Winery Spotlight: David Coffaro Estate Vineyard
A visit to David Coffaro Estate Vineyard and Winery is an unforgettable experience. David, the winery’s namesake, has an unconventional story–he opened his business in Dry Creek Valley when he was 51 years old. He’d already been an amateur winemaker for 15 years, so he got a running start when he went pro. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the winery and vineyard, and the now-71-year-old Coffaro sees no end in sight. When asked if he considers retiring, he says, “Oh no–I tell my family that I’ll be in control when I’m 100.” One look at his website makes his passion for winemaking utterly apparent–since 1998, he’s kept a detailed diary that documents his work as well as stories of his family and his reactions to current events. It’s an incredible historic archive unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere.
After quitting his day job in 1972, Coffaro committed himself full time to playing the stock and commodity markets through the ‘70s. He didn’t attain the wealth of legends, but after he sold his Marin County home, he had enough money to purchase the vineyard he still operates today. For 15 years, he grew and sold grapes for a living while making amateur wines for himself. Through the connections he made, he learned from professional friends at Lambert Bridge, Nalle Winery, Ferrari-Carano, and the people at Vinquiry Laboratory. Coffaro opened his own onsite winery with his wife Pat in 1994, which he describes as the perfect time to start selling wine in Dry Creek Valley. Though the AVA was designated in 1983, there were only a few tasting rooms open to the public when Dave and Pat started selling their wines. A. Rafanelli Winery’s fame was drawing a lot of visitors to the area in the 1990s, and many other operations began opening their doors.
The estate is located in northern Dry Creek Valley, so temperatures are several degrees higher than in Healdsburg. Zinfandel is one of the earliest grapes to ripen at David Coffaro Estate Vineyard, because warm weather and less fog produces a diurnal variation in a normal day of 40 degrees, and sometimes more than 50 degrees. “Hang time is overrated,” says Coffaro, explaining that some of his favorite vintages for zinfandel have been produced by grapes that ripened in August.
Coffaro’s zinfandels are fantastic, iconic Dry Creek Valley wines, but they only comprise a fraction of the varieties he grows. When Coffaro arrived in Sonoma County in the 1970s, he was a collector of Bordeaux and hadn’t paid much attention to California wines. Though he soon found a taste for quality petite sirah and zinfandel wines, Coffaro has always taken cues from Bordeaux, emphasizing blends at his winery. In 1996, James Laube of Wine Spectator visited David Coffaro Estate Vineyard and raved about the wines. Laube called Coffaro’s wines, “deliciously pure, rich and distinctive,” and summarized his visit with a wish: “Here’s hoping [Coffaro] decides to hire a hand, boost production and use all his grapes to make more wines. The world will be a better place because of that.”
Fast forward 18 years to the present and Coffaro has gradually scaled up his production to about 5,000 cases per year. With the growth of the winery, Coffaro now employs six people full-time. Matt Wilson has worked at the winery for 10 years and assists in all aspects of winemaking. Catarino Flores has worked for Coffaro since 1998, acting as the all-around vineyard manager for nearly a decade.
Laube’s article drew well-deserved attention to David Coffaro Estate Vineyard; as business grew, Coffaro stopped selling grapes to other winemakers, and with good reason: he ran out of wine! This prompted a program he calls the “Crazy Coffaro Futures Program”–Coffaro sells many of his wines pre-release for a fraction of their value. If you pay a visit to the winery, you’ll have the opportunity to sample the wines while they’re still in the barrel. Coffaro feels that most wine is too expensive, and this program has allowed him to sell most of a vintage before it’s even in a bottle.
Despite their reputation for quality, you can still purchase Coffaro wines in the Futures program for nearly 40% off the suggested retail price. This often means finding one of the best values in Sonoma Wine Country, be it a zinfandel or one of his unique blends.
In the vineyard today, you’ll find an astounding breadth of variety. Year after year, Coffaro produces deliciously bold, well-balanced wines that the public loves without ever conforming to wine trends about what the public supposedly wants to drink. He grows plenty of zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, but as you walk the rows, you’ll also find less-common varieties such as sagrantino and tannat. Coffaro learned by observation of Gallo Wines, a former client, the range of what could growwell in his corner of the Valley. In 2005, on the recommendation of a friend, he purchased and planted souzao and alvarelhao, two grape varieties from Portugal. Coffaro got the clippings from a Portuguese grower who had planted them in Oakley, California. That piqued his interest in grapes from other areas of Europe and so he purchased some Italian wines and was similarly impressed with the quality. In 2006, he planted aglianico after tasting it at Seghesio Winery. “I love blending so these grapes work just fine in blends. They all grow well here and have good intensity and acid. Aglianico is one of the last to get ripe,” says Coffaro.
David Coffaro–the man and his wines–warrant a seemingly endless wealth of stories. When interviewed, he often begins answers with, “That’s a long story,” and then adds, “it’s all in my blog.” It’s true–from quarter-hourly weather updates, to information about the winery’s solar power panels, to his kitties’ recent trip to the vet. Oh yeah, you can shop for the wines, too.
Want to read more? Check out Steve Ferree’s story about his recent visit to David Coffaro Estate Vineyard on Examiner.com