted to make single varietal wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and the three noble Italian varieties. The micro-climates where Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon thrive are different from those best for the Italian varieties. He realized he could continue to source Cabernet and Merlot from other growers. Dave knew he needed to plant the Italian varieties in a warmer microclimate. Selecting the site of his vineyard where he would grow the Italian varieties was the single most important winemaking decision he had to make.
Dave purchased 60 acres of land for his vineyard in 1978 at 2280 San Marcos Road, seven miles northwest of Paso Robles. He consulted with a number of growers in the area, including old vine Zinfandel grower Richard Sauret whose famous vineyards were located nearby. The area is one of the warmest in the Paso Robles region. It has a daily average swing in temperature of almost 50 degrees between day and night. The climate is extremely dry which eliminates most problems with pests and mildew and mold. The soil is mixed alluvial with both sedimentary and igneous rock.
The site also has high-quality groundwater. Dave engaged Richard Sauret to drill his well, which is still functioning today. His vines have required approximately 40 hours of irrigation per year in the last two years, 2018 and 2019. Past years have required as many as 50 hours per year. Dave says “Our vineyard is located in one of the warmest parts of the Paso Robles appellation. I think it is safe to say after several decades of experience that this is the proper microclimate for these varieties. Logic would lead us to believe that where one variety can be successful, the other two will be also. Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Aglianico are as easy to grow in our vineyard as Zinfandel.”
The Founding of Caparone Winery
In 1979 Dave founded the Caparone Winery. His mission was to focus on single varietal wines with good balance, distinct varietal character, and wines that show complexity and restraint. Dave’s wines are ready to drink when released. They are not sensitive to oxygen because of Dave’s particular winemaking methods. They can last many days after opening in the bottle or they can age and develop in the bottle for decades. The winemaking practices that Dave uses include racking, long skin contact, and two years of barrel aging. The wines are unfined and unfiltered. Dave uses exactly the same method for each varietal he makes. His wines never have harsh tannins or a sensitivity to oxygen.
In the vineyard, the time of harvest is crucial. Once harvested, each wine will be in contact with the grape skins for four to six weeks before pressing. Each wine will spend two years in mostly neutral oak barrels where they are racked every four months; wines are neither fined nor filtered.
Dave designed his own winery as a rectangular building of approximately 4,000 square feet using Pole Construction. Trusses were built on-site and lifted into place. Walls between the poles were built with thick insulation for temperature control so that air conditioning is not necessary. Dave later added another 2,000 feet to this building for storing his tractor and equipment. A second building was built in 1992 by the same contractor to handle the increased production of 10,000 cases per year, the majority sold through Trader Joe’s in Southern California.
Full-bodied Red Wines: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
Dave is a self-taught winemaker who favors full-bodied red wines. His hands-on experience in the vineyard and the winery has shaped his extraordinary winemaking style. The first wines he produced were Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
In May 1984 the wine writer for Attentione Magazine, Albert R. Cirillo, wrote a thoughtful and scholarly article entitled “Italian Wine, California Style” with the tagline “In the valley of the jolly grape giants, Italian vines are just emerging from the shadow of their famous French cousins.” This Italian wine writer noted that California Cabernets and Chardonnays, made in the image of French wines, have been attracting worldwide attention and premium prices. He observed that for many neophyte wine drinkers these California grapes were their standard rather than those of European wines. Cirillo also mentioned that the great Italian red varieties such as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese had not had the same success in California as those French varieties made famous in Bordeaux and Burgundy. There was a reason for this: California growers had not experimented with growing Italian grape varieties. There was little research available to growers in the United States on these varieties.
Dave had already recognized the challenge, and as a result, would change both San Luis Obispo County and California wine history. He would discover the best microclimate for growing each variety and develop a winemaking style for the Italian varietals he would ultimately become famous for.
