Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hot winery: DAOU Vineyards

Daniel Daou

Daniel Daou

You may have noticed that our friends over at DAOU Vineyards are getting a lot of attention lately.  Winemaker Daniel Daou and his brother Georges Daou have been featured across several publications, including The Winepress Magazine and New Times.  So what’s all the fuss?

Well, for one thing, Daniel Daou is a legit winemaker, having been mentored Delphine Barboux of Chateau Lascombes in Margaux, as well as Scott McLeod of Rubicon and Coppola.  Also, the brothers come from a long line of French farmers, so they understand Old World.

But the main reason the Daou brothers find themselves in the limelight is for the fact that they are championing Paso Robles as a top region for Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-varietal wines.  And they’re not shy about it.

In the golden, oak-studded hills of Paso Robles’ fabled west side, not far from William Randolph Hearst’s magnificent castle, there is a man with a Homeric vision. His name is Daniel Daou and he is devoting his life and every imaginable resource to creating, first and foremost, a Cabernet Sauvignon that rivals the very best in the world.

DAOU Vineyards website

DAOU tasting room 2You understand that term “every imaginable resource” a little better when you drive up the steep hill to DAOU’s tasting room on Hidden Mountain Road.  Unparalleled views of Paso Robles wine country and 60 acres of DAOU vineyards surround the Spanish colonial-style winery.  It is an especially exciting time for “the winery in the sky” as the first wines from their estate production have recently been released, to much popular acclaim.

Daou wineTasting the Daou family wines, it’s obvious that Daniel and Georges have explored and really believe in the potential of Paso Robles Cabernet. So much so, in fact, that they’ve founded a new group of Cab and Bordeaux producers called the Paso Robles CAB Collective.  While this region has been thick with Rhone affection for many years, no group has ever formed around Cabernet and Bordeaux until now.  More on that next week.

In the meantime, visit the DAOU Vineyards tasting room at 2777 Hidden Mountain Road in Paso Robles and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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Coolest job ever: FOOD STYLIST

We have big appetites here at Parker Sanpei & Associates, and are not ashamed to admit it.  But just as much as we love to eat food, we really love to ogle it, thanks to the amazing work of food stylists like Maggie Ruggiero.  For this week’s Dish posting, we’re featuring her work, which is always gorgeously color-saturated, simple, and a little bit rustic.

Photo by Roland Bello.

Photo by Roland Bello.

Photo by Roland Bello.

Photo by Roland Bello.

Photo by Roland Bello.

Photo by Roland Bello.

Photo by Roland Bello.

Photo by Roland Bello.

 

 

 

 

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We agree: Wine Industry Person of the Year

Dana MerrillPhoto by BOTTLE BRANDING

Dana Merrill
Photo by BOTTLE BRANDING

If you are even remotely involved in the Central Coast wine industry, you know Dana Merrill as one of the most trusted, respected, and influential figures on the scene today.  In recognition of his life, which has been devoted to the quality and health of Central Coast vineyards, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance named Dana Wine Industry Person of the Year last week at its annual dinner.

Merrill, a seventh-generation Californian with roots on the Central Coast dating back to the days of the Missions, has been an integral member of Paso Robles wine country for decades.  Raised in the Santa Ynez Valley, he is a lifelong farmer, having graduated from Cal Poly with an Agriculture Business degree.  He began raising winegrapes in 1981 and eventually gained extensive experience managing vineyards for top premium brands in Monterey, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.  Merrill founded Mesa Vineyard Management in 1989, an industry leader on the Central Coast, which has allowed him to work side-by-side with many of California wine’s biggest players and most coveted vineyards.

In 2002, Merrill chose to get into the winemaking game and purchased a vineyard in the Paso Robles Ava’s El Pomar District, now called the Pomar Junction Vineyard.  For six years, Merrill and his family labored to bring the 40-acre vineyard up to the standards of the Central Coast Vineyard Team’s “Sustainability In Practice” (SIP) program and to renovate the existing buildings for a tasting room.  The Pomar Junction tasting room opened in 2008 followed by a production estate winery in 2011.  The winery has since been awarded a grant by the USDA’s REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) to harvest solar energy for winery operations.

