From Paris To Paso – The Daou Passion 5 min read
The best way to predict the future is to create it. - Peter Drucker
There is a new vibe in Paso. California’s largest appellation is experiencing a revolution of sorts, a movement led by a small group of vintners who have formed the Paso Robles Cab Collective (PRCC). The PRCC’s mission is to promote the Paso Robles AVA as a leading region for the production of Cabernet Sauvignon. Their vision statement is: “The Paso Robles CAB Collective is a grass-roots organization which strives to promote the full potential of the Paso Robles appellation in producing superior quality, age-worthy, balanced, classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals to consumers and media worldwide.” Daniel Daou, winemaker and co-proprietor of Daou Vineyards, is leading this insurgency.
Daou is impassioned about the need to band together as a wine community. Part teacher, part student, part idealist, part visionary, and 100% perfectionist, Daniel’s journey to the grape was unusual. Name a hat, and odds are, Daniel has worn it.
Daniel Daou was born in Lebanon to French/Lebanese parents. At age nine, Daniel and his family moved to Paris, France. Later, Daniel followed his older brother, Georges, to the US to earn his degree in computer engineering. The brothers’ mentor was their father, who instilled the values of hard work, dedication, fearlessness and perseverance. It was he who loaned Daniel and Georges fifty thousand dollars to start their enormously successful healthcare IT company, Daou Systems. At age 32, Daniel retired from the IT business, having achieved the fifth largest IPO in Wall Street history.
Having traveled all over the world, Daniel and his brother developed a keen interest in wine and cuisine. In 1992, a taste of 1986 Leoville Las Cases became a marquee event in Daniel’s wine life. With that sip, he discovered that wine can be a transformative and transcendent experience. He was hooked. Based upon that, Daou could not wait to make wine. He and Georges, who specializes in marketing, sales and brand development, set out to make their mark on the wine world.
The day after their official retirement from Daou Systems, they traveled to Napa Valley to look for the perfect vineyard. No stone was left unturned in the exhaustive search. After years of exploration, Daniel discovered a site in Paso Robles, which he referrers to as “goldilocks”—not too hot, not too cold. Additionally, the site boasted forty different soil types which would allow him an opportunity for creative blending. Limestone/calcareous soils, reminiscent of France, combined with a climate that facilitates natural acidity, proved to be ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon. He knew the area could produce perfectly balanced, delicious Bordeaux blends. The combination of fabulous acreage and training from Delphine Barboux, of Chateau l’Evangile and Scott McCloud, of Rubicon, has produced mouthwatering results.
He planted his vineyards on breathtaking, rolling hillsides with the same meticulous attention to detail as with everything else in his life. Fourteen clones were placed in the ground to ensure highest levels of complexity in his future wines.
Today, his vineyards produce wines of immense intensity. The viticultural practices are as stellar as it gets. The vine plantings are quite dense, the cropping rigorous, with miniscule yields. Special attention is paid to phenolic ripeness, with daily data collected to determine extraction levels. Picking decisions are made by visual cues and incessant tasting, with Daniel spending hours in the vineyard each and every day. Free run juice, gently pressed, rests in the cellar in barrels created by Daniel himself, with customized toast levels. They even grow their own yeast! No detail is overlooked and it shows in the wines.
His philosophy is simple: never rest on your laurels, always seek to learn, and persevere. He is guided not just by his knowledge, but by his heart and passion. Daniel compares his vines to a woman who can cause great suffering, but also has the capacity to make you deliriously happy.
Daou is convinced that the inclination of many Paso wineries to produce predominantly inexpensive Cabernet and blends is outdated and self-defeating. He feels that some local wineries are too timid to produce and sell high-end wine, despite the category’s obvious potential. Napa Valley serves as a powerful model. Mondavi set a precedent with the Reserve program at a time when no one believed that it would work. Of course, the rest is history. Changing marketing strategy starts with changing your own perceptions. Planting high quality vineyards is key. Making big, bold, world-class cabs that are age-worthy and channel Paso’s terroir, is crucial to the area’s success.
The 1982 vintage Bordeaux was produced with unusually ripe grapes. At the time, many wine experts questioned the vintage’s ageability. They were wrong. Ripe fruit wines, with integrated tannins, has proven to be both accessible and age-worthy. From an aromatic and textural perspective, Paso Cabs are complex and multidimensional. However, unlike most vintages in Bordeaux, they can be enjoyed early in their evolution.
Daniel’s faith in Paso Robles’ viticultural potential is well founded. The area has multiple strengths. Geographically larger than Napa and Sonoma combined, the region features wide soil diversity and a myriad of microclimates. It has enough maritime influence to physiologically ripen both Bordeaux and Rhône style wines with diverse flavor profiles. Additionally, the area produces wildly aromatic whites.
Daou’s wines frequently sell out in just a few weeks, despite having a price point of over $100. Daniel’s and Georges’ dedication and astute business skills have led the relatively new brand to greatness in both winemaking and marketing, a rare combination in the wine industry.
They love their community as much as their family and vineyards. Daou’s tasting room is one of the most breathtaking facilities in the country. Just about every Saturday, Daniel can be found chatting up customers in his tasting room, a sign of immense pride of ownership and gracious disposition.
Daniel is one of the most dynamic individuals that I have ever met. His dream is to realize Paso’s potential to its fullest. Daou’s legacy will be written in the book of Bacchus. An IPO marks a company’s arrival. The Herculean efforts have fueled my IPO – Intense Paso Obsession!