Owner(s): Nelson and Casey DeSouza
Winemaker: Katie DeSouza Henley and Tyler Henley
Open to Public
Thu 2 to 6; Fri-Mon 11 to 6
17956 Canby Road; Leesburg, Virginia 20175
Casanel Vineyards Profile
Written by Brian—Jun 13, 2016
At last count, I think there are 46 wineries in Loudoun County, Virginia. Most of them are making good wine. A smaller number are making great wine. Casanel Vineyard falls squarely in this latter category. I try never to do rankings, because they are so subjective. After lengthy deliberation, however, I can say that Casanel is easily one of my five favorite wineries in all of Northern Virginia and rests squarely in the top tier of producers in the state.
It is quite possible that you are unfamiliar with this winery. They are flying a little under the radar. It is not one of the “party” wineries with a parking lot full of busses and limos. They do not court large crowds of weekend revelers from the DC area. Instead, they have positioned themselves as one of the few wineries focused on exclusive, education-oriented tastings. Whether you walk in and do the regular tasting or make reservations for one of their small-group, directed tastings you will be attended by a staff member that understands the wine and can speak with authority about the Casanel program.
Nelson and Casey DeSouza opened Casanel in 2008 and currently have about ten acres under vine, which are producing between 1000 and 1200 cases of wine annually. Daughters Anna and Katie DeSouza Henley are part of the management team and it is Katie, along with her husband Tyler Henley, who makes the wine. The couple are making extremely well-crafted wines that demonstrate perfect balance and finesse and they are just hitting their stride. I predict that we will be hearing much more about Casanel wine in the coming years.
I almost never make an appointment for a tasting. It is my general policy to show up unannounced, so the winery does not prepare for my visit. In this case, however, a friend had recently been there and insisted that Casanel needed a fresh look. Things do evolve and I had been planning to stop in again, so I agreed on a date and he made an appointment with Katie for a private tasting that would include some yet-to-be released gems. I will tell you more about that in a minute.
I arrive just as my friend was getting out of his car, so we wandered into the tasting room to find both Nelson and Casey waiting for us. Katie was setting up in the old stone tasting room that now serves as a special event and wine club facility. We walked over with Nelson, bellied up to the bar and let Katie step us through the lineup.
We started with a pair of Pinot Gris. One was done in stainless steel and other saw a little time in oak, but only enough to give it a little more density along with some vanilla and coconut notes. We moved on through a lovely Chardonnay and tasted a very nice, dry-style Rosé. I could go on at length about any of these wine, but I want to spend a few lines talking about the first red offering.
Casanel is producing a Carmenère. If you are unfamiliar with this grape, it was once widely grown in Bordeaux until it was nearly wiped out by phylloxera and it is now one of the main red varietals of Chile. Other Virginia growers have attempted Carmenère, but found it unsuitable for local conditions. Small amounts are still grown and used exclusively for blending. In short, it is not a grape we encounter in the Mid Atlantic… until now. Casanel is not only growing it with success, but had a banner year in 2015. Their Carmenère beat all other wines in the Grand Harvest Competition, which is limited exclusively to wineries located in an AVA. So this is something to get excited about (especially, if you are wine geek like me).
As I alluded earlier, we were getting a sneak peak and while others are blending with it, Casanel is producing a single varietal. Katie opened a bottle of the 2014, which will be released in August, and poured us a barrel sample of the 2015. Carmenère makes a deep red wine with a rich bouquet, hints of cassis and firm tannins. I found the 2015 to be more fruit forward, but that profile will almost certainly change between now and its release. It will be interesting to see how the Carmenère evolves and, come August, I will be queuing up to buy some.
We also tasted a very nice Bordeaux blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Petit Verdot and a Norton Port-style wine that was aged in Cognac barrels. I was very fond of all four, but the Petit Verdot and the Norton dessert wine were my top picks. The Petit Verdot was garnet in color and full of dark fruit and firm tannins. It is no surprise that it has won medals in numerous competitions. The Port-style Norton picked up hints of Cognac from the barrels. That may be what drew me to it. I am not one who typically raves about dessert wines, but this one is special.
All in all, it was an eye opening visit. When I was there a couple years ago, Katie was behind the wine bar and she poured my wine. I was impressed by her and I enjoyed the wine, but not completely blown away. Katie and Katell have certainly taken it to the next level (maybe even two or three levels). If you have a short list of wineries you want to visit, move Casanel to the top. I think you will come away as excited as I am. So after you stop in, please let me know what you think.