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Meet the maker: Daniel Daou

The founder, with his brother Georges, of DAOU wines in Paso Robles, talks to Douglas Blyde about finding beauty in simplicity, recovering from war, restoring a ranch house, and fulfilling a quest for happiness…

What is your motto?

When I first moved to DAOU Mountain to plant our first 26 acres of vines on my own I lived in a caravan without a water supply. In the evening after a back-breaking day, I would open a bottle of wine, drink it under the stars and tell myself, “Life is beautiful at its simplest.”

What is your origin?

I was born in Lebanon, though when the civil war’s first bomb hit my family home, injuring my brother, sister and me it was a signal to find another haven. We left for France where my brother and I spent most of our youth until the two of us moved to San Diego California to attend college.

What did you do?

My brother, George and I, aged 18 and living off the residue of our family’s savings, studied computer engineering at one of only two universities with a ‘supercomputer’. We started our own company, DAOU Systems which we later sold. I put the money into an eight-year journey of winemaking discovery, starting by pressing grapes in my garage, before taking the plunge to rescue a historic but neglected mountain wine estate in Paso Robles, subsequently reconnecting the patchwork of vineyards and restoring the century-old ranch house.

Do you still have family in Lebanon?

We still have family in Lebanon. They are struggling to make ends meet and my brother and I are doing what we can to help.

Describe your vineyard?

America’s leading winemaker of the post-prohibition era, André Tchelistcheff, called our property, “a jewel of ecological elements”. It is the only vineyard in California located at 2,200 feet while only 14 miles from the very cold Pacific Ocean which grows Bordeaux varieties

What characteristics are derived from the terroir?

There is an objective and a subjective way of measuring the quality of a wine – especially a Bordeaux variety wine. It is strongly correlated to phenolics – what you see (colour), what you smell (nose) and what you taste (structure, balance, etc.). Our very special, not to say unique terroir has allowed us to make wines that have some of the highest phenolic contents in the world while retaining freshness and elegance.

What is your favourite wine in the Daou range?

Soul of a Lion is the crown jewel of DAOU, and an emblem of our quest to produce unsurpassed Cabernet Sauvignon from the terroir of DAOU Mountain. The happiness we found there came from following our father’s example. Soul of a Lion is a tribute to him.

In which UK restaurants may we find your wines?

Adam Handling’s The Frog and Ugly Butterfly, Il Borro, The Raby Hunt and Middleton Lodge.

What is your latest release?

Matured for 22 months in 100% new French oak, 2019 DAOU Estate Soul of a Lion, (Cabernet Sauvignon 78%, Cabernet Franc 12%, Petit Verdot 10%) is available at Hedonism, Oxford Wine Co, and via Armit, Four Corners and Cru.

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