April 2001

Invest in America Buy a Congressman

In 1980 we could ship a case of wine to the east coast by UPS for $10.  Today, our cost, which is the cost to you, is $57.  Most of that increase has happened in the past few years.  Many wineries hide the real shipping cost in the bottle price of the wine.  We prefer to tell you who is really getting your money.

The problem began when every winery began direct shipment programs from their ubiquitous hospitality centers.  To buy alcohol for resale to the general public requires a license from the state in which that resale business is conducted.  Wineries of the size and character of the Casa cannot absorb the cost of licensing and compliance in each state, and it is protected by the U.S. Constitution (is it still there?) from having to do so.  A state has jurisdiction to impose its licensing laws only on persons and businesses, which are present – or at least have “minimum contacts” in that state.  Major wineries having distribution within a state through the 3-tier system; clearly meet the “minimum contacts” standards.  When such a winery ships direct to the customer, the destination state has jurisdiction to impose its laws over that winery, including its sales tax.  The laws do not apply to the Casa, however, in the states where the Casa has no presence on which to base jurisdiction.  Moreover, when Casa ships to a customer out of state, we ship to the ultimate consumer for his own use – not for resale.

Although the constitution protects the Casa and wineries like it – and every court so far has upheld this analysis – the wholesale/resale monopolies have been very successful in intimidating the carriers, e.g. UPS and FedEx, to stop the direct shipment of wine, whether or not the state has jurisdiction over the shipper winery.  Of course, in this society, everything has its price, but the price is high and going up.

Dry Chenin Blanc

The first commercial vintage the Casa released was the 1980 Dry Chenin Blanc.  Now, to inaugurate the 21st century, we offer 2000 Dry Chenin Blanc.  This flagship of the Casa line maintains the tradition of excellence for Dry Chenin Blanc.  The millennium wine is a rich, aromatic, beautifully colored fruity in the nose, crisp and complex in the mouth.  To celebrate, we opened a bottle of the 1980 Chenin Blanc.  After more than two decades in the cellar, the ’80 is a million dollar wine experience, proving once again that Chenin Blanc, when made seriously as we do at the Casa (and have done all these years) is the most overlooked wine in North America.  You had better buy two cases, one to drink now and another to open in the year 2020.

Virtual Visit www.casanuestra.com

Our web site offers a complete review of all of our current products, pictures of the winery, and full reprinting of the most recent issues of the Casa Nuestra Journal in its original tabloid format.  We are working on an index, which will permit you to research all of the issues of the Journal from its beginning in 1984, location articles, pictures, and cartoons by topic.  We have recently added a section to the site for your feedback.  Your comments about our wines, or anything else, are enormously helpful to us in charting the future so please do not be bashful.  Comments favorable or unfavorable are gratefully received.

Hot Flashes the right cool

A rule of thumb is that 55 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimum temperature for serving white wine.  Your personal preference is clearly the controlling factor.  Wine flavors and aromas are suppressed at low temperatures.  In the cellar we like to evaluate the wine at ambient room temperature, even though we “design” the wine assuming that it will be served chilled.  The temperature of your refrigerator is very cold, typically 34-38 degrees.  At these mega-cold temperatures the richness of the wine is not optimized.  A fuller experience is available if you remove the wine from the refrigerator a half hour or so before serving.  If white wine is stored for longer periods in the refrigerator, the extreme cold may cause small crystals to form on the back of the cork, or they might appear as a fine sediment at the bottom of the bottle.  This is an entirely natural process, which does not harm the wine in any way.  To avoid formation of the crystals, use the refrigerator to chill the wine only, not for storage.


As reported in the last issue of the Journal, the appearance of the glassy-winged sharpshooter (GWSS) seriously threatens viticulture in California.  These voracious insects carry Pierce’s Disease (PD) an incurable grapevine disease, which is fatal to the popular winemaking grape varieties.

Some optimists theorize that the bug may not be able to establish itself in climate zones as cold as the Napa Valley.  They point out that the bugs have likely been transported to Northern California on ornamental nursery plants for years.  The fact that they have thus far not been able to establish themselves here suggests that there may be some other factors at work – for example colder weather including winter freezes.  Some surmise that the insects require nearby citrus groves to be fruitful and multiply.

