In mid-February, I attended a launch event in Los Angeles for Daou’s Soul of the Lion wine release. A select group of trade/press were invited to taste the 2017 vintage release, while a larger group of 500 enjoyed a lively cocktail reception.
I was lucky enough to sit down with proprietors, Georges and Daniel for a private interview. Much of this article came from this interview. Prior to July I’d actually never been to Paso Robles. Paso now is what Napa/Sonoma was like in the 70s. The vibe is casual and laid back without an ounce of pretension.
Georges and Daniel started Daou Vineyards to honor their parents, who are both deceased. Their wines are even released on February 11th every year on their parent’s anniversary. Someone once told them that the way your parents love you is how you love the world. So much of who they are is because of their family and their culture, which leads us to their home country of Lebanon.
Lebanon gave them a sentimental way of looking at humanity that has stayed with them. This innocence was challenged when Palestinians threw a rocket at their house when they were 8 and 12 years old. As they explained to me, they went to sleep as boys, and woke up as men. They became aware of how finite life is. But learned that your deeds can be infinite.
The Mediterranean Lebanese culture is one of “bon vivant” and “joie de vivre”. Lebanon taught them beautiful, warm hospitality. Their mother was French and both boys received a French education while in Lebanon. After the accident they moved to France, where they learned disciple and (later on) a love of wine. They aim for their staff to exemplify the traits from both of these countries that mean so much to them.
So why Paso and why focus on Cabernet Sauvignon in a region that focuses on Rhône varieties? Lovers of fine wine in southern California didn’t realize that they could drive 3 hours and be in a world class wine region. People thought you had to fly to San Francisco, rent a car, and drive to Napa. Now, 70% of Daou’s wine sales are from people who live south of Paso. They knew that if they could show people that great Bordeaux varieties can grow here, they would be onto something. They helped push this along by founding the PRCC (Paso Robles Cab Collective) with the goal of educating southern California consumers how close they are to world-class wines.
Paso Robles is misunderstood when it comes to climate, according to Daniel. A frequent criticism is that it’s too hot here to grow quality grapes. Yes, it is hot in the parts of Paso that are 35 miles inland. Those areas get 40-50 days of 100+ degrees per year. Daou mountain in the Adelaida District is at 2200 feet elevation and is only 14 miles from ocean. You get intense sun (good for ripening), but you also get the windy maritime influence that cools down the grapes.
On Daou Mountain, they typically see about 5 days per year over 100 degrees. Last year they had no days over 100 degrees. For comparison, in 2019 Napa had 14 days in St Helena and 20 days in Calistoga. Even Bordeaux had 5 days over 100 degrees last year! If that’s not something to ponder, I don’t know what is.
For Georges, one of the most important components of Paso is the strong family orientation. Family wineries in California are dwindling, but in Paso, the majority of them are family owned and/or operated. Daou is changing the idea that wine can only be serious. It can be fun too. Seriously fun.
Soul of a Lion 2017 (SRP $150)
This wine is Daou’s crown jewel. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Petit Verdot. A deep, complex bouquet reveals notes of cassis, black currant, licorice, incense, ripe plum, and vanilla. The palate is full-bodied, layered, and complex, while smooth, silky tannins lead to a persistent finish. Daniel says this is perhaps the best vintage they have in bottle.