June 1994


Dear Casa constituents,

If you have been thinking lately that there must be more to life than this, the reason is probably because you haven’t received your Casa Nuestra Journal for several months.  Thank heavens for support groups.  Now, with Casa Nuestra wine as near as your mailbox, things will be looking up!  For the cybernauts out there, we now have an E=Mail address (internet).

In this issue, you will find a new release of everybody’s favorite Chardonnay and an irresistible offer on Dorado, Casa’s best-kept secret.  In other news, there is a report from the Happy Farmer on his trip last March to El Salvador with the international delegation of election observers.  He managed to dodge both the bullets and the amoebas.

Summer is here and you won’t want to run out of wine for those lazy-day celebrations.  It is always shady and cool in our wine garden, so be sure to pay us a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

Warm regards,

The Kirkhams


T.B. Aqui”

Tom Blackburn 1913-1994

Captain John Thomas Blackburn, predecessor to the Happy Farmers at Casa Nuestra, died on March 21 in Jacksonville, Fla.  Services to honor him were held at Arlington National Cemetery.  Tom was 81.

Until his retirement to the Napa Valley in 1962, Tom served with great distinction in the United States Navy.  He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1933.  During World War II, he was an acknowledged hero as a fighter pilot “ace” and air squadron commander.  In 1942, Tom commanded the VF-17 fighter squadron, known as the Jolly Rogers, the first to fly the F-4U Corsair fighter plane in combat.  He was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his war service.  After the war Tom served at the Pentagon and commanded the aircraft carrier Midway.  During his retirement he wrote a colorful and informative memoir entitled “The Jolly Rogers” (Orion, 1989).

Less well known is the fact that Tom planted the vineyards of Casa Nuestra and gave this enchanted spot its present name.  The Chenin Blanc and the Johannisberg Riesling, still in production today, were planted by Tom.  In addition to grapes, Tom originally intended to breed Golden Retrievers.  He adopted “Casa Nuestra” as his trade name and hung the first Casa Nuestra sign on the Silverado Trail more than 30 years ago.  Evidence of Tom’s resourcefulness is everywhere apparent around the Casa.  It seems that there was little he could not do given enough baling wire and radiator clamps.  He was definitely a good man to have on your side in a war.  All who knew him appreciated and admired him for his courage good humor, and joie de vivre.  He will be missed.  We will not see such another soon.

NEW RELEASE – 1992 Chardonnay, Marion’s Vineyard

To know the real meaning of a “green thumb” you must see Marion Sargent’s vineyard and garden.  Everywhere you look there are exotic fruits and plants.  Under her care a few acres seems like a plantation.  Her Chardonnay vineyard is in truth a garden, meticulously manicured, leaf-by-leaf, bunch-by-bunch, vine-by-vine.  These grapevines are truly happy and they show it.  From this flawless fruit, Casa Nuestra has made its 1992 Chardonnay.

Using the techniques of Burgundy, this Chardonnay was fermented in small oak barrels, with extended contact on the lees.  It is rich, with a bit more oak than the 1991.  It is particularly distinguished for a refreshing acidity.  A standout among Chardonnays, this is without doubt the best value in a Napa Valley Chardonnay.  $12 per bottle.  $129.60 per case, plus $9 CA sales tax if applicable.


One of the best-kept secrets of Casa Nuestra is our dessert wine, Dorado; and now is the time for you to get in on the secret.  Dorado is our late harvest, botrytis wine, made from Chenin Blanc.  It is sweeter (residual sugar 6%) than table wine with the flavor intensity and mouth feel of a liqueur.

Few wine drinkers have experience with late harvest wines because of the price:  in the $20 range for a tenth bottle of most California examples; $75 and up for a tenth bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, the premier French sauternes.  These wines are pricey because they are difficult to make and because the weather frequently does not permit the making of them at all.  Essential to the program is the action of botrytis, known as the ‘noble rot.'  Botrytis dehydrates the fruit, concentrating the sugar, acid and other flavor elements.  Botrytis also imparts a distinctive flavor of its own, usually closes the sale.  To encourage our mail-order customers, here’s an irresistible offer:  six 375ml bottles for $50, tax and California delivery included.  For out of state delivery, add $10.


