If you are familiar with DAOU, you know that Daniel and Georges are big on family. You may have also heard of their wine called Soul of a Lion, which is named after their late father, Joseph, and is always a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine. Today, we get to explore the depths of Soul of a Lion. I will take you through the history behind the bottle as we dive deep into why Daniel and Georges are so family driven. We will also get a taste into every vintage made of Soul of a Lion, starting with 2010 and concluding with the current 2019 release. Along this journey, I’ll share how each vintage was shaped by the weather Mother Nature provided. This vertical tasting was hands-down not only the experience of a lifetime, but more educational than I ever could have imagined. Without further ado, I give you Soul of a Lion.
The Heart Behind Soul of a Lion
On April 7, 1928, Joseph Daou was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and was one of six children. With his father being a self-made entrepreneur, Joseph was immersed in the family business of DAOU and Sons furniture factory at a young age. Through his drive, responsibility, leadership and overall entrepreneurial spirit, Joseph worked very hard to show that he had what it takes to take over the family business. He eventually expanded the family business to be one of the most successful furnishing businesses in the Middle East.
In January 1956, Joseph met Marie through mutual friends and there began a whirlwind romance. Marie immediately stole Joseph’s heart, and a few weeks later, they married on February 11, 1956. The Daou brothers celebrate this date every year by releasing the new vintage of Soul of a Lion and Mayote, and by ringing the Estate bell to honor their parent’s wedding anniversary.
Joseph and Marie sadly lost their first-born child who passed away at a very young age due to health complications. They would later have four more children named Marie Jo, Michelle (nicknamed Micho), Georges and Daniel. Daniel and Georges always admired their parents, and especially considered their father a role model. They learned many great life lessons from their parents. From a young age they learned that trust is key and to always do the right thing, regardless of what others think of you. It was through Joseph’s intelligence, talent and sense of trust that he became the successful businessman he was, and the Daou brothers applied those traits to their own lives. Being in an entrepreneurial family showed them the importance of hard work, taking risks, and patience. With the support of Marie, who also grew up in an entrepreneurial family, the Daous were always encouraged to keep going forward. This became critical in the mid 1970s when their lives would change forever.
On May 3, 1973, a missile plummeted into the Daou family home while Marie and Joseph were preparing breakfast and the children were playing on the balcony. Shrapnel tore through the house causing Michelle’s hand to be shredded, and Daniel and Georges to be severely injured. Georges, who was 12 years old, was in a coma for 48 hours and spent two months in the hospital recovering. Daniel, who was 8 years old, was struck in the face by shrapnel, resulting in permanent paralysis to part of his face. It was through this near-death experience that brought the Daou family very close, especially Georges and Daniel. Georges said, “I went to sleep a boy and woke up a man.” Life was then viewed differently for the Daou brothers as it gave them a whole new appreciation for living and family. In 1975 when the war intensified, Joseph and Marie made the bold decision to leave their way of life in Lebanon and start anew in France. Joseph said continuing to live in Lebanon would not provide any peace or justice for his family and their future generations. He wanted his family to live in a place that had a future and potential for everyone to thrive. Taking only what they could carry, the Daou family slipped out of the country and headed to France, where Marie still had her citizenship. In order to support his family, Joseph sold property in Lebanon each year, making the first few years very difficult. They fought for survival and did what they had to do.
Although Joseph was more of a whiskey guy, living in France inspired Joseph to discover wine. He would often open a bottle at dinner and finish it with lunch the next day. It was during family meals that the Daou brothers remember their father speaking of life, the wonders of life, and how philosophical he got while enjoying a glass of wine. Joseph would pour a little splash for each child to try, cutting the wine with water, so they could understand what he was tasting. Daniel would always ask his father not to add the water because he wanted to experience exactly what his father was experiencing. One of Daniel’s earliest wine-related memories of his father was when he came home one day with a box of wine. He knew this wine was very special to his father based on the care he had for each bottle as he laid them down in the closet. Daniel, being curious as to what was going on, asked his father about the wine. His father replied, “This is a very special wine, very special wine. My favorite wine, Cheval Blanc. You won’t believe the deal I got on this! We’ll keep it safe here and pull it out for special occasions.” Although Daniel knew nothing about wine at the time, it was this instance that had a huge impact on him. He knew this was special to his father, and a love and curiosity for wine was sparked in Daniel. It was from that moment on that wine became an integral connection between Daniel and his father.