While theories and speculators abound, state and local officials are prioritizing resources to deal with the crisis.  Every shipment of plant material coming into the county is inspected and when a plant is found to have signs of GWSS infestation the whole shipment is returned to the county of origin or destroyed.  There is little support at this time for a large-scale pesticide assault, which, experts agree, would be ineffective and would hinder the development of more promising biological controls, including the Mexican Wasp.

Casa Open House – David Maloney appearing

Please join us for an open house at the winery, May 5-6 from 10 to 4:30.  Casa Nuestra, together with the other family wineries in the neighborhood, are planning a special weekend for you.  It is rumored the Happy Farmer himself will make an appearance in the persona of an Elvis impersonator.  Singer-songwriter, David Maloney, an old friend from the glory days of the Napa Valley Folk Festival, will be by both days to entertain at 2 pm.  David is a great talent and a seasoned performer with recording and songwriting credits too numerous to list in this short space.  If you are not familiar with his work already, you will thank us for this introduction.  There will be finger food, including hand made goat cheeses from the local Yerba Santa Dairy.  Of course, all of the Casa’s wines will be showcased, and we will lead tours of the winery and barrel tastings.  The other participating wineries:

Dutch Henry, Vigil Vineyards, Summers Winery, Graeser Winery, Zahtila Vineyards, Stonegate Winery, Silver Rose Cellars, will have their own activities, and you should telephone directly for details.  It will be a lot of fun, so don’t miss it.

Tasting Notes and Availability News

2000 Dry Chenin Blanc:  Rich, aromatic, beautifully colored and crisp in the mouth.

1989 Dry Chenin Blanc:  Golden straw in color with complex aromas of citrus and mineral with a lovely mouth feel.  Library wine, 8 cases remaining.

1990 Dry Chenin Blanc:  Straw in color with pleasing aromas of citrus and flint, light and crisp in the mouth.  Library wine, 12 cases remaining.

1999 Tinto:  A friendly wine, which became friendlier with timely bottling.  The resulting wine is full of spice and bright cherry flavors with good structure.  Medal winner.

1997 Cabernet Franc:  True to the varietal; plentiful aromas, a velvety texture and a lingering finish.  4 cases remaining.

1997 Quixote:  This delightful red wine is modeled after the legendary clarets of Europe with a blend of the traditional red grape varieties of Bordeaux; Merlot (60%), Cabernet Franc (31%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (9%).  30 cases remaining.

SAMPLE CASE:  4 bottles each of the Dry Chenin Blanc, Tinto and Quixote (current vintages).  Price $160


May 2000

Girl with Two Old Goats

The Casa remains committed to sustainable agriculture.  Compost, cover crops, and hand labor are replacing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.  We are learning to farm the way our forebears did, before agricultural practices were transformed by the post-war surplus of nitrates and the rapidly increasing stockpiles of petrochemical byproducts.

Pictured above is the latest in biological control of leaf hoppers (pic not available), the vector which carries the deadly Pierce’s disease into the vineyard, Nubi, the goat has joined our company to devour the vinca, an introduced ground cover which has taken over the riparian corridor and which is prime habitat for the leaf hoppers.  Nubi isn’t really very fond of vinca.  “It’s tough and bitter,” se says, “but it beats eating license plates and tin cans!”

Executive Summary

Keeping up with Sales   In the final months of the last century, Shay had sold every bottle in the place.  Both Tinto and Chenin Blanc were on allocation- even at the sales room; and the inventories of other vintages were approaching zero.  Thanks to Shay’s unstinting infusion of youthful energy, we bottled the older vintages, which had been aging in the cellar, renewing supplies just in the nick of time before Christmas.

New releases for year 2000  With this edition of the Journal, the Casa is offering ’99 Chenin Blanc Reserve.  There is a new vintage of the ever popular Tinto, 1998; and the long-awaited Quixote returns with the ’97 vintage.

New packages  We have developed a new label for both the ’97 Quixote and the ’99 Chenin Blanc Reserve.  Also, both styles of Chenin Blanc are available in 375 ml bottles (splits).

Library wines available  (one case limit) For collectors of older vintages, we are making available a portion of our library: ’93 Cabernet Sauvignon and 

’95 Cabernet Franc.

