Casanel Vineyards and Winery is in the heart of the Loudoun County wine region and the Middleburg AVA, but is nicely tucked away off the beaten path, which is a relief after driving south through winery traffic and past wineries throwing festivals where they stand on the road to take $20 before you can even drive to the parking lot.
The winery is tastefully designed with pristine looking vineyards, but the elegant tasting room was almost empty when I entered on a sunny Saturday. This is usually a very bad sign, but in this case, a very good sign; if you’re patient enough to find it, Casanel is a Shangri-La among Loudoun wineries, partly from aesthetics, partly from a policy of no dogs or children, and mostly for the brilliant wines.
The operation was established in 2008 and is owned and operated by two generations of the DeSouza family with parents Nelson and Kathleen, daughters Katie (assistant winemaker) and Anna (tasting room manager), and now joined by the third generation celebrated with wines named after them, granddaughters Elliana and Patricia Marie. Their focus on high-quality limited production wine driven by carefully raised estate fruit shows in their retaining renowned viticulturist Lucie Morton. The purity of the fruit is the first thing you notice and this is consistent across the board.
In addition to the important contribution of Lucie Morton with healthy vines and fruit, Casanel benefits from the enology consultation of Katell Griaud, a Bordeaux region native and formerly a winemaker at Kluge, then Trump vineyards. In 2014 Griaud set out on her own to consult for small, family-run wineries and Casanel has benefitted from her expertise.
If you join their wine club, it has a dedicated separate tasting room, where I met Katie who told me about the winery and poured Casanel’s wines. As far as they know, she says, they produced the world’s first sparkling norton, partly estate fruit and partly from nearby Chrysalis Vineyards.
Casanel sparkling norton, methode champenoise 2014 Harvested August 2014 at 20-21 Brix, pH 3.32. Nose: elegantly fruity, not the sometimes funky red wine norton. Clementine and red/black cherry, some pomegranate, clean and fresh. Palate: dry, zesty pomegranate, red cherry, nice smooth mousse. Needs some time but would be great for summer with food or with Thanksgiving. Was one year en tirage, needs another year in the bottle (sold out).
Elliana 2016: In the French tradition, the DeSouzas named their first release wine for their first granddaughter. This is a stainless steel pinot gris. Nose: clean, fresh with a hint of clean straw as in pinot grigio, but a bit fleshier on the palate. Palate: dry, clean, round mid-palate but with zesty bright lemon flavors on the finish. Katie says that Katell wants a clean fresh style, ideally balanced between the grigio and gris styles. Elegant, polished, clean and zesty.
Patricia Marie 2015: This wine was named for the second granddaughter, and is also a pinot gris, with 80% new American oak, 20% stainless. Nose: subtle, with coconut and vanilla hints, yet still elegant. Palate: round and spicy, some coconut/vanilla flavors but they are subtle. Dry but smooth. A skillfully made “crossover” wine for those who must have oak but a fine example of one.
Chardonnay Reserve 2015 estate: aged one year in 80% neutral French oak, 20% stainless. Nose: polished, very elegant with aromas of yellow apple, subtle with a hint of creaminess, but NO butter, a hint of pastry. Palate: high acid plus toastiness, made with a sauvignon blanc yeast, texture smooth at first but complexities from oak despite no malolactic fermentation.
Casanel Rosé José 2016: 60% merlot, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 17% cabernet franc, 2% carmenere. Pale color, Provençal style. Nose: zesty bright red cherry. Palate: acid-driven, lemon/lime firm acidity, bright red cherry flavors, zesty and bright. Great for a hot Virginia summer.
* “K2” Bordeaux Blend 2014: Named after the female winemaking team of Katell and Katie, this very elegant and stylish blend is a “Right Bank” style of 28% cabernet franc and merlot, 24% cabernet sauvignon and 10% each petit verdot and Malbec. Nose: black cherry and cassis. Pure and clean, totally fruit-driven. Palate: juicy, zesty, red and black fruits, bright acidity, no obvious oak, firm acid, fresh but needs 2-3 years bottle age. Stylish.
* Petit Verdot 2014: Nose: elegant, but subtle black fruits, with violets and lavender. Palate: juicy, lively mid-palate acid, smooth tannins, roses and violets on the finish. Fresh and vibrant, very elegant but needs 3-4 years.
**Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: 20 months in 45% new French oak. Nose: hint of sandlewood and cassis. Palate: incredibly smooth, with silky texture of well-ripened tannins, with classic black currant flavors of cabernet sauvignon not masked by vanilla oak. If this were a piece of music it would be the Chopin nocturne in E flat. Also elegant at 12.8% alcohol. Needs time, but well worth waiting for!