Cirillo was writing about Merlot when he discovered Dave Caparone’s 1980 Merlot. He purchased the Merlot at a wine shop in California and was so impressed with it that he sought out the winemaker in San Luis Obispo County and asked for an interview. Cirillo described the Merlot as a serious wine with a rich full bouquet and intense fruit with genuine structure – a wine that “may well point the way to potential greatness for Merlot in California.” Dave’s winemaking style and his selection of Merlot grapes from the cooler climate in Templeton with its Pacific Ocean influences showcased Dave’s attention to crafting his wines. Dave felt that the cooler climates produced ideal Merlot for his needs. At the time, Dave was producing 3,000 cases per year with 20 percent in Merlot and the balance in Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Paso Robles AVA and the Founding of the Wine Festival – 1983
In 1983 the first Paso Robles Wine Festival took place with 17 local winemakers pouring, along with wines from five other wineries that used Central Coast grapes. Approximately 3500 people attended and over 20,000 glasses of wine were poured. In the same year, the Paso Robles AVA was established, and major marketing efforts began to introduce Paso Robles wines to California and to the nation. Dave poured his 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon and his 1981 Merlot at his booth.
Dave poured for eight years along with a handful of other winemakers including Stanley Hoffman of HMR, Tom and Nick Martin of Martin Brothers, Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, and Victor Hugo Roberts of Creston Manor. The other wineries participating were El Paso de Robles, Estrella River, Fairview Farm, Las Tablas, Mastantuono, Old Casteel, Pesenti, Ranchita Oaks, Tobias, Twin Hills, York Mountain, and Watson Wineries.
Nathan Chroman, a wine writer for the Los Angeles Times, attended the Festival and reviewed both Dave’s Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon most favorably in a column entitled: “San Luis Obispo Vineyards Are Coming into Their Own,” dated Thursday, May 12, 1983. Nathan states: “It is unusual for someone as new in the business as Dave Caparone to make such highly stylized wines as his Cab and Merlot, both of which show fine inky extract while the former seems to display mint and eucalyptus.” He describes the Merlot at 13 percent alcohol as supplying a big aggressive nose and an intense chocolatey taste, not unlike that found in high-end Cabernets. He recommended the deep dark purple Merlot, with full-bore flavors, for game and roasts, stating that it is “out-of-character” for a California Merlot. This writer’s closing statements: “It is time to recognize the area for its vineyard accomplishments. A celebration festival and consumer respect are long, long overdue.”
Nathan Chroman also tasted and reviewed Dave’s 1984 Merlot produced from grapes sourced from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Appellation. Nathan continued his praise for the structure and power of the wine, describing it as long on fruit and sporting a fat texture, herbal characteristics, and aromatic on the nose. The price was $7.50 which Nathan felt was a good buy “not because of any impending softness (a clear target of most Merlots) but because it makes a big statement, the kind rejected by Bordeaux Merlot vintners who look to the grape for soft, supple textures and flavors. Without a doubt, this is strictly a California-styled Merlot and is not another weak attempt to emulate the French.” What Nathan missed in his analysis was that Dave’s approach was his own style. He was not trying to emulate anyone else.
Wine Awards, Large Tasting Events – Selling Wines in the Early 1980s
Dave, like all winemakers, had to develop his own marketing strategy to sell his wines. He was a member of the California Central Coast Growers Association based in Santa Maria. In 1981 they held their first wine competition with judges selected from wine writers, critics, Universities, and winemakers throughout California. Dave is awarded a Silver for his 1979 Caparone Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Tepusquet Vineyard in Santa Maria. Over the years, he has avoided entering wine contests. As far as he knows, that is the onlt medal hw has won.
The Third Annual Great San Diego Tasting was held in the San Diego Hilton International Ballroom on November 15, 1981, presented by KPBS to support public broadcasting. Sixty-six wineries in California participated. Dave poured his 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon – Santa Maria Tepusquet Vineyards. Estrella River Winery and Lawrence Winery were the only other wineries participating from San Luis Obispo County.
Dave’s wines were definitely noticed by wine critics as well as the public. The Wine Spectator publishes their recommendations among current releases in the October 16 to 21, 1981, edition which included Caparone 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, Tepusquet Vineyard for $9.50. He made many trips to Southern California to sell his wines to wine shops and restaurants. More recognition followed as he participated in more events.
The Orange County Wine Society and Jerry D. Mead presented the Summer Wine Extravaganza Winery Tour Program at the Disneyland Hotel on May 23, 1982, from 4 to 8 pm. Dave attended for three years and poured his varietals.
The Pocket Profile published in 1982 by Evento-Gamina Publications in San Francisco notes that ‘against others’ advice, Caparone identifies grape sources on his self-designed label. Dave responds: “I think it is honest.”