Vineyard Restoration  An ambitious plan of vineyard restoration is well begun.  We have “T” budded most of the JR to Cabernet Sauvignon.  We have inter-planted the Tinto vineyard at the Casa, greatly increasing the vine count.  The “new” Cab Franc vineyard which went in the ground two years ago will be trained to a split canopy trellis this summer.  The “old” Cab Franc, which is sadly succumbing to the twin plagues of phylloxera and Pierce’s disease, will be ripped after harvest this year and replanted next spring.  The goal is to reach 100 tons by year 2005, enabling production of 5000 cases of wine.

Riesling to Cabernet

 It is possible to convert a mature grapevine from one variety to another.  The technique, called “T” budding” is not as improbable as it sounds at first, considering that only a small fraction of the living vine is visible on the surface.  The true life of the vine is in the root structure below the surface.  In the case of our Johannisberg Riesling vineyard, the roots are the Native American vine, St. George.  To make the transformation, a “T” incision is made in the trunk of the vine.  If the timing is right, the bark will “slip,” permitting a bud cut from another variety to be inserted and taped into the cambium layer of the vine.  The top of the vine is then cut off with a chain saw.  Great delicacy is required in making the incisions and fitting the bud to the slot.  With a great deal of skill and a little bit of luck, a new vine will grow from the grafted bud.  Pictured above (pic not available) is Salvador Preciado making the grafts, which will convert our JR vineyard into a Cabernet vineyard.  Salvador is highly regarded for his skill in “T” budding.  In fact, he and his crew have been recruited to do their work in the vineyards of Germany, France, and Italy.

JR Farewell

It is always a sad thing when market pressures force the retirement of a great wine.  We made Johannisberg Riesling in 1989, 1995, and 1996, and every vintage was outstanding.  In the intervening years, we sold the fruit to Stags Leap Wine Cellars, which continued to make great vintages.  The vineyard site is probably the best ground belonging to Casa Nuestra.  Despite the unsurpassed quality of the wine, we have never successfully found the market.  So great is the ignorance surrounding this noble grape that in the sales room it is difficult to cajole our visitors into even tasting the wine at all.  Reluctantly we face the reality that we cannot make a wine unless there are people who will buy it.  Thus, we have budded the JR vineyard over to Cabernet Sauvignon, for which there seems to be an insatiable thirst in the market place.  Too bad though.  Clearly, there are JR loyalists among our customers who will be disappointed.  If you are one of these, now is the time to buy up the remaining inventory; and if you don’t know what it’s all about, you can still get in on it.  We save seven rows of JR for sentimental reasons, insuring that JR will not completely disappear from the Napa Valley.

Name That Wine

Holding on to our niche in this fiercely competitive market requires constant maneuver and reinvention.  Wines in the $10 to $15 range are no longer profitable in the Napa Valley.  Wanting to build on what we have, our strategy for the new millennium is to confine the Casa Nuestra product line to Chenin Blanc and Tinto.  We plan to retain the historic price structure of the Casa Nuestra line, continuing to be the least expensive and best value wines in the Napa Valley.  Production of Casa Nuestra wines will be limited, but our mailing list buyers will be given priority.  We are adding value to our Bordeaux varieties, Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, and Quixote, by improving vineyard practices, French oak cooperage, and obsessive TLC in the cellar.  We will launch these under a new brand name which will be priced competitively with comparable wines from the Napa Valley.  What to call it?  Names under consideration are:  Dragonfly, Kirkwell, Obsidian, Stony Loam, Cana, and Quixote.  Please send in your preference or other suggestions.

Milestone:  1999 Chenin Blanc by Gene Kirkham

The wine around here is just getting better and better.  I have long known that in the first few weeks after fermentation, the new Chenin Blanc has a most tantalizing aroma of pineapple, grapefruit, and peach, which I call “tropical fruit”.  It has been my ambition for 20 years to capture that youthful but elusive aroma in a bottle – something which to my knowledge no north American producer has ever done.  After years of trying, I had concluded that it wasn’t possible.  Then I met a producer in Chile who had put the genie in the bottle.  The secret was simple but not easy: be fanatic protection of the young wine from oxygen.  Shay has done what I could never do by myself.  Her daily (sometimes hourly) attentions to the wine have done the trick.  So, in the 21st year of the Casa at the beginning of the 21st century, the mission is accomplished, the Chenin Blanc is fully realized.