Fast forward to 1983, Daniel and Georges were attending the University of California in San Diego to major in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering. The brothers ate nothing but pasta for months as they didn’t have the ability to work due to their F1 (student) visa. They also had to learn to speak English while taking a full class load. The Daou brothers said these challenges made them tighter than ever. Daniel was extremely gifted and began creating his own networking system while attending college. He eventually got a job and worked 40-60 hours a week to pay for college while continuing with his studies, taking four or five classes each quarter. Daniel finished his five-year degree in three and a half years. DAOU Systems was born before he graduated college. At 21 years of age and with more work experience under his belt, Daniel went to his brother and father to convince them to help grow DAOU Systems, rather than him work for another company, like Phillips or Sony. In 1987, and with $50,000, which was half of Joseph and Marie’s savings, DAOU Systems was officially launched. Their entrepreneurial spirit launched DAOU Systems off the ground and transformed into something bigger than they could have imagined.
Historically, Daniel has conceived the initial vision for a company and Georges has created the vision of how to commercialize it. This is why the brothers are such a dynamic duo, they complement each other very well. Applying the principles their father taught them early on to be successful, Georges and Daniel followed in their father’s footsteps and built relationships on trust, knowing sales would follow. In 1997, DAOU Systems, Inc., went public on NASDAQ and was valued at $700 million. A year later, they sold the company outright.
With Daniel retired at the age of 33, he was driven to follow his longtime fascination with the wine world. His love of wine was inspired by his father and turned into a passion for collecting and drinking wine. It brought Daniel much joy when he and his father would drink wine together. It was drinking wine that made Daniel feel like his dad and he felt connected to him. At one point in time, Daniel had 7,000 bottles in his collection, consisting of the best wines from around the world. In his retirement from DAOU Systems, Daniel began searching for the perfect piece of land to start his own chapter in the wine world. After eight years of scouring the globe, Daniel came across the perfect parcel of land in Paso Robles, California. Everyone, including Georges, said, “You’re nuts! You don’t need to work! You’ve got a great life and now you’re going to risk it all! To become a winemaker at 40 years old!” Daniel heeded his brother’s admonishment, but it wasn’t until a conversation he had with his father that swayed Daniel to follow his passion. Joseph looked at Daniel and said, “I’m so proud of you. You have the courage to do that because you’re doing it for you and for your family. God be with you. Go and don’t look back. Go full throttle.” And that he did. Daniel said had it not been for the words of his father, he probably wouldn’t have gone through with building DAOU Vineyards.
To honor their parent’s legacy, Daniel and Georges wanted a book to be written about them that would be held close for their children and future generations so anyone in the Daou family would know their family’s history. They hired a woman to spend a year with their father to capture the stories he had to share. When it came time for what they wanted the book to be titled, without hesitation Joseph said, “Soul of a Lion.” When she asked why he said that, Joseph responded, “Because in our family, we have been poor, beaten and broke, and we’ve also been on the top a couple of times, but every time we were down on the bottom or beaten or broke, we always came back on the top, roaring with the soul of a lion.” Daniel acquired his property in Paso Robles in 2007 and made his first vintage of Soul of a Lion in 2010, making it the first vintage using Estate fruit. Soul of a Lion was a very fitting name given that it was not only DAOU’s best wine, it has roared to the top over the last few years, outselling some of Napa’s best wines. In honor of Georges and Daniel’s father, this wine is living up to what Joseph had said about the Daou family, and Joseph’s spirit lives on through this wine.
In 2009 and 2010, Joseph, Marie, and their sister Michelle were all very sick. Also in 2009, Daniel was making his first wine under the DAOU label, this being his Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Georges helped his mother, father and sister go to DAOU Mountain to see the fruits of their son’s labor. While standing atop the Mountain, Joseph said, “I wish I was young enough so I could do this with you.” Sadly, four months after this visit, Michelle lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away, and not long thereafter, Joseph and Marie passed away. The Daou brothers experienced tremendous loss within a short time span of 13 months.