Dave marketed his first release himself but then hired Dan Lewis of Los Gatos for California Sales and Noel Engle for sales outside the state. But a lucky tasting of his wines by two men looking for new California wines to sell changed everything including Dave’s business model and his marketing strategy.
The Business Model
The business model is based on two men, David and Marc Caparone, father and son, doing much of the work in the vineyard, the winery, and the wine club together. There are no other regular employees. Marc started working with his father when he was six years old and continued to do so even while attending college and studying history at UC Davis.
Dave established a long term business relationship with Trader Joe’s that allowed him to spend his time researching Italian grape varieties and developing his Italian varietals. This worked well for Dave who has used his own savings to finance his vineyard, equipment, and winery. His careful analysis of the results of his input resulting in successful output has kept his costs low and allowed him to produce premium wines at reasonable prices, all wines selling for less than $18 today.
Trader Joe’s Discovers Dave Caparone
In 1984 two employees from Trader Joe’s, the small specialty grocery chain in Southern California, discovered Caparone wines while visiting wineries in Paso Robles. Trader Joe’s approached Dave to ask him about carrying the Caparone wines in their 15 stores, stretching from Ventura to San Diego. Dave immediately accepted. Each year he visited the headquarters in South Pasadena and brought his current vintages to share with the executives. The environment was laid back and casual, no one wore a tie. This relationship continued, without a formal contract or negotiation, for the next twenty years. This allowed Dave to focus on growing grapes and crafting new vintages in his unique style rather than marketing his wines.
An article in 1994 described Trader Joe’s philosophy of setting a ceiling of $10 on the price of each wine. Their philosophy with all their products is” trust us to give good value at a good price.” Trader Joe’s also looked for niche wines, both French and Italian. Caparone wines were discussed in the article: “Dave Caparaone only sells his wine to Trader Joe’s and a few restaurants. It is almost a cult wine. We sell out as soon as we get it. A lot of small wineries get their wines out and get exposure at a good price through Trader Joe’s. With Caparone, we buy wine from him, he trucks it to our warehouse, and we cut out the middleman…It’s always been our philosophy to give the consumer the best quality at the best price.”
Dave Caparone, Nebbiolo 1st picking, 1985.
Marc Caparone, Nebbiolo 1st picking, 1985.
Dave and Marc Caparone, Nebbiolo 1st picking, 1985.
The First Noble Italian Variety – Nebbiolo
Dave’s research and search for the appropriate vines to plant began when he decided to focus on the three great noble varieties. He started with Nebbiolo in 1976; he decided to visit UC Davis to see if there were experts to talk to and to examine their research. At the time there were probably over 200 clones of Nebbiolo planted in Italy. However, no one had thoroughly researched the variety. Dave spent several days at UC Davis but found no one who had specific knowledge of the grape. In the 1970s the University was focused on the large commercial growers and wineries, rather than small boutique wineries and unusual grape varieties.
Dave visited the UC Davis Library and found it contained some interesting research material on Italian varieties. One article written in 1936 specifically stated that Nebbiolo should not be planted in California. Many of the research papers were written in Italian. Dave’s father, Michael, translated the research for Dave; he still has his father’s handwritten translation of these articles. No one at the University knew much about Italian varieties.
So, Dave looked for growers of Nebbiolo in California to interview them. He located a small number of Nebbiolo grapevines at the Montevina Winery in Amador County which had been planted in 1972. Limited amounts of Nebbiolo wine were produced from 1976 to 1980 from these vines but the varietal was not commercially successful for Montevina. As Dave recalls his visit, he reflects on the climate in this part of Amador County, it was most likely too cool for the grapes to mature fully. A less than fully mature grape cannot produce the flavor and structure needed in the wine. Dave could not find any other vineyards of Nebbiolo.
One of the challenges that Dave discovered was that there were many clones of Nebbiolo in Italy. Small quantities of the variety had been grown in California for more than 100 years in the San Jaquin Valley. The soil in Dave’s vineyard is similar to that of many Piedmont vineyards in Italy but the climate in Paso Robles is different. It is more Mediterranean in climate and has less precipitation. Dave’s vineyard has proved to be the perfect place for growing Nebbiolo in San Luis Obispo County. In the Piedmont region, some of the greatest wines – Barolo and Barbaresco – are made from the Nebbiolo grape. These wines are known for their ability to develop as they age.
In the winter of 1979/1980, Dave received a clone of Nebbiolo from UC Davis, originally sent by the University of Turin in Italy. This was a different clones from that planted in California in the 19th Century. In 1980 Dave planted Nebbiolo, using the Michet Clone, provided by the University of Turin. This Michet Clone is responsible for some of the better Nebbiolo wines.
Dave made the first planting of the Michet clone in the United States. He planted his own experimental vineyard of 800 vines to monitor the development of the variety. Over time it was determined that Michet characteristics were caused by a virus in the grape.
In 1985 Dave produced the first Caparone Nebbiolo wine. It was sold at Trader Joe’s and was well received. Research on the Nebbiolo grape and other varieties continued to progress in Italy. In 1995, the International Symposium on Clonal Selection was hosted at the University of Turin. One of the research scientists, Franco Mannini, presented a research study showing that different clones of the Nebbiolo cultivar produce wines with different sensory characteristics that are related to relative wine quality. As a result of this clonal selection and evaluation process, Dave became aware of several new clones at UC Davis that have been registered and made available to growers.
Dave was able to obtain one of the most promising clone selections for his microclimate known then as Nebbiolo 230. He replaced all of the vines of the Michet clone with Nebbiolo 230 in his vineyard in 1998. Dave’s selection was based on research done by a team, including Dr. Anna Schneider at the University of Turin. She studied many of the clones and their specific characteristics. Dave and his son Marc feel that it is slightly better than the previous clone; the clone does well in their vineyard. Nebbiolo is prone to mildew and mold. Dave’s vineyard is in an extremely warm and dry microclimate in Paso Robles. The vines have always been extremely healthy with no sign of mildew, mold, or insect pests. Dave has never had to spray his vines during the last 40 years.
The Nebbiolo grapes are harvested in October, similar to the harvest time in Piedmont Italy. The soils in our area are similar, but the climates are different as stated earlier; the climate of Dave’s vineyard is described as more Mediterranean and has less precipitation here in San Luis Obispo County. In contrast, Northern Italy has a continental climate with rain during the growing season.
The Second Noble Variety – Sangiovese
The Sangiovese grape had not been planted in California, except in a field blend in a Sonoma vineyard, at the time Dave decided to plant it in his vineyard. The Brunello type of Sangiovese Grosso was first isolated on the Biondi-Santi Estate near Montalcino over a century ago. However, production was extremely limited in 1970; only 170 acres of this grape was growing there. This small production was used to produce amazing and expensive Italian wine known as Brunello di Montalcino. Dave led the way with the first commercial planting and production of Sangiovese in the United States.
Dave’s research confirmed that Sangiovese is a complex subject. In some Italian vineyards research has shown that many varieties of Sangiovese were often planted in the same vineyard, each with different characteristics and ripening times. The variations often affected the quality of the wine produced.
In the late 1970s, Dave heard from a friend that Prince di Napoli-Rampolla brought a dozen Sangiovese Grosso cuttings from the Il Poggione Estate at Montalcino in Italy to Sacramento, California. Dave was able to obtain cuttings of the resulting vines which were propagated by commercial nurseries in the San Joaquin Valley. The first Sangiovese was planted in Dave’s vineyard in 1982.
Nathan Chroman tasted and reviewed the 1986 Brunello, writing that it was a bit more supple in style than those produced in Italy. He praised the elegant fruit and strong flavors, noting that he liked the absence of the strong flavor of tar found in many of the Brunellos produced in Montalcino. In his February 19th article of 1987 in the LA Times, Nathan noted that the Brunello tastes as though it is fully mature, a most appealing wine that should go a long way toward establishing Sangiovese varietals here on a solid footing.
Dave Caparone, 1st picking of Aglinico grape, Oct 15, 1992.
The Third Noble Variety – Aglianico
Dave obtained several quality Aglianico wines from Italy to taste and evaluate in 1982. He studied the two appellations known for quality Aglianico wines: Taurasi and Aglianico del Vulture. Taurasi produced 12,000 cases per year from grapes grown on 970 acres. The Aglianico del Vulture appellation was only 600 acres in size in the early 1980s with very limited production.
Dave was the first to research Aglianico, the third noble Italian grape variety and he was the first to plant it in the United States.
The search for cuttings was again challenging. Eventually, Dave sourced Aglianico cuttings from vines imported a century ago; they were found in an obscure plant library known as the Germplasm Repository. Dave contacted UC Davis and Dr. Harold Olmo. They referred Dave to the Germplasm Repository, a Federal Agency, to obtain cuttings of Aglianico. It is most likely that these cuttings came from vines originally obtained from UC Davis vineyards. Dr. Olmo confirmed the identity of the cuttings as Aglianico for Dave in 1986.
Dave obtained cuttings of Aglianico vines from the collection at UC Davis in 1987. These were propagated and planted in the Caparone Vineyard in 1988. The First Aglianico varietal was produced at Caparone Winery in 1992.
Dr. Anna Schneider of the University of Turin later visited UC Davis and verified that the Aglianico vines that Dave had planted from cuttings at UC Davis were true to its variety. Dave was later invited to speak and share his expertise at seminars discussing the three noble varieties.
In 1996 Dave was invited to speak and share his expertise on this Italian variety at a seminar at UC Davis.
The Most Unique Wine Produced in San Luis Obispo County – Winter Mist
In 1986 Dave produced Winter Mist – the most unique dessert wine produced in Paso Robles. Dave received a call from the Miller family who owned Legendary French Camp Vineyard, east of Paso Robles. It was January and there were Gamay grapes hanging on the vines that had not been harvested in October. Dave harvested the grapes on January 18; Dave picked ten half-ton lugs of grapes. The grapes had endured over 50 nights of frost before Dave harvested them. The sugar content was 38 percent by weight. The wine fermented on the skins for two months before pressing. It was placed in small barrels to age. It was a lush and complex dessert wine with 14 percent alcohol by volume.
It was the first and only “ice wine” produced in San Luis Obispo County.
Caparone Winery was producing 10,000 cases in 1992. Trader Joe’s continued to sell approximately 80 percent of the Caparone wines in their stores. This continued until 2004 when Dave and his son Marc made some changes in their lifestyle and gradually reduced production to 3,000 cases. They decided to sell their wines directly to the public and through a few fine wine distributors. They enjoy working together without regular employees; the vineyards and winemaking are managed with the two men working together.
Caparone Winery formed its own wine club in 2004 and encouraged visitors to come to the winery for tours and tastings. They have a loyal following. The Caparone Winery is open to the public for tours and tastings. Dave and Marc continue to work with four distributors to sell about 20 percent of their production.
Personal Interests and Passions
Music has always been an important part of their lives. Dave plays the trombone and Marc the trumpet. David originally started as a classical musician but plays jazz today locally as does Marc. The two have performed in the Creole Syncopators Jazz Group at Jubilee by the Sea in Pismo Beach. They are members of the group called The Basin Street Regulars which was founded in 1977 and hosts Jubilee by the Sea with swing, big band, Dixieland, and New Orleans jazz.
Marc started attending Jubilee as a child and developed an interest in traditional jazz. He joined the Creole Syncopators at age fifteen and has become known as a specialist in the jazz trumpet styles of the 1920s and 1930s. Marc has performed with many groups all around the county and you can find him playing with some of the groups on YouTube with Dave alongside.
Dave has a passion for Art Deco and for cars. He has combined the two in his hobby of restoring cars, focusing on the Art Deco cars of the 1930s. His rare 1937 Lincoln Zephyr two-door Coupe-Sedan received a perfect 100 point score in the Car Show West hosted by the Lincoln-Zephyr Owners Club in Jacksonville Oregon in May 2012. Dave and his wife drove the car from Paso Robles both ways, making the 600-mile trip home in ten and half hours in comfort and with high speed. He drove the car there for the four-day event. Dave received an invitation to show this car at 2013 Pebble Beach “Concours D’Elegance.” Dave purchased the car in 2004 from Don Dailey of Hartford City, Indiana. Only 1500 bodies were built of the two-door Coupe-Sedan, selling for $1,275 in 1937. He has four remarkable classic cars that he has restored and drives locally in Paso Robles and on road trips.
Ford Motor Company has borrowed his cars; they were on display in 2012 at the LA Convention Center for the Annual Auto Show. One of his cars is a 1936 Ford three-window Coupe. He has used it for touring all over the Western United States including Yellowstone National Park, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Watch for Dave in one of his classics the next time you are touring and wine tasting in Paso Robles.
1901: Grandfather Antonio Caparone and his wife Lucia emigrate from Montanaro, a small town north of Torino in Italy, to Pennsylvania.
1925: Dave’s father, Michael Caparone, enrolls at Penn State to earn a degree in Electrical Engineering.
1929: Dave’s father graduates from Penn State.
1935: Dave’s parents marry. Dave’s mother, Thelma Zimmer, was of German heritage. Her grandparents emigrated to the United States in the 1870s.
1936: An article written in 1936 and housed at the UC Davis Library, specifically states that Nebbiolo should not be planted in California.
1939: Dave is born in Pennsylvania.
1943: Dave moves with family to Arcadia, California.
1957: Dave graduates from Arcadia High School.
1961: Dave graduates from UCLA with a degree in Fine Arts.
1966: Dave and his wife Mary move to Shell Beach in San Luis Obispo County and live there until 1979.
1970: Dave begins to read about and study wines from many regions of Europe and California. He starts collecting Italian wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco; he is attracted to the wines produced from the Nebbiolo grape.
1973: Dave visits new vineyards planted in three counties – Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo – to study the varieties planted in each. His research continues for a decade and results in a new understanding of the relationship between microclimate and grape variety characteristics for winemakers and growers.
1973: Dave begins making wine in his home cellar; his first wine, Zinfandel, is made with grapes sourced from the Benito Dusi Vineyard. Dave picks the grapes from the Benito Dusi Vineyard and loads them into wooden crates lent by Beni to Dave.
1973: Dave starts his research of microclimates in the Paso Robles area. He is looking for the best climate in which to plant the three noble Italian varieties and Zinfandel grapes. He has determined that grapes for other wine varietals that he wants to make can be sourced from growers in other microclimates.
1974: Dave makes his second vintage of Zinfandel from Benito Dusi Vineyard grapes.
1975: Dave makes his third vintage of Zinfandel from Benito Dusi Vineyard Grapes.
1976: Dave starts focusing his research on three great Italian varieties: Sangiovese, Aglianico, and Nebbiolo. He starts with Nebbiolo, studying materials at UC Davis and looking for Nebbiolo vineyards in California. The research at UC Davis on each of these varieties was written in Italian. Dave’s father translates all the research for Dave.
1976: Dave visits Montevina Winery in Amador County; the owners planted a small number of Nebbiolo grapevines in 1972. They made limited amounts of Nebbiolo wine from 1975 to 1980 but were not commercially successful.
1978: Dave purchases land for his vineyard at 2280 San Marcos Road, seven miles northwest of Paso Robles. The area is one of the warmest in the Paso Robles region. It has high-quality water, a daily average swing of almost 50 degrees between day and night. The climate is extremely dry which eliminates most problems with pests and mold. The soil is mixed alluvial, with both sedimentary and igneous rocks.
1979: Dave founds Caparone Winery to focus on the wines he liked best: full-bodied red wines, uncompromising commitment to quality.
1979: He designs an Art Deco label that he continues to use 41 years later. All of his labels specify the place of origin of the grapes. His first wine produced under his own label is Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes sourced from Tepusquet Vineyard in Sisquoc. Dave designs his business card and brochure using Art Deco design influences.
1979: In the winter of 1979/1980 Dave receives a clone of Nebbiolo originally sent by the University of Turin to UC Davis.
1979/1980: Caparone vineyards are planted with the wide spacing, 6” x 12”, so that the vines will be more drought tolerant. The vines are planted on rolling hills specifically to control erosion and water retention in the soil. The rows of vines are planted perpendicular to the slope so that as the tractor travels about the rows, the disking creates a series of small terraces in each row. When it rains, the terraces collect the rain so most of the water sinks into the ground rather than running down the slopes and eroding the topsoil.
1980: Dave plants 800 vines of Nebbiolo, using a clone isolated by the University of Turin. Dave plants the “Michet” clone which is known to produce the major varieties of great Barolos in Italy. This is the first planting of the “Michet” clone in the United States.
1980: Dave had to order stainless-steel tanks for the winery from outside the County. They were shipped by railroad and arrived in Paso Robles. Dave hired Mervin Rotta to truck them to the winery.
1981: The California Central Coast Wine Growers Association publishes the first guide to vineyards and wineries called: Vineyards on the Mission Trail – The Wineland of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County with a detailed map. Each winery is described with a picture of its label along with the history of the area. Dave is described as one of the more interesting personalities among San Luis Obispo County winemakers. “Everyone has a certain wine they gravitate to,” says Dave. He has found a passion for the Italian varietals.
1981: The California Central Coast Wine Growers Association holds the first annual judging with Judges Richard Thomas, Darrell Corti, Mark Allen Gill, John Tilson, Dan Berger, Mary Ann Graff, Myron Nightengale, Vince Petrucci, Dinsmoor Webb, Anthony Dias Blue, and Harvey Steinman. Dave is awarded a Silver for his 1979 Caparone Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Tepusquet Vineyard in Santa Maria.
1981: The Third Annual Great San Diego Tasting is held in the San Diego Hilton International Ballroom on November 15 presented by KPBS to support public broadcasting. Sixty-six wineries in California participated. Dave poured his 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon – Santa Maria Tepusquet Vineyards.
1981: The Wine Spectator publishes their recommendations among current releases in the October 16 to 21 edition which includes Caparone 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, Tepusquet Vineyard for $9.50.
1982: Dave obtains Sangiovese Grosso cuttings that originated from one of the most respected producers of Brunello di Montalcino in Italy. In the late 1970s, Prince di Napoli-Rampolla brought a dozen Sangiovese cuttings to California. These were reportedly obtained from the Il Poggione Estate at Montalcino. Dave was able to obtain cuttings from the resulting vines which were propagated for him by commercial nurseries in the San Joaquin Valley and planted in 1982.
1982: Dave releases his 1980 vintage of Templeton Merlot. Grapes are sourced from the Templeton Gap, “Templeton” was shown on the label.
1982: Dave obtains several quality Aglianico wines from Italy to taste and evaluate. He studies the two appellations known for quality Aglianico wines: Taurasi and Aglianico del Vulture. Taurasi produces 12,000 cases per year from 970 acres; the Aglianico del Vulture appellation has a limited production and is only 600 acres in size.
1982: Sunset Magazine article entitled “Paso Robles to Santa Barbara. cattle country becomes wine country,” is published in the October issue with a map showing 12 wineries, including Caparone, in San Luis Obispo County with tastings offered to the public. This is the first focus on modern winemakers in the area by wine writers at Sunset Magazine.
1982: Orange County Wine Society and Jerry D. Mead present the Summer Wine Extravaganza Winery Tour Program at the Disneyland Hotel on May 23 from 4 to 8 pm. Dave attends and pours his wine.
1982: The Pocket Profile published by Evento-Gamina Publications in San Francisco notes that ‘against others’ advice, Caparone identifies grape sources on his self-designed label. Dave responds: “I think it is honest.” Dave marketed his first release himself but then hired Dan Lewis of Los Gatos for California Sales and Noel Engle for sales outside the state.
1982: Dave releases 600 cases of the 1980 Templeton Merlot in the spring.
1982: Dave releases 1,600 of the 1980 Tepusquet Cabernet Sauvignon in the fall.
1983: The Paso Robles AVA is established.
1983: The Paso Robles Wine Festival is established. Dave pours his wines at the first eight Paso Robles Wine Festivals. Nathan Croman, a wine writer for the Los Angeles Times, attends the festival and writes that San Luis Vineyards are coming into their own and recognition is long overdue. He gives Caparone wines a very favorable review.
1983: Orange County Wine Society and Jerry D. Mead present the Summer Wine Extravaganza Winery Tour Program at the Disneyland Hotel on June 5, from 4 to 8 pm. Dave attends and pours his wine.
1984: Orange County Wine Society and Jerry D. Mead present the Summer Wine Extravaganza Winery Tour Program at the Disneyland Hotel on June 10 from 4 to 8 pm. Dave attends and pours his wines.
1984: Two employees from Trader Joe’s, a small specialty grocery chain in Southern California, discover Caparone wines while visiting wineries in Paso Robles. Trader Joes negotiates a contract with Dave to carry the Caparone wines.
