On an unseasonably warm day, we drove out past Leesburg to visit one of several new wineries in that area, Casanel Vineyards. Beforehand we learned from their website that the winery was started by Casey and Nelson DeSouza - hence “Casanel”. The couple had many successful years operating DeSouza Construction in the Washington D.C. area and eventually Nelson started exploring the countryside looking for land suitable for a vineyard. For after experiencing the Portuguese wine culture the couple decided to join the growing Virginia wine making community. He settled on a property on Catoctin Mountain that included a hundred plus year old stone dairy barn with an even older log cabin and a red wooden barn. But it was the dairy barn that he envisioned centering the winery operation around. The tasting room would be located in that building with the winery operations in the adjacent red barn. With help from family they restored the buildings and planted Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Norton, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Petite Verdot vines. Since it would take several years before the vines bore fruit, they sourced grapes from several local vineyards. Kerem Baki from Hillsborough Vineyards agreed to join the venture as their winemaker and consultant and the first vintage consists of four varietals: Viognier, Norton, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
We arrived just before sunset to discover a Christmas-decorated stone building with a patio ready for visitors: chairs and an electric and wood heater. The tasting room is impressive. There is a long tasting bar to the left with a staircase to the basement and a couple tables in the center and right. The stones were cleaned, but there is residual dirt helping to hold the stones in place. Make sure you descend down the spiral staircase in order to view the unique triangular table and the solid oak beams supporting the structure.
As for wines, we started with the Viognier which was aged 8 months in light French oak. This is a nice wine soft and slightly creamy, with a tropical fruit flavor. Anytime we find white wines such as this, they come home – and this Viognier was no exception. Next was their Norton, made in a unique dry rose style. The grapes were sourced from Chrysalis Vineyards, pressed whole clustered, then aged 10 months in light French oak. It’s darker than most rose wines – a characteristic of the grape – but with little of the acidity and grapey flavor also associated with the variety. This is a good wine, particularly considering it’s the premier effort. The final two were bolder red wines made from grapes purchased from Breaux Vineyards and aged 10 years in light French oak. The Merlot was our favorite of the two, extremely smooth with a strong cherry flavor. The Cabernet Sauvignon is also full bodied with a more spicy tail. It has more tannins so we would probably age this wine a little more in the bottle. All in all this was a great initial effort from Mr. Baki and the DeSouzas. We look forward to when their vineyards bear fruit and they start blending these varieties. Their “Chegada” brand translates into “Arrival” in Portuguese which can refer to the winery’s new start or the fact that we will be arriving often to hang out in their tasting room.