The heart and soul of Casa Nuestra is its mailing list.  There is no charge for the Casa Nuestra Journal and we are happy to send it to you on request.  After two mailings, if we do not hear from you, we send a notice asking whether you want to remain on the list.  There is at least one flaw in this system.  We have no way of tracking people through the sales room unless they sign the guest book.  Thus, regular salesroom customers may receive a “will we hear from you?” notice or even be dropped inadvertently from the list.  If this has happened to you in the past, please accept our apologies.  You can help us avoid this mistake by putting your name and address in our guest book each time you visit our sales room –even though you are already on the list.  Your name in the book is our signal that you are still an active member of the Casa family.


There is something particularly vexing about delivery charges.  It seems like wasted money, without any value – no bang for the buck.  On the other hand, have you ever stopped to think of the small army of people and machines it takes to insure delivery of a case of wine anywhere in the U.S. in only a matter of days?  The ease, reliability, and speed with which these packages move around are a modern miracle – at any price.  And consider the personal cost to you of making a trip to the wine store.  Merely to avoid an interview with an arrogant clerk who makes you feel like an idiot would be worth $25 per case.  You should also take comfort in knowing that as a Casa customer, you pay the lowest delivery charges in the industry – below the cost of the service.  So the next time you add on the delivery charge, think of the deal you’re getting.


I had the good fortune to join a delegation lead by folk singer Peter Yarrow to observe the election on March 20 in El Salvador.  It was an enlightening and transforming experience.  The election was an important step in the on-going peace process, which ended the twelve-year civil war in that country.  Observers from all over the world were invited to participate in the effort to deter fraud and violence.  It is impossible to distill into a few words the impact of the experience.  I return with the profound hope that all of us will in every possible way express our solidarity with those near and far who are trying desperately to improve their way of life.  We, who have so much, have a great opportunity to make a difference.

Since the domestic turbulence surrounding the Viet Nam war, I have been a closet peace activist.  At Peter’s urging, I was able to resume an active role in the effort to spread the cause of peace.  It feels good to find so positive a way in which to carry on the struggle.  I urge any peace activist “drop outs” who may be reading this to “re-up."  There is much to be done.  Nothing is more tragic or false than the conviction that we are powerless to bring about change.  If you are wondering how to start, contact the non-profit Center For Global Education, Augsburg College, 731 21st Ave. South, Minneapolis, MN, 55454, and 612.330.1159.


When wineries resemble theme parks or miniature golf courses, why should we express surprise at the idea of a plastic cork?  After all, as the promotional literature points out, real corks come from trees “horror” grown by foreigners. Synthetic corks are made in the US (hooray) from the one thing, which we seem to have in unceasing abundance – PLASTIC!  Oh, I know, it’s a real problem, sometimes, to get a cork out of a bottle.  Sometimes they leak.  Experts, who must know, say that a “corky” taste is sometimes imparted to the wine.  I may be hopelessly old fashioned, but there is something charming about a cork – an organic thing that returns to the earth.  Do you think the growing enthusiasm for plastic corks could be because they are cheaper?  They are probably the wave of the future:  the wine biz equivalent of the pop-top littering the landscapes for a half-life of forever.  At least they won’t lacerate our bare feet on the beach.  Or have I switched to plastic feet?

I can’t remember.


Many customers in response to the survey expressed the desire to order in 6-bottle increments, and so beginning immediately we are offering 6 packs with a quantity discount of 5%.  Compute the price using the bottle prices.  Help yourself to a 5% discount and then add freight and California sales tax (7.25%) if applicable.  If your calculator is in breakdown mode, send us the order and we’ll compute the charges for you and confirm them with you by telephone before shipping.  Shipping charges for 6 packs in California - $10 and out of state - $22.


Here’s a chance to sample everything we presently offer and save 20%.  Each sample case contains three bottles each of 1992 Chardonnay and 1992 Dry Chenin Blanc; two bottles each of 1989 Cab Franc, 1991 Tinto and 1987 Dorado.  

$99 plus $7.18 CA sales tax if applicable.




