Money and Death in Napa

On the surface, the story had much in common with many of the tales that unfold in the Napa Valley. The people involved—an entrepreneur and an investor—were outsiders who dreamed of becoming gentleman vintners. In the end, though, the entrepreneur chased the investor through vineyards with a semiautomatic pistol, eventually killing him before turning the gun on himself.

   The strange saga of Dahl Vineyards began when Robert Dahl arrived in Napa from Minnesota, where he had been involved in Napa Valley, Californiaa series of sketchy ventures. He convinced Emad Tawfilis, a Silicon Valley executive, to bankroll him in a winery. With an initial investment of $1.2 million from Tawfilis, Dahl established his enterprise on a side street off Route 29 and began making wine from purchased fruit.

   The venture didn’t go well, and the winery was rumored to be losing $100,000 per month. Dahl apparently convinced Tawfilis that he needed more money, claiming that he could get better prices on bulk wine if he paid cash. Tawfilis handed over an additional $800,000—crammed into a gym bag, no less—and Dahl continued to squander the money.

   Eventually, Tawfilis realized that the glamorous life of a chateau proprietor was not going to materialize, and sued Dahl to recover his investment. About three weeks ago, the two men met privately to resolve the dispute. That meeting resulted in Dahl pursuing Tawfilis through the grapevines in a black SUV and shooting him in the back. The SUV was found about 10 miles away by police, with Dahl’s dead body in the front seat.

   According to The Napa Wine Project, Robert Dahl created “a modern and cozy winery—along with a comfortable and relaxing experience for visitors.” They praised the “tropical aromas” of “honeysuckle and citrus blossom” in his Sauvignon Blanc, and noted that “the weight of the palate complements the richness of the fruit” in his Chardonnay. As for the Merlot, it displayed an “intriguing spiciness” highlighted by notes of white pepper.

   Some dreams die harder than others.


Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to

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