Dan Marca freely admits he’s a Type A personality from New Jersey, yet when paired with his SoCal wife, Cindy, they help create a remarkable wine and food experience at DANCIN Vineyards near the historic town of Jacksonville.
“She’s a Type C,” Dan said. “We’re polar-opposites, and we do things differently. I’m the detail guy in all aspects, and Cindy is extremely warm and kind and disarming. She balances it all out.”
Dan’s precision plays an important role in the winery and behind the bar, “I serve in the tasting room 99 percent of the time,” but he’s not one to stand still and gaze at the growing number of gold medals hanging from his bottles of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Barbera. In the past year, DANCIN Vineyards amassed so much hardware across several varieties — including Syrah — that it earned the award as 2017 Oregon Winery of the Year.
“When you look at DANCIN Vineyards, our goal is that we can provide a cross-section of Burgundy and Italy,” he said.
Yet despite another year filled with success, Marca saw an opportunity to take another step with his five-year-old brand. He signed Bryan Wilson, perhaps Oregon’s most underrated winemaker, to join him at DANCIN Vineyards.
“We’re very pleased to welcome Bryan to the DANCIN family,” Marca said. “With three decades of winemaking experience — much of it spent crafting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, among many other varieties — Bryan appreciates, respects and embraces our commitment to every detail of production.”
He replaces Brian Denner, who added some impressive work to his résumé under Marca’s employ. Last year, the DANCIN Vineyards 2014 Trata Estate Pinot Noir opened the competition season with a double gold at the San Francisco Chronicle then followed that up with a gold at the Great Northwest Invitational a few weeks before earning a Wine Press Northwest Platinum.
The 2014 Elevé Pinot Noir earned a double gold at the Cascadia Wine Competition and a gold at the Great Northwest Invitational. This winter, DANCIN was invited to pour at the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration for the third straight year.
Wilson’s history, after graduating from the University of Oregon in 1980, includes Chateau Souverain and Benzinger in Sonoma and Napa Valley icon Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. His love for steelhead fishing hooked him on life in Southern Oregon after working at Silvan Ridge/Hinman Vineyards in Eugene. He migrated south to Del Rio Vineyards before landing at Foris, one of Oregon’s oldest properties, in 2008. Wilson recently has generated headlines for Pebblestone Cellars with Viognier.
His own Cuckoo’s Nest brand shined last year, earning a gold for Pinot Gris at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle and three golds at the Oregon Wine Competition.
And 2017 started off strong for DANCIN. It achieved gold at the Chronicle with three varieties — the 2014 Danseur Syrah, 2014 Septette Pinot Noir and 2014 Tribute Riserva Barbera. Each was a product of Denner’s first vintages for Dan and Cindy — DanCin.
The winemaking change raises eyebrows. Marca hired Denner three years after a Syrah he made for his parents’ Denner Vineyards brand in Paso Robles reached No. 11 on Wine Spectator’s top 100 list.
“Brian Denner is a good winemaker,” Marca said. “We don’t want it to appear that he isn’t.
“The three of us were actually together in the tasting room last week, enjoying freshly baked focaccia made with Pinot Noir lees and local flour, while carefully evaluating Chardonnay blends for 2016,” Marca added.
One key to DANCIN’s growth has been the Marcas’ 27 acres of Burgundy varieties near South Stage Road. There are seven clones of Pinot Noir and four clones of Chardonnay. The shaded aspect to their site, along with an elevation range of 1,500 to 1,700 feet, benefits the vines in the summer during hottest points of the day. Marca also buys from the Dundee Hills, McMinnville and Newberg, which has led to 15 bottlings of Pinot Noir some years. They also produce five styles of Chardonnay. In Southern Oregon, where Tempranillo is taking root, DANCIN is different.
“We will be increasing our Chardonnay production dramatically,” Marca said. “We’ve been sold out for three months.”
However, neither their award-winning Barbera nor popular Italian-style red blend are made from estate fruit. Those hail from Celestina Vineyard six miles away and friend John Pratt, the Oregon Wine Board’s treasurer.
“We’ve proved to ourselves that we can’t ripen those Italian varieties on this site, and if we could, then we probably shouldn’t be growing Pinot Noir here,” Marca said.
Production for DANCIN in 2017 will ramp up to 4,000 cases. Wilson takes his Cuckoo’s Nest brand to DANCIN and also will oversee Marca’s 3,000-case custom-crush business.
Regardless of their medals and awards, DANCIN’s success ultimately is measured in the tasting room a mile from historic downtown Jacksonville. There’s a patio extension to help accommodate the growing appetite for their wood-fired pizza, pasta, paninis and small plates.
“From day one we’ve offered table-side tastings,” Dan said. “People are surprised by that in this part of the state, but it’s all about hospitality, and that’s the way I was brought up.”
Tim Keller, a longtime chef in the Rogue Valley, also sets DANCIN apart. His talent allowed him to cook for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at the Jacksonville Inn when they toured the region. And Keller’s arrival allows Cindy to spend less time in the kitchen and more time sharing the DANCIN story.
“We make a Pinot Noir using the Pommard clone from our estate and one with Pommard from McMinnville,” Dan Marca said. “They are made the same way, so that allows the guest to compare and contrast the two. There is nothing better.
“And if you want to talk geeky, I can get pretty geeky,” he adds.