May 1996



’92 Cabernet Franc

The release of our Quixote in 1991 caused some of our customers to fear that we intended to discontinue our line of Cabernet Franc.  Not to worry.  Although the Quixote is predominantly Cab Franc (about 60%), we will continue to make our 10% varietal Cabernet Franc as we have done since 1986.  In this, we are one of the few wineries to offer a 100% varietal Cab Franc, and it appears that many of our customers have become enchanted by this “sleeper” variety.  Though there was a short interval last winter when we were sold out of the ’89 and ’90 Franc, we managed to bottle (by hand) the 1992 Cabernet Franc in time for Christmas.  In fact, the boxes were moving out as quickly as we could paste the labels on the bottles.  At this writing, there are still 55 cases left of the ’92, but don’t panic.  We have the ’94 Franc in the cellar, so there are no shortages in sight!

Love Me Tinto

Students of Casa Nuestra will already know that Elvis Presley came to the Casa in 1961 to shoot a portion of the 4th move, “Wild In the Country.”  Now the Napa alley Arts Council is celebrating the Elvis connection with a weekend fundraiser called, WILD IN THE VALLEY, June 14-17.  There will be a special screening of the classic Elvis movies, including Wild In the Country on Saturday, June 15.  The entire event is retro, most especially the price: for five bucks you see Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Viva Las Vegas and Wild in the Country.  This is an ideal occasion to dust off your blue suede shoes and boogie up to the Napa Valley.  Don’t be late or you might miss seeing Casa’s own Elvis rock in the opening scene!

Send Me Your Huddled Faxes

Is electronic communication a part of your life?  Like most aspects of the high tech revolution, you either love it or you hate it – maybe both.  Either way, it seems to be the direction of the future.  Instant communication does have its benefits.  Probably the time is not far off when the Journal will be published electronically, at least for those who want it that way.  Potentially that could save a lot of trees, and it will be good not to lick stamps!  So send us your E-mail and/or fax addresses.  As always your names and addresses are never shared.

Rites of Spring

 In my third decade of farming (and my sixth decade of life) I feel very lucky to be among the tiny fraction of workers in our country who actually turn the soil.  I use a disk for vineyard cultivation.  My disk, which has lived here at the Casa much longer than I have, is called a “Wilcox”, after the tractor company in Rutherford that build it before I was born:  in the days of victrolas, iceboxes, dial telephones and movie palaces.  It has been repaired a million times, and you can tell; but even if I were inclined to replace it (and I’m not), there is nothing out there that can do its job better.  It is its own up grade.

 At 2.5 miles per hour (6th gear), you can see a lot, like the wild asparagus stalks popping up between the vines.  I invariably stop and browse.  The soil is infinitely variable, it reminds me of food.  Some areas are dark, heavy and sticky, like fudge brownies.  Others are like gingerbread.  My favorite is the color and consistency of ground coffee.  Maybe it’s time for lunch.  The black birds gather as soon as they hear the starting crank – truly a Pavlovian response.  There are more colors in black than have ever been named.  The male birds are shiny and iridescent, like satin, gunmetal, or oil-on-water.  The female birds are brownish with yellow eyes the color of custard.  There is a lot of courting going on.  Observing the delight of these creatures foraging behind the disk, I wonder what a big juicy worm would taste like.  Too bad for the worm.  We are usually joined by two or three crows.  If my tractor were a boat, they would be the gulls.  When they are not observing from above, they perch on grape stakes like the piers of a wharf.  I am lucky to have this job.

Tinto Trends

Consistent with the law, which excites an interest in what is no longer available, the latest hoola-hoop in the wine business is an interest (at last) in “field mixes”.  It used to be common in the Napa Valley to plant vineyards with a mix of different varieties in the same field, like wine recipes planted in the ground.  These field mixes have almost disappeared from this valley in the rush to plant only “premium” varieties.  Now that ennui has set in with “Cab ‘n Chard”, the trend setters have at last discovered field mixes – with attendant hype and high prices.  Casa Nuestra customers, however, have been ahead of this end for twenty years – Casa Nuestra Tinto, still everyone’s favorite wine.

Life in the Theme Park

Casa Nuestra has recently been solicited by the Rising Spark Corporation to reserve a space in the new Napa Valley theme park under construction in West Virginia, called Napa Valley East (registered trademark).  Four similar parks are planned.  Presumably, robotic Happy Farmers will wave to the visitors as their kiddies cars wend their way from Casaland to Duckhornland to Freemark Abbeyland and so on, confirming once again that appearance is all.  Not to be outdone, the original Napa Valley theme park (located in the Napa Valley, California) plans to double the number of daily scheduled Wine Train rides, despite continuing and ever more strenuous objections of those of us who actually inhabit the place.  So who’s being taken for a ride?

Casa Collection

1992 Dry Chenin Blanc.  The Casa Nuestra corner stone, our Dry Chenin Blanc sets the standard for this disappearing variety.  Its assertive flavors and lean structure enhance any meal.  There is nothing flabby here.  It is the adult food beverage of choice and a rewarding wine to keep in the cellar.  $8.50/bottle

1992 Chardonnay (Marion’s Vineyard).  A stand-out among Chardonnays, this wine is well structured, combining fruitiness with agreeable acidity.  It was entirely fermented in small oak barrels.  No malolactic fermentation.  $15.00/bottle

1994 Johannisberg Riesling.  In the traditional German style, our Riesling has a slight residual sugar (1.2%) and medium-high fruit level.  The exotic muscato tones are pleasingly balanced with an ample acidity which renders the wine fresh and lively on the palate.  $12.00/bottle

 1988 Dorado.  Made entirely from Chenin Blanc, enhanced by the “noble rot’ 

(Botritis), this aperitif wine is richly flavored with an exotic aroma of fresh pears.  It is a deep gold color, sweet (residual sugar 6%) but not cloying.  If you long for Sauterne but have been terrorized by sticker shock, discover Dorado.  Bottled in 375ml size only.  $12.00/bottle

1991 Quixote.  The Casa’s most ambitious undertaking, Quixote is a “meritage” blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Fashioned after the superb clarets of St. Emillion in Bordeaux, it is a dark ruby in color, with appealing oak and floral aromas.  The flavors are intense and complex, but the over-all impression is softer and less aggressive than Cabernet Sauvignon.  $18/bottle

1992 Cabernet Franc.  Our 100% varietal Cabernet Franc showcases the charm of this hard-to-find variety.  It is soft and fruity like Merlot, but the flavors are intense and complex, like Cabernet Sauvignon.  $18.00/bottle

1992 Tinto.  The Casa’s most popular product, our Tinto is a glimpse into the history of the Napa Valley.  We believe it is the only authentic Napa Valley field mix to be found in a bottle today.  The two-acre vineyard where Tinto is grown contains most of the “standard” grape varieties from Napa’s past, including Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Refosco, Carignon, Alicante, Gamay, Cabernet and so on.  It is complex, smooth, deeply colored and oh so easy to like.  $9.50/bottle

Felonious Delivery

The distributors of alcoholic beverages who enjoy state-law sanctioned monopolies have become increasingly aggressive in their campaign to lock out small wine producers who reach their campaign to lock out small wine producers who reach their customers directly through the mail.  Recently, the state of Kentucky enacted a law making it a felony to ship wine into that state except through licensed wholesalers.  This extraordinary step toward criminalizing the wine industry brought immediate and strident reaction.  Kendall-Jackson announced that it would no longer do business in that state.  Other big players joined the boycott, including Glen Ellen and Robert Mondavi.  At this writing, a delegation from Kentucky was seeking a compromise with California wine producers.  These draconian measures prompted the following letter from the Happy Farmer to CA State Sen., Mike Thompson: 

Sen. Mike Thompson

Sacramento, California


Dear Senator Thompson,

I am sure you share my alarm at the action by Kentucky, criminalizing the direct shipment of wine into that state.  When we last met to discuss this general issue, I proposed that you introduce legislation which would prohibit the distribution in California of alcoholic beverages which were manufactured in states which refused to enter into reciprocal shipping agreements with California.  As you will recall from our previous discussions, it is my opinion that the attempt by some states to prohibit or otherwise interfere with the rights of their citizens to buy wine for private consumption directly from wineries in this state constitutes an illegal discrimination against small producers like Casa Nuestra.  I again urge you to introduce the legislation which we discussed, and I further suggest that the measure be extended to alcoholic beverages manufactured in 

Or transported through states which refuse to adopt reciprocal shipping agreements.