Star Pupil by Gene Kirkham

The most recent transformation – into Professor Happy Farmer – is proving to be one of the most rewarding.  Passing on what I have learned helps me understand in a very concrete way what I have accomplished here at Casa Nuestra.  I have often speculated on the joys of teaching, which is for me another “road not taken”.  So I can rejoice at this new phase and marvel at the way in which the Casa continues to bring me the things I need to realize myself.  Shay Boswell is the pupil every teacher dreams of:  brilliant, motivated, and energetic as only youth can be.  Of course it is daunting to see how quickly the student surpasses the teacher.  Nevertheless to have acquired a crafty knowledge over two decades and to pass that on to a gifted student, who can do it better than I can, is a wonderful thing.

Four New Releases – Tasting Notes

We have four new releases and two older library selections for you this summer.  The 1999 Dry Chenin Blanc (132 cases) is crisp and with wonderful aromas of peach and pineapple.  There is a slight effervescence (pettiance) like the great Chenin Blancs of France.  The 1999 Reserve Chenin Blanc (54 cases) is a first for the Casa, exclusively for our mailing list customers.  We treated the reserve differently by fermenting it in oak and stirring the lees daily to add a yeasty flavor to the wine.  We added a fragrant bit of Riesling to the final blend.  The wine has aromas of toasty oak, peaches, and apples with a velvety rich mouth feel.  The

1998 Tinto (224 cases) is…like all the past Tinto vintages:  wonderful!  Quixote is back in a 1997 vintage (314 cases).  The blend is 60% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine has aromas of blackberry jam and has loads of body.  It is tasty in its youth and promises to be a monster in a few years.  From the library, both the 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1995 Cabernet Franc are drinking very well now.  Decanting is recommended.


March 1995

Dear friends,

I think I have mildew growing behind my ears!  This has been a very wet year, with serious flooding in January and again a few days ago.  We thought you would like a first hand account of the record waters of 1995.  We have therefore hastily prepared this “extra” which we will hasten to the post office, by raft if necessary.  The disaster has literally washed out the commercial traffic, so send us an order so we can buy a few more mops!  Be the first on your block to have bottle authentically inundated by the flood of '95.  Thank you for all your messages of support and concern.  At this writing, the sun has appeared at last, but more rain is forecast for next week!  We are damp, but unbowed.

Best wishes,


The Kirkhams

Greatest Flood on Record

I awoke to a telephone call at 5 am.  It was Thursday morning, March 9, 1995.  I let the answering machine pick up the call, thinking that perhaps it was another nuisance call from an alcoholic friend who likes to telephone me at inconvenient times, much the worse for drink.  It was my neighbor reporting that the river was in her yard and threatening our sales office.  The urgency of the situation was made clear by her tone of voice.  We exchanged only a few words.  I can’t remember thanking her for the warning.

 I climbed into my rain suit, wondering if our levy had collapsed.  Stepping outside I heard an ominous roar, like the ocean, from the direction of the river.  My flashlight barely pierced the darkness and the sheets of rain as I walked down the hill toward the winery.  There I could see the river was over the bank and flowing past the winery toward the office.  Making my way on high ground to the river, I found to my astonishment that the levy was holding but that the river was pouring over the top of it in a cascade!  I had never seen anything like that before.

I knew from the experience in 1986, the previous record for high water, that when the river jumped its bank, the waters would fan out and inundate the sales office.  Nothing could prevent that now except an act of God.  Nevertheless, some losses might be averted if I could get everything off the floor before the water came in.

The ’74 Chevy pickup was parked on high ground at the winery, but the road out to the sales office (and the Silverado Trail) was a torrent.  I decided not to risk it.  As quickly as I could I returned to the house and got in my car.  Our residential driveway was above water and I could drive to the sales room via the Silverado Trail.  There was no light in the sky at all, and I didn’t notice any cars along the Trail.  Only later did I realize that the trail had been cut off both to the south and to the north.  I could hear sirens in the distance.

I turned off the pavement of the Silverado Trail to approach the sales office.  The river had completely encircled the little building, rendering it impossible to see the road.  I know that there were steep drainage ditches on either side of the road, but they ere of course invisible under the uninterrupted flood.  I drove as close to the office as I dared, leaving the car before the water reached the doorframe.  Stepping out of the car, the water was very nearly over the tops of my “wellies”.  I walked cautiously, not wanting to fall into any holes and not wanting the water to get into my boots.

