Longtime trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival—one of the world’s preeminent, with the next vintage to be poured Jan. 26-28, 2018—decided they were not ready to retire when they sold their company several years back. So, the former captains of industry decided on the logical: to channel their energy and zeal into wine. Just in the past year, Jim and Laura Dixon tripled the size of their Naples Wine Collection shop in North Naples and added an adjacent wine bar and bistro next door named The Cave that opened in late 2017. Read on for what inspired them, what they hope people will be drinking there and their philosophy on entertaining.
GL: How did you get into the wine business?
JIM DIXON: When we sold our main business, Haynes, to Caterpillar, Laura and I decided were weren’t quite ready to retire. We’re entrepreneurs. We wanted to pursue another passion, which is wine—we have 14,000 bottles in our own wine collection. So why not have our own wine store? When our daughter decided to move to Seattle, we took the business she built, Naples Wine Collection, from 900 square feet to 3,200 square feet. And by adding a wine bar with appetizer-size small plates, we want people to come there and be able to enjoy wines all over the world.
GL: What originally drew you to wine?
JD: Way back, Laura’s father got me into wine. He was a collector. When we traveled for business, we’d try new bottles, and I’ve developed a palate for it.
GL: What was your inspiration for The Cave?
LAURA DIXON: When we first started talking about expanding and creating a wine bar to include appetizers and small tapas plates, we didn’t want to go contemporary—we wanted it to look like a cave. In Beaune, France, they’re all over—underneath the city. That feeling of being in a cave is conducive for wine tasting.
GL: It’s great how you’ve created a bar and lounge area plus a space with tables.
JD: Wherever it makes you happy to drink wine, we want you to. It’s all about having fun and learning something new.
LD: Yes, learning something new. People don’t really understand how interesting the wine industry can be. Some people are stuck and think, “Well, I only like California Cabs,” for instance. We can introduce them to other wines that they’ll love that they’d otherwise not be exposed to. We’ve set the bar and wine room up so that we’ve got a big TV that comes down from the ceiling, and in The Cave there are two TVs hidden inside the bar so we can do educational lectures. We like to introduce and expand people’s palates to different areas of the world. We got an offer recently on really interesting Australian Pinot Noirs. It’s an opportunity for people to educate themselves on wines that they’d never be exposed to. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re not doing a full-up restaurant menu. We want it to be a place people can go where people can taste Charcuterie, pizza—and not be overly expensive. There will be many wines by the glass. Hopefully people can come in for a glass of wine or a bite to eat, maybe before going to a movie—and enjoy themselves and get an education on wine in the process.
GL: Are the wine lockers along one section of the wall functional?
JD: Yes! We have wine lockers and will have a wine club starting later in January. You can buy wines and put them in the lockers to drink later on. At dinner, anyone—members and non-members—can purchase an inventory bottle from Naples Wine Collection, and it can easily be drunk. We’re not going to do a big markup; we have a modest corkage fee. The lockers are out in the open and can be personalized—and for the wine club, you can be a member without buying a locker. There will be an annual fee, and you’ll get perks.
GL: What is your favorite part of being seriously involved in the wine world?
LD: We really enjoy sharing our wines with our friends and giving it to charity—one of the auction lots in a past Naples Winter Wine Festival used our home on Black Rock in Idaho. We hosted a dinner with magnums of Krug, magnums of Opus One—all the wines came from our cellar. Anybody that knows us knows that we share our wines. We bring bottles of wine to people’s homes, and we don’t drink around our cellar—so many people drink around their best bottles in the cellar and they leave all the good stuff. We don’t want to go that way—we always say, drink it! There’s never a U–Haul behind a hearse. We had a famous winemaker at our home, Mark Carter from Carter Cellars. We drank all these bottles, and after the party was over, we said, “Hey, Mark, let’s have one last bottle—pick any bottle out of the cellar. Screaming Eagle, Romanée-Conti.” “Really?” he said. He picked the 2009 Scarecrow. I said to him, “I’m so glad you picked that bottle.” He was like a kid in the candy store. He was so happy. It was 2 a.m.—it was the happiest moment. We were sharing with him. It’s all about sharing wine with friends and drinking it. I have that picture of him in our cellar—it’s a picture of Mark in the cellar with bottles behind him.