Daniel has used wine as a vessel, if you will, for self-expression, and in doing so, he has been able to honor his family’s memory through wines such as Micho, Mayote and Soul of a Lion.
After I finished using my Coravin on each bottle of wine, I was amazed that the color on each was the same – a rich and deep ruby red. I took a closer look at the 2010 vintage and was astonished at the intensity the color still had, with no apparent shift in hue toward garnet. Another trait all of the wines had in common was beautiful acidity, a full body and lingering finish. These wines are unfiltered and tasting beautifully now, yet still showed structure to be laid down to age further. With a stunning lineup of wines such as these, I decided to pair them with various rich types of gouda and a rib-eye steak cooked in a cast iron skillet. Below are my personal tasting notes on each wine, as well as a summary of the weather conditions for each vintage. It was fascinating to go back and forth, not only between the food and wine, but to compare how the weather conditions shaped the vintage. I was in wine nerd heaven and loving every minute of it!
- 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot
- Velvety tannins, beautiful tertiary notes of cooked black cherry, blueberry, and soft notes of spice and leather. This wine was both elegant and powerful.
- The winter showed average rainfall. Conditions in spring were excellent for bud break, with larger than expected cluster counts and weights. Summer showed moderate temperatures with very short spikes of days over 100 degrees. There were a few rain events during harvest which stretched the timing of crush. Overall, the vintage showed higher than average yield with excellent quality. It was the first Estate harvest and scored 96 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, which was the highest-rated Cabernet Sauvignon ever made in Paso Robles at the time.
- No Soul was released for this vintage as Daniel decided to declassify the fruit meant for Soul to be used in the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
- 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot
- Prominent tannins with notes of tobacco, dried black cherry, white pepper, graphite and pomegranate.
- Memorable for having a large and healthy crop, 2012 consisted of fruit to be dropped four times throughout the growing season to concentrate the flavors of the berries. The first heat wave in August caused the sugars to progress quickly, which resulted in the first watering of the year. By August 24th, the temperatures had moderated which slowed sugar development and allowed the tannins to develop.
- 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot
- Minerality with elements of graphite and less prominent tannin structure than 2012, but still chewy. Ripe black cherry, juicy black plum with the tartness of the skin, followed by mild woodiness and tobacco.
- 2013 was one of the driest years on record which caused early bud break, small clusters and small berries. In May, an unexpected storm brought some relief to the soil, providing welcome hydration before the warmer summer months. Thankfully, temperatures during the growing season were ideal with August being in the 70s and low 80s. These idyllic temperatures allowed for plenty of hang time for the grapes to fully mature on the vine. The vintage was deemed a blockbuster and considered a “classic” by Paso wineries.
- 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot
- Velvety tannins with stewed tart black cherry, black plum, ripe blackberry and soft minerality.
- 2014 brought forth one of the driest vintages recorded at DAOU, resulting in early bud break, véraison and harvest. The lack of water also caused the clusters and berries to be small. Spring brought forth cooler than normal temperatures, and come July, the Mountain had seen only two days reaching 100 degrees. In August there was a light drizzle, providing the vines a little moisture to keep them going and allowing deficit irrigation to be practiced despite the drought. Overall, August was cooler than normal which allowed for adequate hang time, thereby facilitating great tannin structure to the wines. With harvest starting earlier than normal, this enabled most of the Mountain to be harvested before several heat waves hit in September. Daniel said this was the “vintage of his career” and considers this vintage of Soul of a Lion to be one of the best of his career.
- 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot
- Black pepper is prominent with well-structured tannins, chalky minerality, black cherry, and black currant. With intense flavors and body, I’m excited to see how this wine further ages.
- The fourth year of drought continued in 2015 and followed up with warm weather in March and April, with bud break starting in early March. Unfortunately, very cold temperatures in May enveloped the Mountain along with strong winds, resulting in severe shatter and 50% less-than-normal yields. Early June brought some heat, which allowed the smaller crop to ripen beautifully and on time for September. Because of the shatter, flowers were stunted in their growth which caused variable fruit in the clusters, meaning there was a combination of under-ripe, ripe and over-ripe fruit. Consequently, every berry must be inspected by hand in order to ensure quality since under-ripe and over-ripe fruit do not average out to tasting like ripe fruit, and instead taste of off flavors. Daniel chose to invest in the first Pellenc Optical Sorter in Paso Robles. The sorter uses an optical eye to detect inconsistencies in ripeness and quality that the human eye can’t easily detect. By individually sorting each berry, this process ensures that all of the fruit is optimally ripe.
