Rob DaFoe is a local to the core—born in Santa Barbara, raised in Goleta and now a winemaker in the Santa Ynez Valley. But it was when he was young professional snowboarder, traveling around the world, that he first began thinking of a life in wine. When his sporting career was cut short by injuries, he returned home and embarked on a new path into the heart of the wine industry. He paid his dues at local wineries and made wines that were hailed by the Wine Spectator’s James Laube for “making impressive gains with Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the eastern reaches of Santa Barbara County.” Along the way, Laube named Rob DaFoe as one of four “rising stars in California Cabernet.” Now, at Brick Barn Wine Estate, Rob brings his brand of intuitive winemaking to the western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley.
Between working in the vineyard and preparing for bottling, Rob can be a hard man to pin down right now. Nevertheless, we caught up with him in a spare moment to learn more about his journey—and about what he finds motivating here at the estate:
What drew you to Brick Barn?
For me, the honor of working for an estate in my home area of Santa Barbara was a huge draw. When you see this property and the upper hills, you are immediately engulfed in the energy and potential of this ground.
What stands out to you about the estate vineyard—and what is the vibe you get from it?
The property covers an array of steeps and flats and different soil types. Pair that with the varied sun and wind exposures and I think we have many spots in which to excel and push varieties. Everything here is still so raw in a way. I feel the energy is in the elements of this team, the land and the winery. The harmony of the ground to the glass is unfolding and a large part of my job is bringing everything together and energizing that discovery to make wines of substance and intention.
In a few words, what is your winemaking approach?
Less is usually more. The vigorous nature of our site challenges that idea with the amount of hand work needed in our blocks, but you have to grow it right for the style you envision. Especially here with my level of control, I am striving for wines of character and intention with no compromising. I told my cellar crew that we have many of the tricks and swindles available to the New World winemaker, but the real goal is to never have to use any of them because the wines are grown and made in harmony, and in the end we don’t need them.
Before you chose a life in wine, you were a professional snowboarder—in what way might that experience have shaped or steered your path as a winemaker?
I was a punk kid who was good enough at it to have companies pay to send me around the world with some of the most interesting people, witness incredibly odd and unbelievable things, and be exposed to art, culture and food that went way beyond my Goleta upbringing. That changes you. I have always been an Old World guy and a romantic at heart. When those travels brought me to Old World wine areas such as France, I knew it was special to me. Winemaking can be the culmination of all good human endeavors if allowed to be.
In addition to being a winemaker, you are a family man. What do you plan to do this Summer in your spare time, before the harvest season hits?
Building out the winery and getting the vineyard on track is still an ongoing process. It takes more time than you can believe. “New” means that you are the person who gets to work the bugs out. I hope to get some time off before harvest, but we have so much to accomplish with bottling and everything else, and time is flying. Hopefully, with the way the growing season is shaping up, we will see a slightly later start date to harvest and that will allow us to escape for a well-deserved recharge.
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