Thursday, October 21, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 34

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Passion in Paso: How regional wine producers are pushing the envelope to attract sophisticated palates


The merriest month in Paso Robles may well be May.

Before the intense heat of summer sets in, two wine events are planned in this Northern San Luis Obispo County wine region: CABS of Distinction and the Paso Robles Wine Festival.

With 32,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries producing wines from more than 40 different grapes varieties, Paso has upped the ante.

Do you desire age-worthy cabernet sauvignon? Check. Seeking complex syrah? You bet. Crave fruit-forward zinfandel? Of course, it’s Paso’s heritage wine.

Now, let’s say the adventuresome wine drinker is looking for honey-hued roussanne, deep purple malbec, or rose-petal pink mourvedre? Sure thing! Heck, in Paso Robles, you could even find a few cases of light green picpoul blanc.

The massive Paso Robles wine region—with 11 diverse viticultural areas—spans 614,000 acres, 32,000 of which are planted with wine grapes.

You are also destined to discover a wide range of passionate people in Paso: wine producers like brothers Daniel and Georges Daou, determined to grow exceptional cabernet sauvignon at their mountain top estate on Paso Robles’ west side.

“The ’13 and ’14 vintages are world-class wines, without question,” declared Daniel Daou when we spoke recently on the phone.

“I’m going to make a statement that will probably shock you and probably two years ago I wouldn’t have made it, but I believe Paso Robles, in general, is probably one of the greatest terroirs to grow cabernet sauvignon in the world,” he added.

To demonstrate, he posed this question: “What is the difference, in Bordeaux, between a bad vintage and a good vintage?”

Daou said it’s very simple; a good vintage achieves ripeness.

“Paso, for the most part is able to achieve ripeness year after year after year—something that Bordeaux cannot claim; something that while Napa can claim it better than Bordeaux, cannot claim it as well as we do. In Paso, we rarely have a bad vintage—that’s a fact,” he said. “That makes this place a very unique environment for growing cabernet sauvignon—very unique. An environment that most winemakers in France would dream about!”

At Daou, everything starts in the vineyard. More than a dozen unique cabernet sauvignon clones were planted to improve quality. The vineyards are high-density, with as many as 2,500 vines per acre, which causes competition between the vines, smaller berries, and a better canopy, he explained.

“It costs us about four times the price of an average vineyard to manage an acre, and we still get the same number of grapes they get,” Daou said.

When he first moved to Paso Robles, Daou soon noticed that other winemakers were “very shy about wanting to release a $50 bottle of cabernet. To make a great cabernet sauvignon, unfortunately, it costs money; you have to drop a lot of fruit, you have to use a lot of oak, you have to lower your yields, and that costs money. What I’ve seen the last few years is people have been really encouraged to do so, and I think you’re seeing the results.”

Then, Daou raised the bar even higher.

“I released a wine called Soul of a Lion, my flagship wine, $100 a bottle three years ago. I had a lot of wineries come to see me and they said, ‘So we hear you’re releasing a $100 bottle of cabernet?’”

“I said, ‘Absolutely!’”

“They said, ‘How many cases did you make?’”

“I said, ‘About 550.’”

“They said, ‘This is Paso, it may take you two years to sell 500 cases of wine at that price.’”

 “Well, they were wrong. I sold it in five weeks! I’ve told this story to wineries over and over again. When people come here, they want quality. I’m not saying make all your wines 100 bucks … but if you can make a bottle of wine that is worth 100 bucks, that still will be a deal compared to a Napa cab. Why not charge 100 bucks if you’re putting all the money and the effort into making that great bottle of wine?”

Daou Vineyards’ Soul Of A Lion is an estate grown cabernet sauvignon, aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak ($125).

Daou and fellow Paso Robles wine producers are working to tap into a huge nearby market of cabernet sauvignon enthusiasts. 

“Consumers in Southern California are sophisticated, they collect wines, they drink wines, they are willing to spend $100 and even more on a bottle of wine. They want a Bordeaux blend, they want a cabernet from California that’s top notch,” Daou said. “I know, because I was one of them. I lived in Southern California for 30 years. The vast majority of the Southern California market does not know that you can find world-class cabernet in Paso Robles. They still think they have to fly to Napa and Sonoma.”

Daou is chairman of the board for the Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective, a group promoting the region’s top producers.

Its main consumer event, CABS of Distinction, is May 2 at River Oaks Hot Springs in Paso Robles; 25 Paso Robles winemakers will pour 75 different cabernet sauvignons and red Bordeaux varietals, paired with artisanal cheeses and charcuterie. Tickets are $65 per person. For more information, click on

The 33rd annual Paso Robles Wine Festival, organized by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, is May 14 through 17; 77 wineries will pour at the Saturday Grand Tasting in the downtown city park, 14 more than last year. The Friday Reserve event features wines from 68 wineries.

“Each year, we look at building upon the Wine Festival in ways that could enhance the attendees’ experience, so for 2015 we have increased the availability of food options,” said Christopher Taranto, communications director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “There is a pre-order option for lunch, with a reusable bag, as well as 11 food trucks in the expanded picnic area where we have moved the band stage, featuring the Damon Castillo Band.”

For Wine Fest ticket information and a full list of dinners, seminars, and activities, go to

Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell is passionate about storytelling. Contact her at

Weekly Poll
Are you planning to give blood given the shortage of donations on the Central Coast?

Yes, I'm going to go to a Vitalant location sometime in the next few weeks!
Not yet, but after learning about the shortage, I'll consider it.
I don't want to or am unable to, but I support the cause.
I have in the past and plan to at some point again in the future.

| Poll Results

My 805 Tix - Tickets to upcoming events