Paso Robles: Dusi Vineyard

By Kori ~ April 28th, 2010.

Dusi Vineyard is located in west Templeton, California, in the Paso Robles AVA. The Dusi family is well-known for growing top-notch Zinfandel, which is considered the heritage variety of Paso Robles because it had a strong influence on the growth and development of the local wine industry. Sylvester and Caterina Dusi immigrated to the United States from Italy and ultimately settled in the Paso Robles area in the 1920’s and purchased their “Home Ranch” vineyard in 1924. They had three sons: Guido, Dante, and Benito. In the 1940’s, the family purchased a neighboring vineyard. Today, both vineyards are still in the family. The original “Home Ranch” is now known as Dusi Ranch and is owned by their son Benito. Across the freeway from Dusi Ranch is the vineyard most often referred to as just Dusi Vineyard, which is owned and operated by their son Dante and his family. As a result, Dusi Vineyard is sometimes referred to as Dante Dusi Vineyard to avoid confusion.

During my recent trip to explore Paso Robles wine country, I had the pleasure to visit Dusi Vineyard. Regular readers know that I love vineyards. The Texas farm girl in me loves to see where the grapes come from that go into the wine that I drink. And I love meeting the people. Let’s face it; growers are farmers, just good-natured, down to earth, hardworking folks. There is no glitz and glamour in the vineyards. It’s up before dawn, riding a tractor through the rows, working with your hands, and being “on call” to do whatever is necessary when the grapes say it’s time for pruning or harvest.

Our hosts for the visit were Dante’s grandson Matt and his wife Alli. Today, Matt’s father, Mike, manages the vineyard, but Dante is still very much involved. In fact, Dante was hard at work on his tractor while we were touring and tasting. The Dusi’s are a very private family so it is not surprising that Dante preferred to have his grandson meet with us while he went about his business.

“The first rule of Dusi Vineyard is that we don’t talk about Dusi Vineyard. The second rule of Dusi Vineyard is that we don’t talk about Dusi Vineyard.” –Matt Dusi, paraphrasing a line from the movie Fight Club, to explain the humbleness that has been passed down from his grandfather Dante

The 85-acre Dusi Vineyard operation truly is a family affair. On any given day, four generations can be found in the vineyard from Dante all the way down to his 2 year-old great-grandson Parker who was running around when we were there. During harvest, everyone in the family, even those with outside jobs, pitches in daily to make sure all the grapes get picked at the right time and delivered in perfect condition.

“It’s a family endeavor, passed on from generation to generation. My son Parker is 2 years old now. In ten years, he’ll be driving a tractor in the same dirt, next to the same vines, and complaining the same way that my grandfather (Dante) complained when his dad (Sylvester) made him go drive the tractor in the same place.” –Matt Dusi

Four wineries that produce a vineyard-designate Zinfandel from Dusi Vineyard were on hand to pour their wines and share their thoughts about the vineyard, including J. Dusi Wines, Turley Wine Cellars, Grey Wolf Cellars, and Four Vines Winery.

J. Dusi Wines
Janell Dusi, Dante’s granddaughter, is the winemaker for J. Dusi Wines. We did not have the chance to meet Janell because she was out of town but the family wanted to pour her wines since she makes them to honor her grandfather. In fact, her wines list the vineyard as Dante Dusi Vineyard as a tribute to him. J. Dusi wines feature a blue swoop on the bottles. They call the color “Dusi blue” in honor of grandpa Dante. The story goes that Dante paints everything this same color blue: his truck, his tools, and anything he finds that he wants to claim as his own (including tools left behind by other family members).

Turley Wine Cellars
Turley has made Zinfandel their own signature varietal and specialize in vineyard-designates. Since their very first vintage in 1993, their goal has been to source from great vineyards and bottle each one separately. They make around 23 Zinfandels, 21 of which are vineyard-designates. Many of their customers buy Zinfandels from different regions and then compare them. They have found that many people prefer their Paso Robles Zinfandels even though they have been making Zinfandels from other regions for longer. The 2008 Turley Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel was my favorite wine of the entire trip.

“Dusi is definitely the most aromatic of all of the Zinfandels that we do. That makes it a real attention-grabber.” –Malani Anderson, Turley Wine Cellars

Grey Wolf Cellars
Winemaker Joe Barton of Grey Wolf Cellars spoke very highly of Dusi Vineyard. He noted the balance, length, and mouthfeel that characterize Dusi Vineyard Zins.

“Over the years, they’ve established their reputation and there are very few vineyards in Paso who have established a reputation like they have. I think a lot of us are trying to source new vineyards and find new spots to do that, but Dusi has really set the benchmark so far.” –Winemaker Joe Barton, Grey Wolf Cellars

Four Vines Winery
Winemaker Christian Tietje noted that Dusi Vineyard produces fruit with dense concentration and wild spice. He also spoke about the concept of single vineyard-designates in general saying that every grower wants their vineyard to be a single vineyard because they can get more money for it, and every winemaker wants to produce single vineyard wines because they can get more money for it. However, the key is having a really unique single vineyard.

“My definition for a single vineyard is: If you add to it, will it actually take away from what it is? Is it so specific and so unique and so outrageous above the rest that it’s worthy of that? It’s an honor to put Dusi on the label. It’s one of the best things here in Paso Robles. It is truly the benchmark. It’s the standard for West Side Zin and definitive to Paso Robles.” –Winemaker Christian Tietje, Four Vines Winery

Early on, the Dusi family implemented the farming practices of head pruned vines and no irrigation, dry farming in their calcareous soils. Those traditions are carried on to this day. The vineyard remains in very good condition and continues to generate a living and a lifestyle for the whole Dusi family. It hasn’t always been easy though. Through hard work, adaptability, and ingenuity, Dusi Vineyard managed to survive both the Depression and Prohibition, and today is one of the most hallowed Zinfandel vineyards in the State of California. I think that Sylvester and Caterina would be proud.

Filed under: American Wine, California Wine, Red Wine, Vineyards, Wine Travel, Zinfandel

Reader's Comments

  1. Scott | April 28th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Wow, what an experience to taste 4 different winemaker’s versions of the same varietal from the same vineyard. I am jealous, but also think that this profile of such a great place is outstanding.

  2. Kori | April 28th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for your kind words. It really was a wonderful experience. Cheers!

  3. Shonna | April 29th, 2010 at 9:28 am

    This is fantastic, you captured Paso really well. Great job!

  4. Kori | April 29th, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Thanks so much. I really enjoyed my time in Paso. Cheers!