September 1995

Dear friends of the farm,


There’s a nauseating grip in the stomach signaling the approach of harvest.  It’s time for Maalox and preparation H.  We’re a little behind.  The original draft of this Journal is dated May 15.  The weather must be to blame.  The wheel tractor was in mud to the axles in the middle of May.  Of course, procrastination, highly developed from years of law practice, has nothing to do with it.

 The good news is, we have everything you need to restock your wine cellar, 

Including a new Tinto.  The white wines are drinking very well now, as is the aristocratic Quixote.  We have logo shirts in every size in case you need something to read.  The autumn is a great time to visit.  The fall colors in the vineyards rival anything in New England.  So check it out.

Warm regards,

The Kirkhams

Reprinted from the St. Helena Star

Thank you for your story on the direct shipment of wine.  It is time to challenge those who seek to eliminate competition by imposing obstacles to the interstate door-to-door shipment of wine.  Private persons in neighboring states have the right to buy wine for their own use directly from wineries here in California.  It would be unlawful for a local winery to discriminate against these buyers.  They buy directly because the regulations in there home state effectively “lock out” small producers.  This, in itself, is presumptively an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce by such states.

Our constitution gives the states broad power to regulate alcoholic beverages, but it does not permit discrimination.  Once a state decides to permit wine at all (and every state has), and then it must provide fair and equal access to that market by all producers.  Tomes may be written on the various archaic state laws regulating alcohol, but one fact can be easily stated and proved:  these schemes taken together effectively prohibit small producers from competing in these markets.  These regulations restrain trade.  They inhibit competition.  They promote monopoly.  There is no legitimate state interest requiring this result.  These conditions exist not because they are “lawful” (though they may have the force of law) but because they serve very powerful economic and political interests which benefit from the state supported monopolies.

Casa Nuestra Winery, and others like it, does something, which is highly valued by persons who love wine and entrepreneurship.  We are the last authentic vestige of “estate” wine making.  The extinction of traditional winemakers will eliminate a creative option for small farmers and engender further consolidation of economic strength in absentee corporations.  No single action would be more nurturing of our struggling industry than to stop the harassment of interstate direct shipment of wine.

Gene Kirkham, Happy Farmer, 1/15/195

Francisco y Rigoberto

Most winemaking is done in the vineyard.  By the time the fruit is in the winery, the story is already written.  The business of caring for grape vines is very labor intensive.  It’s a lot like having 450 newborns to the acre.  Each vine requires individual care and tending.  We are indebted to a father-son team here at the Casa.  This operation would be impossible without the able assistance of Francisco Nava and his son Rigoberto.  The quality of the wine is due in very large part to their unceasing labors:  pruning, tying, thinning, suckering, watering, and much more.  Present trends notwithstanding, these essential operations cannot be accomplished by writing memos or speaking into cellular phones.

Christmas in September

It seems to be the inexorable trend to begin Christmas merchandising earlier and earlier.  In St. Helena, the lights and tinsel will begin going up on Halloween.  It is not the wish or policy of Casa to accelerate this trend.  At the same time, the frenetic activity of the two weeks before Christmas threatens to obliterate the joy of the mid-winter holidays.  We will, of course, continue to accommodate all of your orders through Christmas; but it would be wonderful to take care of them now, before the holiday hoopla begins.  You could do your entire gift shopping now with a single Casa order.  We will thank you for it, and you will thank yourself for the gift of serenity during the month of December.

The Price of Small

 I sometimes feel ashamed because mine isn’t as big as theirs, but then I remind myself that “small” is the bigger challenge.  Anyone can turn a watermelon stand into GM.  It is harder to create a watermelon stand that is commercially viable in today’s mega-corp. environment.  

A small example:  Last week I was in the agriculture store picking out some irrigation fittings.  These gizmos are arranged on steel shelves, like the stacks in a library.  Next to me was a friend of mine, doing the same thing.  We browsed along, chatting about threaded nipples, open-face bushings, and female slip adapters.  When we cashed out I was puzzled by the fact that his unit price was about 40% less than mine for the same items.  “What gives?” I asked.  The register jockey replied sheepishly,  “That’s the discount for Barrister Winery” (name changed to prevent being sued).  Why should the local farmers of St. Helena subsidize the purchases of a multi-national corporation hiding out in Switzerland?  In personal terms, how can I compete with a company, which, in addition to every thing else, can buy its materials for 40% less than I have to pay?  In the long run the Ag store will be the loser too, because by abetting the demise of small business it hastens the day when the Barristers of the world won’t need the Ag store either.

When I am king, local businesses with small orders will receive the discount.  Big absentee will pay more.  You say I’ll go broke, but I’m not so sure.  There are more small ones (for now) than there are big ones.  I’ll get all the small businesses, which may exceed in volume the few large players.  The big guys will all break themselves into small pieces to win back the price advantage, thereby reducing waste and fostering competition and a host of other socially positive values.  As George Harrison would say, “It’s all in the mind”.

Casa Blanca

Not everyone is aware that white wines as well as red wines improve over time.  Casa white wines, particularly the Chenin Blanc, grow more delicious with bottle age.  We are still opening the few remaining bottles of 1980 Chenin Blanc and the wine is fabulous.  Our current release, 1992 Dry Chenin Blanc, is reaching maturity.  The flavors have softened, the color is deepening and it has become even more aromatic with the appetizing aroma of apples.  Its intense flavors will stand up to any menu and it still has many more years of cellar life.  Because of its attractive price, many customers use it for “everyday” wine; but then they wonder why their “special” wine is disappointing.

 Our 1992 Chardonnay (Marion’s Vineyard) is in its prime.  For overall character and balance, this is one of the best white wines we’ve ever made.  It was entirely fermented in small oak barrels and we left it on the lees for an extended period to soften the flavors and develop complexity.  It is a highly structured wine – not “buttery” or simple.

 There are still ample supplies of the ’94 Johannisberg Riesling.  In the traditional German style with a slight residual sweetness, it is fruity with delicious muscato overtones and plenty of acidity to keep it fresh and lively on the palate.

Our 1988 Dorado is perhaps the Napa Valley’s biggest bargain in a late harvest wine.  Made entirely from Chenin Blanc enhanced by the “noble rot” (Botrytis), this aperitif wine is richly flavored with an exotic aroma of fresh pears.  It is a deep gold color – sweet (R.S. 6%), but not cloying.  If you long for Sauterne but have been terrorized by sticker shock, you will be glad to discover Dorado.  Bottled in the 375ml size only.

Casa Roja

Tinto remains the most popular wine we make.  Tinto never disappoints.  Although the vintages are much more the same than different, the 1992 is perhaps a little more assertive than the previous vintage – a bit more “stuffing” – a little more oak.

The 1991 Quixote, our most ambitious and aristocratic undertaking, has been selling very well.  Inventory has been depleted to less than 100 cases.  Our Quixote is a tribute to the great clarets of the St. Emillion region of Bordeaux, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the emphasis on the Franc and Merlot.  It is softer and less fierce than most Cabernet Sauvignons with flavors more like red fruit:  raspberries and cherries rather than blackberries and currents.

For our Cabernet Franc constituents, we have limited quantities of the ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90 (Renoir label).  Please write or call for prices and availability.