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.