Eugene Kirkham, Happy Farmer



May 1997

Three New Releases:  Dry Chenin Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, Tinto

    The Casa has three long-awaited new wines for you:  1996 Chenin Blanc, 1996 Johannisberg Riesling, and 1994 Tinto.  These releases come just in a nick because our inventories were near zero in every category.  Your patience, however, will be handsomely rewarded.  The techniques which we learned in Chile last year (see page two) have really paid off in wine quality.  The white wines especially are richer, more aromatic, and more fruity than before.  Although the crop in 1996 was short, it will be remembered for the outstanding quality of its wines both red and white.  The 1994 Tinto is unusually smooth and complex, with the nuances of old wine beginning to emerge.  “These are the best wines I’ve made so far,” said the Happy Farmer with his usual flair for modesty and understatement, “Of course I always say that.”  No Kidding!


Cardiac Rest

    So what do you call a Happy Farmer with a major blockage in his main left coronary artery?  Send your entries to the Casa.  The winner will receive a copy of the HF’s worrisome angiogram.  The good news is that your present author has so far avoided open-heart surgery through a program of life-style changes including:  diet (I now actually weigh what I always said I weigh); exercise (a daily walk); relaxation (ooommmm); visualization (see those spindly little arteries bloom into robust ropes of pulsing, blood throbbing, rivers of health!); stress reduction (“Oh you just smashed my fender?  Of course, I don’t mind, smash the other why don’t you?”)  

    Having a heart condition is very time consuming and it’s no fair being a workaholic to catch up.  It has been quite a challenge to finish all the wine, which I made in the fall before I knew I was “sick”.  Good thing I did, though, because now there is plenty of inventory to tide us through if the HF should have to be absent for a while.  I’m not planning to join the celestial choir invisible soon, but it does seem prudent for me to back off a bit for a while.  So don’t fret if the future brings fewer sightings of the HF.  Rest assured that I will be counting my omega three fatty acids and planning a comeback.


Behind the Scenes

    Some of you who have visited in the late fall have had the unusual experience of tasting the Chenin Blanc within weeks of the end of fermentation.   At that formative stage in its life, the wine which has been fermenting at cold temperatures for as long as eight weeks has an intensity of fruit flavor and aroma which is delightful and unique.  I have applied great energy to the challenge of capturing those flavors in the bottle; but truly I have never succeeded; and after almost twenty years of trying, I had concluded that it really couldn’t be done, that it was simply a lovely, but transient, stage in the long life of this extraordinary variety, something which would only be known to those tasting the wine during its infancy.

    I was discussing this frustration with a Chenin Blanc producer in Argentina last year and he knew exactly what I was talking about.  He, however, claimed to have been able to capture this character of the new wine in the bottle.  I was skeptical, but he produced a bottle, which satisfied me that he was not bragging.  According to Carlos, the remarkable flavors in the young wine are hyper sensitive to oxidation.  The key to his success was in his maniac attention to protecting the wine from oxidation.  Where he pointed a new direction was in his understanding of the importance of oxygen pick up before the fermentation begins.  I believe buyers of the ’96 Chenin and Johannisberg Riesling will benefit from this increased knowledge.  There is some fruit loss between the early tank tasting and the bottle, but much of the youthful enchantment has been captured.  And the further good news is that this benefit is gained without loss to the enduring complexities, which characterize the Chenin Blanc as old wine.  Our few remaining bottles of 1980 Chenin Blanc are still going strong!


Felonious Famer

    The effort to snuff out direct wine sales over state lines is intensifying.  Last year, when the wholesale and retail monopolies of Kentucky passed legislation making it a felony to ship wine to customers in the state, there was a cry of outrage.  Since that time, six other states have joined the bandwagon; and there is not a peep of protest.  The Wine Institute proudly announces that it has negotiated a pardon for wineries who have licensed distributors in the offending states.  Wow, that’s rich.  Only wineries, which are already locked out of the trade, are prohibited from shipping to customers in the state, yet another overlay of legal protection for the discriminatory monopolies already in place.  The Happy Farmer commented moodily, “When they come for me I’ll go quietly.  As Chief Joseph said when he surrendered to the tyranny of white man’s government:  ‘I’ll fight no more forever.”



