Paso Robles’s highest elevation vineyard is slated to reach even greater heights
Winemaker Daniel Daou of Daou Vineyards
Embarking on a journey to find perfection in terroir, Daniel and Georges Daou laid claim to a portion of some of the most coveted land in the western hills of Paso Robles. The property, called Hoffman Mountain, was first planted in the 1960s under the guidance of legendary enologist André Tschelistcheff.
Today, the brothers Daou own 100-plus acres, with elevations as high as 2,000 feet. Twenty-five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blenders (Merlot, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot) are under vine—among 75 plantable acres—in soil that is brimming with the highest levels of outcropped calcareous lime yet recorded in the proposed sub-appellation known as the Adelaida Hills.
Smack-dab between Los Angeles and San Francisco, amid some of the Central Coast’s most striking scenery, Paso Robles gives the appearance of a cow town. Drive the 101 freeway—about a half hour north of San Luis Obispo and a half hour south of the Monterey turn-off—and just off to the west you’ll glimpse the Mid-State Fairgrounds, where rodeos and monster truck shows fill the grandstands on a routine basis.
But take the nearest off-ramp and, whichever way you head, vineyards will signal what has become the town’s nurturing life’s blood: wine. Paso Robles has become the third largest single appellation in California—614,000 acres—with plantings that have more than doubled in the past decade.
Why write about a winery whose first releases are not expected until 2010? Stand atop Daou Mountain and take in the view.
One of the only vineyards in the western hillsides to face the high-walled wind channel known as the Templeton Gap, Daou’s vines are subject to this area’s windy signature, which produces grapes that are destined to develop thick skins, capture more acidity and demonstrate concentrated fruit structure in the resulting wine.
In addition to preferred positioning that delivers desirable southeast and southwest sun exposure and, at a mere 14-miles from the Pacific Ocean, demonstrable maritime influence, Daou Vineyards shares its steep, wooded hills with wildlife, while its hilltop ridges are so studded with eroded lime outcroppings that the vines struggle, even in their meticulously-farmed setting.
With vines spaced three feet apart and only eight spurs per vine allowed on low, 18-inch cordons, an even, balanced ripeness is already in the cards for the upcoming Daou wines, along with intense color and complex flavors.
Daniel Daou doesn’t have to walk far to find rich outcroppings of calcareous lime on his property.
Soils from left to right: Ayar, Balcom, Linne Calodo and Nacimiento.
Diverse soils make for complex wines. The highest percentages of calcareous lime sub-soils─up to an astounding 98.3%─comprise the vineyard site, geologic conditions that the French have proved over centuries to produce healthier, balanced vine growth. In addition, Daou Vineyards is supported by Ayar, a deep, well-drained soil; Balcom, usually found in higher elevations and formed by weathered, soft calcareous shale and sandstone; Linne Calodo, a coveted shallow soil known to retain necessary levels of moisture; and Nacimiento, a well-drained soil found on mountainous uplands.
Up Front with Daniel Daou
Raised in France, Daniel Daou received an early wine education, as do many Europeans. With a palate that originally associated greatness with complex Bordeaux, his thirst for elegance and balance in his winemaking endeavors led him to a new frontier for crafting world-class wines: Paso Robles.
While the Daou vines are reaching maturity, Daniel and Georges, with consultant Delphine Barboux-Laurent (who has winemaking experience at Château Lascombes in Margaux and who crafted the superb L’Evangile 2000 from Bordeaux), have introduced the La Capilla label as a vanguard move into the market.
Named (in Spanish translation) after the chapel on the hill at Hermitage in the Northern Rhône, the La Capilla wines are a series of deeply concentrated and balanced varietals from managed vineyard sites in Paso Robles, along with a Zinfandel sourced from Lodi. In its first year of production, the initial 3,500-case lot of La Capilla is destined to sell out before the new release in early 2009.
“Winemaking is my chosen profession, my art and my passion,” attests Daou, whose knowledge of technology may have initially propelled him to find his path and lifestyle amidst the vines.
La Capilla’s new label. In its first year of production, it is predicted that more than 3,500 cases of this Paso Robles wine, a second label of Daou Vineyards, will sell out before the second vintage. The wines under the Daou Vineyards label are expected to be released in early 2010.