General Manager Matt Merrill, Dana Merrill, and Winemaker Jim Shumate in the Pomar Junction VineyardPhoto by BOTTLE BRANDING

General Manager Matt Merrill, Dana Merrill, and Winemaker Jim Shumate in the Pomar Junction Vineyard
Photo by BOTTLE BRANDING

Most recently, Merrill confirmed his longstanding faith in the El Pomar District with the purchase of 278 acres included in the former Weyrich estate.  Home to a host of notable vineyards sourced by brands like Justin and J. Lohr, the El Pomar District has become highly acclaimed thanks to the dedication and belief of pioneers like Merrill.  Located on Creston Ridge Road near the intersection of South El Pomar Road and Creston Road, this expansive property attracted Merrill with its calcareous soils, steep south-facing slopes and famous Templeton Gap breezes, as well as its existing specialized infrastructure to support Mesa Vineyard Management operations, as well as private wine-related functions.  Plans are already underway to SIP certify the property.

Merrill’s lasting legacy on the Central Coast is a commitment to sustainability and the health of the region’s vineyards and the people who work them.  His community involvement includes acting as a founding member of the widely-respected Central Coast Vineyard Team, which teaches and encourages sustainable vineyard practices; chairing the California Association of Winegrape Growers as a representative of Paso Robles; serving on the California Pierce’s Disease Board; and serving two terms on the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association boards, among others.

Of Merrill’s many contributions to the wine industry, Central Coast Vineyard Team Executive Director, Kris Beal, said: “I appreciate Dana’s willingness to have creative conversations and engage people with different points of view in order to reach out-of-the-box solutions. We are very fortunate to have such a savvy and forward-thinking voice representing our industry on many levels.”

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A Family Affair

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Keeps It All In The Family

From roots to shoots, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery is all about family.  With their welcoming tasting room, plenty of space to roam, and a staff of talented people – many of whom happen to be related to one another – Laetitia is the ideal stop for anyone who enjoys the warmth of a family-run winery.

Laetitia’s legacy of family winemaking began 28 years ago with Dave Hickey.  Unlike many winemakers, Dave wasn’t born into the wine industry.  As a kid, his traditional Midwestern understanding was that wine existed for the affluent…or for winos. But as fate would have it, one small detour led to a lifelong love of wine that extends to his entire family.

Dave Hickey

Dave Hickey

In 1985, Dave was hired for construction and clean-up at Laetitia’s predecessor, Maison Deutz.  As he worked around the winery, Dave became intrigued with the winery’s traditional, labor-intensive process of making sparkling wine called Mèthode Champenoise.  Pretty soon he had developed a relationship with the French winemaker, and was invited to take a position overseeing winery systems operations, which he did with relish.

Dave’s enthusiasm for the winemaking craft started to rub off on his eldest son, Eric, at the tender age of 13. Eventually, Eric started hanging out with his dad at the winery, doing odd jobs, watching the winemaking team work, and getting familiar with the cellar equipment.  After graduating from high school, his wine education flourished as he joined the Maison Deutz crew full time.  With each passing vintage, his appreciation of the land and the grapes expanded.

Eric Hickey

Eric Hickey

By the time the property had been bought and named Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, both Dave and Eric had become institutions in the cellar: Eric crafting still wine like Laetitia’s famous Pinot Noir, and Dave making the award-winning sparkling wines.  Their mutual fascination with winemaking would take both father and son to France – Dave to the venerated producers of Champagne, and Eric to those of the Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Carmen Hickey, Eric Hickey, and Sales & Marketing Administrator, Jackie Ross

Carmen Hickey, Eric Hickey, and Sales & Marketing Administrator, Jackie Ross

In the meantime, the rest of Dave’s family was also developing an appreciation for fine wines.  His wife, Carmen, became a top seller of wines in the Laetitia tasting room and was soon managing not only the tasting room, but also the wine club and hospitality. Dave’s youngest son, Dustin, is a supervisor in the cellar, while middle son, Jeremiah, spent several years working in the Laetitia Cellar hand-riddling sparkling wine bottles.  (In fact, he mastered this Old World technique so efficiently that he was able to riddle up to 30,000 bottles in just 2 hours, 20 minutes.) To call the Hickey’s relationship to Laetitia “a family affair” is an understatement.

In 2000, after 12 years of quietly working up the Laetitia ranks, Eric was named Head Winemaker and General Manager, and has since become President of the brand, while Dave is Sparkling Winemaker and Vice President, Production.  Their winemaking styles are similar in that both winemakers know their fruit intimately, resulting in beautifully balanced wines from the Arroyo Grande estate as well as the high-elevation Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard.  Both winemakers value tradition as well as innovation, lushness as well as restraint.

“I always dreamed that whatever I did with my life, my kids and grandkids would be close by,” said Dave.  “I never pictured us all actually working together.  People ask me a lot what it’s like to have my son as a boss.  I can truthfully say it is wonderful.  He’s a great boss and I love it.”

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