I was raised in an agricultural family; my Dad was an accomplished beekeeper and my grandfather managed a fish hatchery. In high school I had some friends whose parents made wine in their cave (actually an old gold mine). We got together with another friend and started a 4-H project and entered the results of our work in the El Dorado County Fair Home Winemaking competition. We made Chenin Blanc and Grenache with must donated by Greg Boeger from Boeger Vineyards in Placerville. We also produced a Plum wine and a Blackberry wine, The Blackberry wine received “Best of Show”. This was the inspiration I needed to enter the enology program at The University of California, Davis.
After graduating from UC Davis, I went to work as a cellar worker at Grgich Hills Cellars. There, alongside four other UC Davis graduates and Mike Grgich, I learned the critically important winery production processes for producing ultra premium wines. This was all about cleaning barrels, endless pump overs, lugging scores of hosing, racking wine and a multitude of additional chores that must be done to produce a fine wine. Grgich Hills was a great place to begin a winemaking career as I was surrounded by passionate, innovative peers and shown what it takes to build a great wine.
In 1989 I moved north, as cellar master to one of Napa Valley's renowned Zinfandel producers, Jerry Seps' Storybook Mountain. The move to a much smaller operation afforded me the opportunity to oversee nearly all production aspects at the winery. This four-year, Zinfandel-intensive tenure was incredibly valuable to my winemaking career.
The year 1993 brought me to Rombauer Vineyards where I began as cellar master but quickly rose to assistant winemaker. Because Rombauer also functions as a custom crush facility, (a facility where small wineries may bring their grapes to be produced into wine) it was a unique opportunity to work with a wide spectrum of varietals, winemaking styles and a multitude of respected winemakers.
In 1998 Frank Family Vineyards offered me the opportunity to be winemaker. I produced an amazing array of wine brands including Rombauer, Frank Family still and sparkling wines and many different boutique wineries. I could not have asked for a more broad and varied foundation from which to launch my own brand.
The opportunity to source and produce my own wine came in 1994 when several tons of the (not yet) super esteemed Black Sears Zinfandel was made available to me. Could anyone have asked for better grapes to start with??! While Ridge Vineyards was the first to source this once dilapidated vineyard, it was Turley Vineyards and D-Cubed who brought acclaim to its grapes. My premiere release was the blending of select Black Sears rows with other outstanding Howell Mountain vineyards (it is still one of my core productions).
In 1996 Brown Estate Vineyards, who produced their Zinfandel at Rombauer, asked me to be their winemaker and advisor for their new winery project. I believed their estate grown Zinfandel was of tremendous quality - Chiles valley vines that were passionately well farmed. I subsequently began purchasing grapes from different Brown Estate blocks that would ultimately go into the premiere production of my Napa Valley Zinfandel.
In the spring of 2002, I left Frank Family Vineyards to devote my efforts to D-Cubed wines and two vineyards that I consult for, Bravante Vineyards on Howell Mountain, and Brown Estate Vineyards in Chiles Valley.
My 4-H project beginnings evolved into a career of Napa Valley winemaking. For me, there is no other grape like Zinfandel, the most “California Styled” grape that begs to be drunk with merriment and smiles. Zinfandel has a unique mouth-feel, an intensity of fruit and an inherent element of fun not matched by other reds. With this in mind, D-Cubed Cellars produces it’s distinctly different Zinfandels: Napa Valley, Howell Mountain, Black Sears, Brown Vineyards, and Slaybaugh Ranch.
One of the coolest things is watching every one of these bottlings become a better wine each year. I attribute that to the fact that these select vineyards are simply getting better through consistent vineyard management and through the miles of muddy, rocky fields I walk year after year.
I will always concentrate on Zinfandel...aside from being my favorite grape; it's just fun to drink! Zinfandel's has a loose celebratory, raucous feel about it-- not the serious, hushed tone of Bordeaux varietals. This varietal is a great grape to taste alongside other Zins to begin to understand regional, vineyard, winemaker and production variances. It's a great evening when I can sit down with a bunch of friends and a handful of Zinfandels (including some of mine of course!) while we taste and evaluate the night away! Line 'em up and try them!
My tasting room, The Vintner’s Collective in downtown Napa, gives everyone a place where they can come and taste my wines. We also have a release party each year after the ZAP Festival. I look forward to see you at one of these two tastings.
Duane David Dappen