    Life in the theme park grows more pretentious and self-important every day.  Realtors used to describe a property in the Napa Valley as a “place”, e.g. a place in the country.  By 1970, a “place” had become a “ranch” – so long as there was at least one grape vine planted on it.  Later, a property where grapevines might be planted could be called a ranch.  Lately, a “place” has become an “estate”, usually adorned with remote controlled iron gates bearing the initials of the latter ay aristocrat dwelling within.

    Keeping up with Sir and Lady Jones has become quite a challenge.  The locals say that Robert Mondavi isn’t a winery, but an attitude – despite its down-to-earth founder.  Our next door neighbor, Rombauer Vineyards, plans to expand its “family” operation to 450,000 gallons – over ten times its start-up size.  We wonder whether the wastewater treatment pond, which will border our driveway, will improve the neighborhood.  At least there are no present plans for an art gallery or a cooking academy.  More and more we wonder what we are doing here, which is also an attitude.  It may be doomed, but a stop at the Casa is still the easiest way to visit the third world!


Recent Sightings

    The wild life seems to be more visible.  Are there more creatures around?  Or are they being squeezed out of the habitat?  Some examples:  At Elvis Rock, in the Napa River, a family of Canadian geese, in the alligator pasture, a turkey.  Although there have been rumors of turkeys, this was the first sighting at the Casa.  In the frost protection pond, a pair of river otters- almost mistaken for muskrats.  They stayed about a week during which time they succeeded in devouring every fish in the pond!  Crossing Highway 29 near Diamond Mt. Rd., a coyote, on the front lawn, a fox.

    Question:  Is there more wildlife around or are we just seeing more?  Are the animals becoming less fearful, or are they being squeezed out of the available habitat, therefore more visible?


Sample case – Big Discount

    Our sample case is a way to try all the different wines we presently have on hand at a big savings.  Each case contains two bottles of Chenin Blanc, two bottles of Dorado, two bottles of Johannisberg Riesling, two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, two bottles of Tinto, one bottle of Quixote, and one bottle of Cabernet Franc.  $126.00 plus delivery and California sales tax, if applicable.


Six packs and Mixed packs

We offer a 5% discount on orders of six bottles, and we can make up other configurations (e.g. 3-packs, 4-packs) for gifts or other special requirements.  We routinely mix a case (12 bottles) to your specifications and the 10% case discount still applies.  For something really special, we can make up big bottles (3-liter, 5-liter) for you.  Give us a call for a quote on your special orders.  We aim to please.


Dry Chenin Blanc:  This is a specialty of the house.  The Casa is one of the few North American wineries that still make Chenin Blanc in the grand style.  Like the legendary white wine of the Loire Valley, Casa Chenin Blanc is dry, highly structured, with intense and complex fruit flavors.  It is delicious as young wine, with a potential cellar life of decades.

Johannisberg Riesling:  An exotic spicy wine made in the traditional German off-dry style.  A welcome change from dry white wine.

Dorado:  Our late harvest Chenin Blanc is a sweet aperitif wine.  Like the great Sauternes, Dorado is a gift of the “botrytis” or “noble rot” which concentrates the sweetness and adds a unique nut-like flavor of its own.  A special treat.

Tinto:  Our most popular wine, Tinto is an authentic Napa Valley field mix, a wine recipe planted in the ground over 50 years ago by an Italian who brought his folk knowledge with him.  An entirely enchanting and unique red wine.

Cabernet Franc is less familiar in North America than Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is the red wine of the St. Emillion region in Bordeaux.  It is softer than Cab Sauvignon and more complex than Merlot, with intense flavors of red berries.

Quixote is a shameless copy of the ultra chic, first growth wines of Bordeaux: a blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  6-bottle limit

Cabernet Sauvignon:  The signature red wine of the Napa Valley needs no further introduction.  Don’t leave here without it.