The force of the water had broken in the gate.  As I approached, the security lights went on automatically.  The water was not quite to the threshold of the door.  I said a prayer of thanks for the fact that I had not forgotten my key and let myself in.  The water was about an inch below the door.  I turned on all the lights and looked around.  We were ready for business.  The rug looked reasonably tidy.  Our goods were attractively displayed and there were ample supplies of wine in cases stacked here and there.  Was there any use in doing anything?  Surely the water would be inside in a very short time.  I heard a voice within saying, “I’m not really ready for this.”

I walked through all the rooms thinking that such a survey might give me some idea of what to do.  It seemed useless but I began.  I rolled up the rug and laid it over the tables.  The two large steamer trunks, which had accompanied us to New Zealand twenty years ago, were in the corners.  Lifting one end at a time, I slid a bottle of Chenin Blanc under, elevating the trunks about three inches – enough to be above the flood.  There were about thirty cases of wine stacked in the kitchen.  Getting these off the floor was a real challenge but I managed to find enough space on the counters, the stove, even the garbage can.

I generally use the floor of my office as a horizontal filing system I scooped up all the stacks and balanced them on my desk and side table, noticing as I did so that the water was beginning to seep in through the outside wall of the building.  So much for sandbagging the front door.  I put on Ray Charles to cheer me up.

I had been at it for about an hour, and to my surprise I discovered that I had succeeded in getting everything off the floor – just in a nick.  I wondered if there was anything further to do and decided that there was not.  Water was just starting to spill over the threshold of the front door.

I turned off the lights and the music and stepped back into the water outside, locking the door behind me.  I waddled over to the electrical panel and threw the main disconnect.  Glancing over to the building where I store wine in cases I could see that the water was up about two feet onto the wall.  I hate it when that happens.  I sloshed my way over to the door, opened it, and looked in.  It was not a pretty sight.  Debris was floating all around.  Several of the wine stacks had collapsed and the cases had tumbled into the water.  It was an industrial-grade mess.  I shut the door, deciding to deal with it another day.  I was suddenly feeling very tired.

I got back to the house, as the sky was turning gray.  I left my dripping rain suit and muddy boots on the pegs beside the front door of the house.  Underneath I still had on my pajamas, which were a little damp.  I quickly shed them and slipped back into bed, turning up the electric blanket.  As I rolled over listening to the rain on the roof, Cody asked sleepily, “Who was that on the phone?”

And the Vineyards

Everyone, including the Happy Farmer, would like to know how the flood will affect the vineyards.  Tiny green leaves with rosy tips are visible now in the Chenin Blanc.  The Riesling is not far behind and the Cab Franc and Merlot are at the popcorn stage.  A freeze now could cause great damage but our frost protection systems are untested because of the weather.

The vineyards are much too soggy to support a tractor.  We have been unable to spread fertilizer or spray for mildew.  Conditions for mildew are ideal and if it begins now it becomes impossible to eradicate later on.  Maybe the water has drowned the phylloxera.  That would be nice.

Tinto Rationing

One unfortunate consequence of the foul weather has been to prevent the bottling of goods.  Casa does not have any covered space for bottling operations.  Bottling is done al fresco.  With the unceasing rain it has not been possible to bottle the ’92 red wines as scheduled.  Meanwhile, inventories are very low.

Despite fears of civil unrest the Happy Farmer has reluctantly announced a two case maximum purchase for Tinto.  There are ample supplies of the 1991 Quixote and the 1990 “Kirkham” Cabernet Franc, but all older Cab Franc vintages are on the reserve list.  As the supply is constantly diminishing please call for current availability.

. . . it’s the water

We have cases of wine, which were submerged in floodwater.  The wine inside the bottle is unspoiled but the labels look as though they have survived the flood, which they have.  Undoubtedly you need some of this wine to complete your collection.  Each bottle will bear the authentic flood worn label together with the designation, “Flood Survivor, 1995”.  There is no charge for the silt.  While they last:

    1990 CHENIN BLANC        $99/CASE

    1991 CHENIN BLANC        $99/CASE

    1992 CHENIN BLANC        $85/CASE

    1987 DORADO                   $119/CASE

    1988 DORADO            $95/CASE

    1987 CABERNET FRANC               $199/CASE

    1989 CABERNET FRANC               $185/CASE

    1990 CABERNET FRANC               $140/CASE

    1991 QUIXOTE                   $148/CASE

    1991 TINTO                   $95/CASE