1984: Wine writer Albert R. Cirillo writes a scholarly article in the May issue of the Italian food and culture magazine, Attentione, describing Italian Wine, California Style with the tagline that states, “In the valley of the jolly grape giants, Italian vines are emerging from the shadows of their famous French cousins.” He describes Dave Caparone’s wines, including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a glowing review.
1985: First harvest of Nebbiolo.
1985: First Caparone Nebbiolo wine is produced.
1986: Caparone Winery produces the first American Sangiovese.
1986: Caparone Winery releases Winter Mist, the most unique dessert wine produced in Paso Robles. It was the first and only “ice wine” produced in San Luis Obispo County.
1986: Caparone Winery receives a Certificate of Award for participation in the Whittier Wine and Food Society’s California Wine Country Tour to the Mozart Festival. Dave and Marc participated in the Mozart Festival by playing jazz at the Wind Down Party for all the musicians that participated on the last day of the festival.
1986: Dave visits the collection owned by the Germplasm Repository, a Federal Agency, which includes the Aglianico vines. He is given permission to obtain cuttings for propagation in the winter of 1987. Dr. Harold Olmo of UC Davis helps Dave identify the Aglianico vines. Apparently, these vines were once in the UC Davis collection.
1987: Dave introduces the third great Italian grape, Aglianico, to the United States. It was sourced from some cuttings imported a century ago, found in an obscure plant library.
1987: Dave obtained cuttings of Aglianico vines from the collection at UC Davis. These were propagated from commercial plantings and planted in the Caparone Vineyard in 1988.
1992: First Aglianico varietal is produced at Caparone Winery.
1992: Caparone Winery production reaches 10,000 cases.
1992: Dr. Anna Schneider of the University of Turin visits UC Davis and verifies that the Aglianico vines that Dave has planted from cuttings at UC Davis are true to its variety.
1992: As the business with Trader Joe’s increases, Dave expands the winery, building a separate 6,000 square foot facility, and purchasing additional stainless-steel tanks.
1995: International Symposium on Clonal Selection – at this event one of the research scientists, Franco Mannini, from the University of Turin presents a research study showing that different clones of the Nebbiolo cultivar produce wines with different sensory characteristics which are related to relative wine quality. As a result of this clonal selection and evaluation process, Dave reports that several new clones have been registered and made available to growers.
1998: Dave is able to obtain one of the most promising clone selections of Nebbiolo known at UC Davis as Nebbiolo 230; the new Nebbiolo 230 is planted to replace the first clone of Nebbiolo planted in 1980 in Vineyard. Dave’s selection is based on research done by a team including Dr. Anna Schneider at the University of Turin.
2004: Dave and his son Marc decided to reduce production to 3000 cases per year with an emphasis on direct sales and a few fine wine distributors.
2004: The 20-year relationship with Trader Joe’s ends. The number of cases produced is gradually reduced and the wine is sold directly to the public.
2004: The Caparone Wine Club is established.
2004: Dave purchases the Black 1937 Zephyr Coupe-Sedan from Don Daily in Hartford City, Indiana with extraordinary Art Deco streamline design features which needs a complete restoration, including the repainting the exterior in the original color, Ocean Beach Sand.
2012: Dave scores 100 points for the restoration of his rare 1937 Zephyr Coupe-Sedan at the Lincoln-Zephyr Owners Club Car Event on May 19 in Jacksonville, Oregon.
2013: Dave’s rare 1937 Zephyr Coupe-Sedan is shown at the Pebble Beach “Concours D’Elegance.”
2020: The Caparone Winery continues to produce unique premium wines by Dave and Marc Caparone.
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My wife and I have been avid members of the Caparone wine club since just after its inception and have never been disappointed in any of their fabulous wines. We first joined when I did an Internet search for any wineries that made a 100% varietal of either Aglianico or Nebbiolo and, of course, Caparone Winery popped up as the only one known at that time and they made both…! We have a fairly large wine cellar with about 1200 bottles from all over the world but Dave and Marc make some of the finest wines ever available anywhere. We live in Ferndale, WA, up near the Canadian border but have taken road trips in our vintage/custom cars to visit their winery and meet them in person. Like Dave, I’m a vintage automobile aficionado and we were able to see his 1937 Lincoln Zephyr when it was almost completely restored. Dave is just as talented at vehicle restoration as he is at winemaking. Good luck to them and their families with a 3rd generation of winemakers in training…!