Biography, Duane David Dappen (Dᶟ)
Duane was raised in an agricultural family; his Dad was a prized beekeeper and grandfather a manager of a fish hatchery. He was surrounded by family friends who dabbled in home winemaking. There were small, loosely tended vineyards scattered throughout the area and even some caves where these homemade, viniferous mixtures were aged. Naturally, he chose to enter his first 4-H winemaking contest at the age of eighteen. These memorable batches of swill were plum, blackberry and Grenache wines with the blackberry batch winning best of show! This was the inspiration he needed to enter the enology program at The University of California, Davis.
After graduating from UC Davis,Duane went to work as a cellar worker at Grgich Hills Cellars. There, alongside four other UC Davis graduates and Mike Grgich, he 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 he was surrounded by passionate, innovative peers and shown what it takes to build a great wine.
In 1989 he moved north as cellar master to one of Napa Valley's renowned Zinfandel producers, Jerry Seps's Storybook Mountain. The move to a much smaller operation afforded him the opportunity to oversee nearly all production aspects at the winery. This four year, Zinfandel intensive tenure was incredibly valuable to his winemaking career.
The year 1993 brought Duane to Rombauer Vineyards where he began as cellar master but quickly rose to the assistant winemaker position. Because Rombauer also functions as a custom crush facility, (a facility where small wineries may bring the 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.
Finally, in 1994 Frank Family Vineyards offered Duane the opportunity to be winemaker. Alongside fellow wine maker Gregory Graham, he produced an amazing array of wine brands including Rombauer Frank Family still and sparkling wines and many different boutique wineries. He could not have asked for a more broad and varied foundation as he was about to launch my own brand.
The opportunity to source and produce his own wine came in 1994 when several tons of the (not yet) super esteemed Black Sears Zinfandel was made available to him. 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. His 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 Duane to be their winemaker and advisor for their new winery project. He 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 his Napa Valley Zinfandel. In the spring of 2002, he left Frank Family Vineyards to devote his efforts to D-Cubed wines and Brown Family Estate. This is an amazing concentration as he is no longer stretched to oversee and produce 10-20 wines for a multitude of wineries.
So the early halcyon days have evolved into a career of Napa Valley winemaking. For Duane, there is no other grape like Zinfandel, an intensely purple beast 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 three distinctly different Zinfandels: Napa Valley, Howell Mountain and Black Sears.
"I am always seeking to produce wines with balance, wines that have strength and elegance while also pairing easily with food. For some, a preferred style of Zinfandel must be this overwhelming, jet black, fruit bomb that blows you away with intensity and alcohol. For sure that's fun but it gets old as the ability to read a particular vineyard character gets lost. I truly believe there is an inherent elegance to Napa Valley Zinfandels, a trait that is regionally if not vineyard distinguishable.
The challenge is to really define that fruit driven elegance, to narrow or confine it down to an area or a vineyard that will reflect a unique taste profile. This true reflection is what I seek out with my particular vineyard choices." Duane David Dappen