Picture this: You are driving up Adelaida Road on the west side of Paso Robles. There are stunning views of oak trees and vineyards as you wind your way up to Hidden Mountain Road. Climbing to an elevation of 2,200 feet, you arrive at DAOU Vineyards and Winery, which is the highest elevation winery in Paso Robles. With an almost 360-degree view of the Adelaida district, the views are breathtaking, and the wine parallels in taste. But before I jump into my most recent visit to DAOU, I’d love to share with you why this place is so special to me.
In fall 2012 I took a road trip to visit my aunts for the weekend in Atascadero. They thought it would be fun to take me wine tasting to a newer winery they had heard amazing things about, that winery being DAOU. We made the drive up the mountain and from there the rest is history. Not only were we in awe of the picturesque views, the service and wine were beyond our expectations. I will never forget when they poured their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We all took a sip, stopped to look at each other and said, “Wow this is incredible!” Seven years later, this is still a memorable experience. My aunts joined DAOU’s wine club that day. As much as I wanted to join that day as well, I made a goal for myself to get a membership after I got my fitness and nutrition business off the ground. Summer 2013 I achieved that goal. Clearly, I was motivated. Since that inaugural trip in 2012, DAOU has become a tradition with my friends and family. Every time I am able to get away to Paso Robles, I always make time to stop at DAOU. It brings me such joy to be able to share with my friends and family their wine at one of my all-time favorite places. For me, DAOU offers the perfect pairing: great wines with majestic views.
On to my most-recent trip to DAOU. I was fortunate enough to try one of their new specialized tastings called The Vintage Retrospective Experience. DAOU outdid themselves and this tasting took things to a whole other level. Upon arrival, my boyfriend and I were greeted by Jesse and a glass of DAOU Rosé. Jesse, a private experience and trade specialist, then took us around the tasting room and gave us a little history about DAOU winery and the DAOU brothers. The DAOU brothers were not always involved in making wine. Originally from Lebanon, brothers Daniel and Georges were forced to relocate to Paris during the Lebanese civil war, and later moved to Southern France. It was being amidst the vineyards in France that sparked their interest in wine, as it reminded them of the rural life they had back in Lebanon. With not much money in their pockets, Daniel and Georges traveled to the United States to study engineering at the University of California San Diego. They worked hard in their studies and after graduating, they created a successful networking technology company specializing in healthcare. After selling the company, they found themselves wanting to rekindle their Lebanese roots and pursue viticulture. Together, once again, they found success.
After leaving the tasting room, we were escorted to an off-road vehicle that took us to a remote part of DAOU, not accessible to the unaccompanied general public. As we drove along the vineyards, we learned more about how DAOU grows their grapes. Their grapes are primarily dry farmed, which means they don’t water their vines, except during very hot summer days. The surrounding mountain range provides nice protection from the marine layer, yet allows for a breeze through the Templeton Gap. The vines are grown on large ascending slopes with a 56-degree incline, which provides excellent drainage for the Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. Rose bushes are used as early indicators of pests and diseases to help minimize plant loss. As we proceeded along the vineyards, we got to see the property Daniel and his family lived in early on. They started planting grapevines, 26 acres to start, in 2007, and three years later they opened their tasting room.
The off-road vehicle then took us up to a barn formerly owned by Dr. Hoffman in the 1960s. Dr. Hoffman was one of the pioneers in growing Bordeaux varietals in Paso Robles and the DAOU brothers were able to carry on in Dr. Hoffman’s footsteps. What was inside those barn doors was incredible: rows upon rows of custom-made barrels made by Daniel DAOU. The staining on the barrels accents the shiny red floor while the chandeliers light the way to more barrels. The smell of the barrels was delicious. Definitely not your typical barn aroma. In the barrel room we got to view the barrels that store some of their finest wines, such as Patrimony and Soul of the Lion. As Daniel puts it, it takes 9 months to make a baby and it takes 9 months to make Soul of the Lion. We were able to sample this wine and learned its special family meaning. Soul of the Lion represents their Dad, Joseph. No matter the hardships the family endured, they always came back fighting like a lion.
As we made our way back down to the main tasting room, we got a glimpse of the sustainable practices DAOU applies throughout their property. They maintain bee hives onsite to help keep up pollination, as well white bird boxes for owls to help with managing rodents in the vineyards. They hope to have sheep and goats on the property in the future. The property currently stands on 212 acres, of which 120 acres are planted. Elsewhere in the Adelaida district they have an additional 90 acres planted.
The final portion of The Vintage Retrospective Experience was a vertical tasting of three wines accompanied by some tasty bites curated by their estate chef. We started with the 2015 and 2017 Pinot Noir and were informed of the differences between the two. The 2015 was sourced from the Willow Creek district, which was a challenging year because one-third of their crop was lost due to the unfavorable weather. The 2017 vintage was the first time they sourced outside of Paso and utilized grapes from the Santa Maria Valley. Due to the lack of mountain ranges in the Santa Maria Valley, the climate causes the grapes to develop thicker skins. This translates to a more tannic wine making the 2017 the optimal of the two vintages for aging. Next came out the 2013 and 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the varietal that made me fall in love with DAOU at first taste in 2012. The 2013 vintage was at the onset of the drought, which caused the vines to work harder to find water. Conversely, the 2016 vintage had ample rain and cooler weather; therefore, there was a lot of growth which yielded a higher fruit count for this vintage. For our final taste, we got to try the Mayote, the wine named after their Mom, Marie. The blend on the Mayote varies from vintage to vintage, but is always a blend of Rhône and Bordeaux varietals. We got to try the 2013, which has slightly more Cabernet Sauvignon compared to the 2016, which has slightly more Petit Verdot than the 2013. Our tasting concluded with some fresh macarons as we finished sipping on our wines along with a surprise visit from Kat Daou. What a fun way to end our day!
If you’re looking for a high-level tasting experience full of history, top-shelf service, amazing food and, of course, wine, look no further. The Vintage Retrospective Experience will leave you planning your next trip to DAOU before you leave the winery. The Vintage Retrospective Experience is available by appointment only Sunday-Friday at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM. Expect to spend about 2 hours for The Experience, but it won’t seem like it. Time truly does fly when you’re having fun. Below is a link to how you can book your tour. I’d love to hear from you after your Experience. Cheers fellow wine lovers. I hope this inspires you to make your way to Paso Robles and check out DAOU Vineyards and Winery.