For the better part of a decade starting in the late 1990s, Daniel Daou was a man on a mission. “As an engineer you often like to reverse engineer,” the winemaker and co-proprietor of Daou Vineyards explains while showing the lay of the land of Daou Mountain in the Adelaida District AVA in Paso Robles, California. Daou had never heard of Paso Robles until 2005, just as he was about to give up on his global search for a place best suited to making Bordeaux-style wines. Two years later, Daou Vineyards was established, and since 2013, the launch of Patrimony Estate continues to challenge some sacred cows in the wine world.
Before setting their sights on the wine industry, the Lebanon-born, France-raised engineer and winemaker and his brother, Georges, had sold their healthcare software company Daou Systems. It was time to pursue their passion project. So, with Daniel’s on-the-ground recon, they followed the lead of legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff who had planted what was the Hoffman Mountain Ranch in the 1960s.
Given that soil and climate are the two most crucial factors, Daniel Daou found the place that best married California’s climate advantages with an element common in Europe but rarer in California—limestone soils. “The roots are able to penetrate and draw all these earthy flavors and minerality that otherwise you don’t find in California wine,” Daou explains, his love of the art and science of his craft palpable as he speaks and points to subtle details of the vineyards.
While he is loyal to wines of France and has been nurturing a growing passion for Tuscany, Daniel Daou is clear-eyed about the limitations of the Old World. “Bordeaux is not the perfect climate,” he notes. And yet “most of California is very warm, so you end up with jammy flavor and big fruit.”
At well over 600,000 square acres, Paso Robles wine country is approximately five times the size of Bordeaux and larger than Napa and Sonoma combined. Meanwhile, the elevation, temperature and climate conditions, soils and precise location of Daou Mountain tucked 14 miles inland and situated at 2,200 feet above sea level ideally coalesce to create delicately balanced wines, like the popular Soul of a Lion that avoids some of the pitfalls of other overly fruit-forward blends and varieties associated with the area.
“To have elevation, to have coastal influence, to have the wind, to have the diurnal shift, to have the heat, is something that connected what makes all the great vineyards that I studied all found in this one particular area,” says estate director Erik Johnson, who came to Daou from the French Laundry. “And then you have limestone.” The Daou team works with the utmost respect for the land, following dry farming techniques and European methods of careful water resource allocation. “If the vine cannot survive on its own or with very little help, then you shouldn’t be planting a vineyard,” Daniel Daou opines. “Plant something else.” Daou Vineyards has expanded to 900 acres, with a tasting room that welcomes visitors with sweeping views and a menu merging local California ingredients with traditional Lebanese cuisine.
Daniel Daou’s next revelation came in 2013, when he decided to select fruit from Block 13, the vineyard’s oldest, “to elevate the quality with Patrimony.” Thus a new cult wine was born under Patrimony Estate, a sibling brand to Daou Vineyards. Daniel Daou ages the estate-grown blends for at least 30 months in special barrels from old growth trees in France. Patrimony Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Caves des Lions releases sell out immediately to wine club members, as well as with select distribution to top restaurants around the world with a years-long waiting list. While it was the goal all along, Daniel Daou still almost shakes his head in disbelief at the fact that his wines have entered the arena alongside top Bordeaux producers and coveted Napa bottles.
With Patrimony wines garnering awards and international accolades, the Daous—the next generation have joined the family business, too—are eager to elevate their hospitality program and help spotlight Paso Robles. Next on the ambitious agenda are nearly finalized plans to build a Bordeaux-inspired chateau focused on Patrimony Estate complete with an eight-suite hotel, Michelin-level restaurant, and other curated amenities that advance the Daou ethos.
“For us, wine is not a product,” Daniel Daou says. “When you taste wine, we want it to be the full experience.”