WineInk: An American Winery

Georges and Daniel Daou live the dream

Kelly J. Hayes
The Daou Vineyards winery sits at 2,200 feet, above the Paso Robles wine region in the Adelaida District AVA.
Courtesy Daou Vineyards
A Special Event

What: An Evening with Patrimony Estate

When: 7 p.m. July 27

Where: Element 47 (The Little Nell Hotel)

For Reservations: Contact Element 47

Join Daniel Daou for a special four-course tasting menu at Element 47 and indulge in some of the world’s finest expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends.

“We’re excited to have the rare opportunity to host and showcase what I feel is a gold standard producer that is making huge waves on the global luxury wine landscape,” said The Little Nell’s wine director Chris Dunaway. “Patrimony is viewed by many as a ‘First Growth’ wine in California and emblematic of what’s possible, given the perfect combination of terroir, talent and ambition. Daniel and Georges Daou have truly created magic in the rolling hills of Paso, and they will be present at the dinner to share firsthand their experience and journey of creating these truly remarkable wines that have great depth and complexity.”

Every July as we approach Independence Day, I endeavor to celebrate an American winery in this column.

By now, Daou Vineyards, the collaboration between brothers Daniel and Georges Daou in the Santa Lucia Mountains, needs no introduction; it has become perhaps the most famed and widely distributed wine from the popular Paso Robles wine region. But still, the story of a pair of Lebanese immigrants who have persevered and prospered in the world of wine is one that resonates, especially this week, when we celebrate America.

Now, technically, any wine grown in American soil qualifies as being American. But beyond that literal definition, the Daou story embodies a bit of what the American dream means as we near the quarter pole of the 21st century.

“I personally believe that America is the only country in the world today to have the dream that exists here,” said Georges Daou from his local home in the High Aspen Ranch above Missouri Heights. “As far as I am concerned, the cornerstone of the American dream is the consumer. If the consumer is open to change, it creates opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

Since 2007, the Daou Brothers have tapped into the American consumer’s demand for a well-made, luxury wine at an approachable price point. In a short period of time, just a decade and a half, the company has become a stalwart on American wine lists. Its Daou Cabernet Sauvignons can be found on lists ranging from the famed French Laundry in Yountville, California to high-end steakhouse chains like Morton’s, Maestro’s and Ruth’s Chris across America.

The wines have also set a standard for quality Bordeaux bottlings produced in Paso Robles, a region previously pegged as a producer of Rhône varieties.

“We see the Nielson stats,” said Georges, who oversees the company’s marketing, referring to the organization that tracks wine sales, “and we are the fastest growing winery in the luxury sector. We never entered this space with the idea of ambition. We just wanted to make great wines for our consumers. But I believe that today we are a true unicorn in this space.”

The consumer experience is a critical component of the Daou Vineyards culture. Here, guests can partake in a picnic surrounded by the dramatic views of the property.
Courtesy Daou Vineyards

The Daou’s success as American vintners had unlikely beginnings. Georges and Daniel Daou were born to comfort in the late 1960s in Beirut, Lebanon, known at the time as the Paris of the Middle East. But on May 3, 1973, their world changed forever.

“I remember we were playing on the balcony of our home. I was wearing a tie-dye shirt,” Georges said with emotion. “A rocket launched by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) landed in front of our house. Danny had shrapnel wounds in his face. I was shot in the liver and the lungs. My sister and mother were injured. I remember vividly walking down the staircase, holding onto a granular wall to find a car to go to (the) hospital.”

For a time, survival was the only goal. But the family persevered and eventually moved to Paris.

Both boys were studious and ambitious, and America beckoned. Following college (first Stanford and then UCSD for Georges) the pair founded a technology company in San Diego called Daou Systems, which they grew into an engineering powerhouse. They took it public before retiring with the means to make dreams come true. Daniel’s passion was to make wine, so they searched for a vineyard.

“We looked at Napa, Bordeaux and Mendoza,” Georges told me back in 2014. “But then my brother called and said he had found the perfect place: Paso Robles. ‘Where’s that,’ I asked, ‘Texas?’ When he told me it was a couple of hours from Pebble Beach, I was in.”

Proximity to golf aside, the selection Daniel made — a mountain that sits at 2,200 feet and possesses the calcareous soils that would be instrumental to the quality of their wines — was kismet. In 2007, they purchased their first vineyard and then supplemented that with an adjacent parcel in 2012, the Hoffman Mountain Ranch. It’s an epic property that had been called “a jewel of ecological elements” by none other than iconic Napa enologist Andre Tchelistcheff.

When I asked Daniel why Daou has been so successful, he answered, “Well, hard work, of course,” and then launched into an extended, detailed discussion of the effect that the calcareous soil (ancient soils formed by the residue of sea and limestone that contains calcium carbonate) has on the wines. It is clear he considers the earth the creator of his wines.

As Daou began to grow and it became apparent that the wines would meet their expectations, they built a world-class, Mediterranean style tasting facility atop Daou Mountain with expansive views. They created an impactful social media presence, built a wine club and worked to establish relationships.

“We wanted to create an aspirational and experiential environment for our customers. The consumer is the celebrity, not the other way around,” Georges admonished as he focused on why he believes that Daou has a special place in the hearts of its customers.  

In addition to their initial offerings of Daou wines, Georges and Daniel have created another tier, a top tier, of wines under the Patrimony label. Meaning “from the father,” the Patrimony collection includes a Cabernet Sauvignon from the best vineyards on the Daou property (just in front of the houses that Georges and Daniel call home), a Cabernet Franc and a blend that they have dubbed “Cave des Lions.” These are important wines that stretch the imagination of what Bordeaux style wines from the Central Coast of California can be.

“We don’t look at these wines in terms of competing with Napa or Bordeaux,” Georges explained with a shrug. “We just wanted to make wines that reflect the earth and embody our families’ love of each other.”

While he is a businessman who values his customers first and foremost, Georges is also a bit of a philosopher, as well.

By way of explanation of the relationship with his brother Daniel, he said, “The best thing I can tell you to describe it is a quote from Pablo Picasso who said, ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift,’ and Daniel has done that as a winemaker. ‘The purpose of life is to share that gift,’ and I have been able to do that. Together, we have been able to create a mosaic that brings consumers the opportunity to dream (through wine) of a better life.”

What could be more in tune with the American dream than that?

Born in Lebanon, the Daou brothers (left, Daniel; right, Georges) have achieved the American dream by following their passion to produce and market wine.
Courtesy Daou Vineyards
Under the Influence: 2019 Daou Estate Soul of the Lion

The 2019 Soul of a Lion.

This is the flagship wine of the Daou Estate Collection, and it is named, fittingly, as an homage to the Daou brothers’ late father. The boys revere the patriarch of the family and noted that a “lion always defends his pride.” In a book they commissioned on their father’s life, he is quoted as saying, “One day, my children will know that I was a candle burning for them my whole life.”

This wine carries on that legacy for the family. While still just a baby, this 2019 vintage wine, which was just released on April 7 (the lion’s birthday), shows the quality of the terroir from which it was created. Intense dark fruits explode on the palate, mingling with a smoky sweetness. The tannins will soften as it ages, but even now in its youth there is a balance that makes this wine a treat to drink today. For those who rate wines, this will generate both high scores and enthusiasm. For those just looking for the pleasure of a great California Cabernet Sauvignon, it delivers in spades.