- 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot
- Green peppercorn, chalky tannins, blackberry, black currant, and tannins much softer than 2015. The minerality on this vintage is mild.
- With a dry El Niño winter, bud break began in early March, with warmer than average temperatures to follow. The onset of véraison came quickly and earlier than usual due to a very warm June and July. There were a few intense fires throughout the region, and thankfully none of DAOU’s grapes were affected. About one week prior to harvest in August, a very cold weather front set in causing the sugars to stop accumulating, which aided in extended hang time for the fruit. That being said, the 2016 vintage is deemed a “perfect” vintage with some of the darkest and most-concentrated wines yet.
- 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot
- Delicate minerality, soft tannins already approaching velvet, intense yet creamy notes of vanilla, black cherry, and blackberry.
- 2017 ended a five-year drought for Paso with one of the wettest winters in recent memory, totaling close to 35 inches of rain on DAOU Mountain. The vines were energized by all this moisture, which brought about one of the best crops yet. Weather patterns remained steady from spring to mid-summer, then a heat wave struck the third week in August during harvest. This was an inopportune time for this to happen, compelling many other vintners to harvest the rest of their fruit, except Daniel; he made the bold decision to allow the late ripening varietals to hang through the heat wave. The heat had sped up véraison, but phenolic ripeness wasn’t quite there yet, which is why Daniel made the choice he did. Thankfully, his choice paid off. The heat wave was followed by a cooling trend which allowed for an extended hang time for the grapes to achieve optimal ripeness. This resulted in the latest harvest to date, concluding the third week in October. What this long hang time provided was the deepest color and concentration seen thus far from the Estate with silky tannins that are beautifully integrated.
- 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot
- Soft tannins, soft minerality, black cherry, chocolate, and plum.
- For the second year in a row, DAOU would have one of their longest-growing seasons with 2018. There was good rainfall in February and March causing bud break to occur on the later side in April. The newly energized vines from all the water provided one the best crops yet. The weather remained steady up until June, when a six-week-long heat wave took hold. Thankfully, this was prior to véraison so the grapes were not affected. A cooling trend followed for the rest of the season, allowing for another year of extended hang time and harvest concluding, yet again, into the third week in October. Due to the cooler overall vintage, these wines will be marked with elegance.
- 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot
- Prominent tannins, black currant, black plum skins, black cherry, with a hint of anise and chalky minerality.
- 2019 was marked as possibly the greatest vintage DAOU Mountain has ever experienced. Heavy rains—totaling close to 40 inches—during the vine’s dormant season made for a healthy cover crop that replenished the soil’s micronutrient levels. The weather throughout the growing season was ideal, with temperatures mostly in the 80s and 90s, and not a single day reaching 100 degrees on the Mountain. Overall, it was the coolest vintage Paso had experienced since 1973. For the third year in a row, harvest ran into the third week in October, with the grapes arriving in exquisite condition with no damage, sunburn or shriveling. This collector’s vintage is marked with great acidity, moderate alcohol and promise of longevity.
First and foremost, I have to give a huge thank you to Daniel Daou for making this vertical tasting one I will never forget. What started out as a dinner between friends who would share the 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 vintages, turned into an evening of epic proportions having every vintage become available to sip and enjoy. Thank you, Daniel, this was an evening that not only taught me so much about the wines and DAOU, but one I will cherish in my memories.
So, which was my favorite? The 2010 was hands down my favorite given its elegance yet power for being over a decade old. I’m curious to see how Father Time continues to evolve this wine in bottle. Other standout years were the 2014, 2017, and 2019. 2014 and 2017 were the most pleasing to my palate with their flavors, aromas and mouthfeel. As for 2019, yes, it’s young, but I see great potential in it. It’s already showing lovely notes and I’d love to revisit it again in 5-10 years. Thankfully, I have a few bottles already hidden away so more on that in the years to come.