I’m biased when it comes to discussing Casanel; not only is it the very first winery I’ve ever been to, it set a high bar for every subsequent winery I’ve ever visited. It’s small enough that the owners greet you and remember your name, yet also produces high-quality wine. Heck – EVERY winery should be judged by this standard.
While a lot of wineries are family-run businesses, few of them put the owners as front & center into their story as this places does. Even the name “Casanel” is a combination of the first names of the owners (Casey + Nelson = Casanel).
Speaking of which, you can’t talk about Casanel without discussing owner Nelson DeSouza. Nelson is an immigrant from Brazil who arrived here when he was 20 and worked various construction jobs until he became a businessman himself. He’s also one of the most charming, colorful guys I’ve ever met. Nelson can say he literally made Casanel from the ground up; it was his business that built the tasting room, he renovated the old log cabin into a home, and he personally crafted the wooden tables from trees taken off the property.
While the place brims with his personality, the ladies of Casanal balance things out. Both daughters work here; Katie is the winemaker; Anne their general manager. A third lady was also a key contributor; Katell Griaud was their wine consultant for several years, and hers and Katie’s names are the initials of their “K2” red blend (Katell now works at nearby Slater Run). So “machismo” – this palace is not.
Katie guided me through a tasting. With 7 acres of vines & a production of 1000 cases/year, they are mostly estate but still get some fruit from elsewhere in Virginia (including Muse – one of my favorite vineyards in the state). The view was really picturesque as well; I mean seriously; who gets tired of looking at a vineyard next to a pond?
As you can expect, Katie was really proud of her wines; she’s one of the few lady wine makers in all Virginia. Between herself and Katell you might say their wines have a feminine touch; the reds tend to be low on tannin as opposed to in-your-face bold, and they were willing to experiment with styles and varietals you don’t see elsewhere in Virginia.
Casanel also holds the distinction one of the few places in the state that grows Carménère; a grape that originated in Bordeaux but now basically extinct there. To date their Carménère is the only 100% varietal made in Virginia. She also makes Loudoun County’s first vintage sparkling wine. You WON’T find wine slushies or sangria here!
The wines were generally dry, but were soft enough that my sweet-wine loving friend enjoyed a lot of the samples. What I tried:
2017 Elliana: Pinot Gris; bright & summery, lemon notes. Made without malolactic fermentation to retain the fruitiness.
2017 Patricia Marie: Another Pinot Gris but this one has some American Oak, French Oak, and some steel. Toasty and some vanilla notes; nice complexity
Full Nelson: Norton port-style made in Cognac barrels. Sweet but not overly alcohol-y.
2017 Chardonnay: Light, bright and good acid
“Jose” Rose: Strawberry notes and great color but otherwise clean
2016 K2: Bordeaux blend: Medium body with a long finish. Strong fruit notes; enough so that my sweet-wine drinking friend really enjoyed despite it being a dry red
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon: Plumb and spice notes but no pepper.
2016 Carménère: Spicy! Also notes of clove and cherry. Not coincidentally, declared the best Carménère in North America by the San Francisco Wine Competition.
2016 Petit Verdot: 18 months in oak (half that new French oak). Well rounded but lower on the tannin. Katie called this a “feminine PV”
White Spark sparking (made in the methode champenoise): Full of mineral and apple notes; I liked it a lot!