3451 Silverado Trail North
St. Helena, CA 94574
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tasting fees: $30 for five wines
Wines offered: Changes seasonally. Summer 2016: Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Meritage and Tinto (red blends)
Picnics: Wine club members only
Nestled among Napa Valley’s big, lavish tasting experiences sits Casa Nuestra, a charming oasis of tranquility at the north end of Silverado Trail. A rustic barn-turned-tasting room, friendly goats and sheep, a small organic garden and oak-shaded picnic tables offer a distinct contrast to what many visitors expect. The wines, likewise, stand apart.
There are no set tasting or tour experiences. “We usually start in the tasting room, but if weather permits, we like to host most of our tastings outside just because it’s so peaceful,” says Wine Educator Ana Scofield. Guests are treated to a friendly welcome and invited to sample some amazing wines, many of which don’t fall into the typical Napa Valley wheelhouse.
We started with a 2015 Chenin Blanc, which these days is a rare Napa Valley offering. Says winemaker Darren Chertkoff, “It’s one of the wines we’ve been making from the beginning because there was a Chenin Blanc vineyard planted here when [the Kirkhams] bought the property in 1975.” The varietal is “known for a rounded texture and mouthfeel, like Chardonnay, retains good acidity and displays ripe, tropical, floral aromatics, like Sauvignon Blanc”; my notes say it “tastes like summer.”
Reisling is another less-produced wine (though it is experiencing a bit of resurgence), and like Chenin Blanc, it was planted on-property when the Kirkhams took ownership. “People assume it’s going to be sweet, but ours is quite dry,” says Chertkoff. “I try to keep closer to European style—dry, light floral and apricot. The sugar should increase the aromatics, structure and texture, and the finish should feel quite dry, refreshing and cleansing. This wine goes really well with spicy food.”
Chertkoff, who’s been with the winery since January 2015, has a master’s degree in enology and a Ph.D. in geology that help him in the vineyards. “These are very old vines, so they need a lot of nurturing and care,” he says. The property is 40 acres total with parcels on both sides of Silverado Trail, about 17 acres are planted to winegrapes. With one exception, the winery uses only estate fruit (it sources a small amount of Chenin Blanc from another St. Helena AVA vineyard to meet production demand).
We move into the reds and, here again, Casa Nuestra falls a little off center. “We’re a bit more Merlot and Cab Franc focused, which is rare for Napa Valley,” agrees Chertkoff. We do have a really good Cabernet Sauvignon, but our Bordeaux blend is based on those varietals, not Cabernet.”
The 2011 Merlot is a bit lighter bodied and less bold than a typical Napa Merlot. Chertkoff calls it “elegant,” and I have to agree. “The style here has always been a little more restrained,” he says. “It surprises a lot of people.”
“Extended barrel aging softens the wines and gives them more elegance,” says Scofield. “That makes them more approachable when they’re released.”
The 2011 Cabernet Franc has a wet clay nose with a silky, full mouthfeel and deep, dark fruit. “This is another varietal that many people who visit Napa Valley aren’t as familiar with,” says Scofield. “It’s an opportunity for us to introduce it to them and teach them about it.”
For Tinto, the winery’s red field blend, Chertkoff is “restrained by what’s in the vineyard—that’s where viticulture comes into play. It’s an old style vineyard that’s planted to a bunch of different varieties [Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Alacante Bouchet, Gamay, Carignane, Refosco, Negrette and Gray Riesling]. They’re all picked and processed at the same time, they’re all in a tank together and ferment together.” Because of this cohabitation, the wine is fairly consistent, year-to-year. The 2013 displayed dark color and medium body, was lightly tannic on the back end and offered open, lush fruit.
Finally, the 2011 Meritage Bordeaux blend is “right bank inspired.” It’s meaty and bold, with a licorice nose and baked plum on the palate. “I taste barrel by barrel to see what each can bring to a blend,” says Chertkoff, who delineates this one as 50 percent Cab Franc, 40 percent Merlot and a scant 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon—another departure from the expected.
“There’s a different experience with each wine here,” says Scofield. “It’s not the same varietals three different ways. People like coming here because we let them decide what they like. There is no right or wrong.”
The only wrong would be not stopping in.
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