Dennis Murphy’s earliest memory of the joy of giving was when he was a child and would wrap up his favorite toys as Christmas gifts for his brothers and sisters. That same sense of generosity stayed with him when he launched his first company, Hayden Homes, with best friend Hayden Watson. Based in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, with every home sold they contribute 10% of profits to charity, resulting in more than $32 million to charitable causes through 2020.
So when Murphy decided to expand on his passion for big red Washington wines, he built a winery next door to one of his favorite wineries, Pepper Bridge, in Walla Walla, Washington. Naming it Caprio Cellars, he adopted a unique business strategy that not only gives 10% of Caprio’s net profits to charity, but provides complimentary food and wine tasting for guests.
“We planted the cabernet sauvignon and merlot vineyards in 2005, and started selling wine in 2010,” states Murphy. “From the beginning we created a program called “Every Sip Changes Lives,” where we communicate to customers in the tasting room about the 10% charitable contribution. Most guests seem to be happy with this because we are selling more wine per person than other wineries in the region.”
Complimentary Tastings Help Pay It Forward
Though many U.S. wineries donate to charities every year, the fact that Caprio Cellars is also offering complimentary wine tastings paired with food, in addition to contributing 10% of profits to charity is very rare. Most wineries had to end complimentary tastings years ago, because of cost issues.
“My grandmother, Eleanor Caprio, for whom we named the winery, was an amazing cook,” explains Murphy. “She would be upset if I didn’t offer food with wine – it was non-negotiable. Also, in business school I learned about reciprocity theory, which says that people will pay back what they receive from others. It was a risk to give away complimentary tastings and free food, but I have faith in people.”
The risk has paid off because it is often difficult to obtain a reservation at Caprio Cellars because it is so booked, and there is a waiting list to join the wine club. “Since we are so small (less than 5000 cases), we have always been a by-appointment winery open five days per week,” states Murphy. “We have only four appointment times per day, limited to a total of 20 guests each time slot, where they experience a 90 minute wine and food pairing with our chef.”
During the tasting experience, tasting room staff explain Caprio’s giving philosophy, and at the end of the tasting, “we ask people to pay it forward to the next guest so we can keep hosting people at no charge,” says Murphy.
Most guests to Caprio Cellars reciprocate by purchasing wine. They also share their views with others, resulting in more than 900 5-star reviews on Google – far more than any other winery in the region.
How Business Giving Can Solve Many of America’s Problems
In 2021, Dennis Murphy was awarded ‘Most Inspiring Person’ by Wine Industry Network, for supporting wine and local communities. He believes that large and small businesses across America can help to solve many of the country’s issues, such as homelessness, drug addiction, and crime, by making giving a part of their company strategy.
“Private enterprise is so much better than the government in running social programs,” he states, “because we are more efficient.
But Murphy also believes that the key to making giving work is to focus on charitable organizations that are aligned with company values. “You can turn $1000 into $20 million by picking one or two efforts you are passionate about. But it’s not just writing checks – many companies do that. It means showing up to coach, volunteer, be on the board, or help the charitable organization in other ways.”
Caprio Cellars focuses on Big Brothers/Big Sisters, where Murphy has also served on the local board, and First Story, an organization he helped found at Hayden Homes. First Story addresses the housing crisis by integrating affordable housing into established neighborhoods.
“Caprio and Hayden Homes can’t save the world,” concludes Murphy, “but by formalizing our giving, we show up with our hearts and minds to make a difference. If every company did this, we could solve many of the issues in our country. I’m doing my share. My dream is that every business leader can make a difference. I want to leave the world a better place.”