Rob DaFoe’s Next Chapter: Cabernet Phenom Now Taming Burgundy

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 7/14/16

“You’re bottling Sybil when you’re bottling pinot noir,” winemaker Rob DaFoe tells me as we sip. “And you’re constantly asking yourself, ‘When will she surrender?!”

DaFoe is talking about a wine grape he loves, of course, all while candidly comparing it to the psychiatry patient whose bout with multiple personalities famously became a 1970s TV miniseries starring Sally Field.  It’s a newfound realization for DaFoe: that pinot noir undergoes myriad transmutations in its infancy.  “And if you taste all the time to see what’s happening, you’ll go mad,” he says.

Rob DaFoe at the Easy Street Wine Collective, 90 Easy Street, Buellton
Those changes in young pinot – during fermentation and barrel aging and even in bottle – can happen day to day, and they're what DaFoe has come to understand as the wine’s intrinsic evolution.

As winemaker, “you have to trust what you’ve done, that’s the bottom line,” he adds.

I say that these are newfound discoveries for DaFoe because working with Burgundian grapes – pinot and chardonnay – is indeed a new venture for him.  It’s his new label, called Rake, as in a ne’er-do-well scoundrel.  The name was inspired by a Townes Van Zandt song that’s “hauntingly poetic and terrifying at the same time,” according to DaFoe.

But DaFoe has already made an indelible mark on the Santa Barbara winemaking scene with Bordeaux varieties, cabernet sauvignon in particular.  I first met DaFoe about 10 years ago, when the pro snowboarder-turned-photographer-turned-filmmaker won acclaim with a movie about making wine, called Ground to Glass.  That intimate documentary, which featured on-camera sit-downs with more than 30 wine industry stars and which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2006, was also a creative seed for the man behind the lens.  By 2009, DaFoe had launched the Tanner DaFoe label with friend Jeff Tanner and the wines –a fascinating blend of intuition, knack and good fortune, for sure – were knockouts.  The 2011 cabernet blew my socks off – “a remarkably luscious, rich, elegant wine where flavors and tannins converge in harmony,” I wrote last year.  And four vintages of Tanner DaFoe wines – 2009 through 2012 – have garnered between 90 and 93 points from Wine Spectator, among the highest for any Bordeaux wines from Santa Barbara. (The 2013s are currently in barrel.)

Then, one day, DaFoe became intrigued by rosé.  “It wasn’t really a fit,” for the Tanner DaFoe label, he says.  So Rake was born.

DaFoe is still making cabernet and cab-based blends under Tanner DaFoe; priced between $75 and $110, they’re sourced from a secret vineyard on the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.  Similarly, the magic behind Rake is driven by location.  In 2013, DaFoe got access to the four-acre Destiny Vineyard in Los Alamos, a 50-50 planting of pinot and chard.  “The soils are very clay-like, with a fair amount of sea fossils – perfectly suited for Burgundian grapes,” says the winemaker.

Indeed, if rosé was the genesis for his new project, DaFoe has heeded the call well.  The 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($20) is bracing, lively and fresh.  The acidity is vivid, while the fruity nuances of the pinot grape shine through.  He pours next a sample of his yet-to-be-bottled 2015 rosé, which smacks of Provence, with watermelon and raspberry aromas, a clean roundness on the tongue and spicy pop mid-sip.  Delicious.  And because it’s what sipping rosé tends to inspire, our conversation soon drifts from wine to heady ideas about history, women and life.

I am sipping with DaFoe at the Easy Street Wine Collective in Buellton, a small tasting room that Rake shares with the Cordon label, by DaFoe’s winemaker friend, Etienne Terlinden.  Both men, along with a handful of other boutique producers, work out of the winery that abuts the intimate tasting space.

We taste the 2014 Rake Chardonnay ($30) next, which is bouncy and animated, with limestone and grapefruit notes on the palate, and with a subtle nuttiness in the finish.

And we end with the 2013 Rake Pinot Noir ($35), with a perfumed nose – black cherries and dark berries – and a clean, supple mouth feel.  The wine was bottled only in February, but balance is predominant.  “Every time I taste this, different parts are more dominant and others are more subdued,” DaFoe tells me, harkening back to his Sybil reference.  But “I’m finding that pinot develops way better in bottle anyway,” he adds.  So, certainly, the future for Rake looks bright.

Rake Wines are currently available through the Easy Street Wine Collective tasting room, which is open for public tastings on weekends, as well as Wine + Beer at the Santa Barbara Public Market, Corks 'n Crowns in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone and Pierre Lafond Market in Montecito's Upper Village.

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