Casa Nuestra Winery: Another Side of Napa Valley
By Kerry Winslow
Sometimes you want to just get away from the crowds, the sameness and find something completely different, peaceful and down to earth, in Napa Valley. And recently I did just that by visiting Casa Nuestra, located in the eastern part of historic St. Helena on the Silverado Trail. Now, I have wondered in here a few times in the past, though this spring day in March was quite special as not only did they have their fabled Chenin Blanc in stock and were pouring it, but they had the owner himself tipping the bottle and even manning the cash register, this time I got to meet the man behind this small unique winery, Gene Kirkham. Gene is a real down to earth guy with a big grin and humble as can be, and he’s been on the Napa scene with Casa Nuestra since 1979, and is celebrating 30 years of his dry Chenin Blanc, one of the best Chenin’s in the states and a white wine that has an intense following. It seems every time I drop in it is sold out, though I was in luck on this day and my mouth was watering just thinking about it, a real dry, Vouvray or Loire style wine that also has its own terroir and stamp as well.
Before getting to the Chenin, I tried to get a picture of the whole place that is Casa Nuestra, and listened to Gene tell his happy customers and fanatic wine club members a little of the history.
While Casa Nuestra was formed into a winery in 1979, the Kirkham family bought a vineyard in Oakville, one of the first hillside plots there in 1956, an old style vineyard that was planted the “blacks” or know as a field blend site, it had Charbono, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Pinot Noir and more all mixed through out the vineyard and these red grapes were all blended in a Tinto wine. These wines went out of fashion and most growers ended up ripping up most of their vines and replanted to a single varietal, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Merlot, but the Kirkham’s understood the old style field blend was going to be lost here in California, so they kept them and then in 1994 grafted many of their original vine cuttings to the St. Helena property to keep the heritage going. All the vines the winery uses are organic and farmed to low natural yields to give the truest sense of the terroir and the grapes, and the winemaking as reflects a kinder and more gentle approach as well, as they take great care in the handling of the grapes and use traditional methods, like basket presses and special low impact pumps, then use the best suited oak from both France and America to age the wine.
Casa Nuestra has had lots of critical acclaim, it is not like I was the first one to sing their praises, but you’d never know that by seeing the smile on Gene’s face when I was cooing over the beautiful Chenin, and impressed by the reds as well, he is all enthusiasm and the was a sparkle in his eyes that shows he loves to make people happy and enjoys his wines and the direction he has taken. Now, Casa Nuestra does make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc too, and they are very worthy wines, so don’t think they only do the geeky stuff, even if that is what I was really interested in on this given day. I made note of some stars in their line up other than the Chenin and the Tinto (field blend) those being the dark and thick Charbono, one of the nicest I’ve tried in fact, the Petit Sirah, a black/purple monster that really delivers vibrant fruit and almost a chocolate like feel, and I liked the estate semi-dry Riesling that was bright and fresh with just a hint of sweetness. Even though the Rosado, Cabernet Franc Rose was not quite to my taste it was good and all the wines were very well made and of high quality, making Casa Nuestra a great place to visit and take friends as there will be something for everyone here. It is great to see a winery like this doing so well, especial in these tough times, and I’ll be heading back again soon to refill on that amazing Chenin Blanc!
2009 Casa Nuestra Chenin Blanc (Dry) Napa Valley.
This hard to get white is crisp and bright with lovely citrus, peach and apricot nectar fruit and a real stony, mineral character that gives this wine its balance and depth. The nose is steely and has hints of white flowers and green apple, and then the peachy fruit takes over on the palate before a chalky, earthy rocky side comes across in the background. The finish is tangy with lemon/lime and very dry, though some white peach lingers on. When Chardonnay is too heavy and Sauvignon Blanc is too sharp and herbal, then this wine will be just right, and it will go with most everything, especial a warm spring or summer day. I hope to try it out with Hog Island Oysters soon, but it is great with creamy cheeses and fruit too. This wine offers a great value too, and that is why it sells out so fast, so visit Casa Nuestra soon, before it is gone. ($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2007 Casa Nuestra Tinto, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
This dark and full red has lots of sweet intense fruit and savory spices with thick texture and ripe tannins, making it a really interesting and layered wine, much like if you crossed Zinfandel with a classic Rhone blend. The blackish hue and perfumed nose will entice you, and the lush and robust palate will intrigue you, and the long finish with seduce you and make you want more. This fun field blend has the kitchen sink in it, Carignane, Petit Sirah, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir and Charbono just to name a few of the grapes, and nothing feels out of place and it flows smoothly in balanced harmony. While this type of wine is not common these days, it is a very welcome addition to my cellar and I hope you get a chance to try it yourself. ($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive