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At Casanel Vineyards in Leesburg, family and patriotism


The team at Casanel Vineyards in Leesburg in the 19th century stone house. From left, Anna DeSouza-Want, Casey DeSouza, Erik Bowen, founder Nelson DeSouza and Katie DeSouza. Times-Mirror Photo/Trevor Baratko


Frankly, this column may be better suited for one month from now, as the Fourth of July nears and we become engulfed in Americanism.

Because Nelson DeSouza loves this country more than anyone I've ever met.

“American by choice,” he tells me more than once at his Casanel Vineyards on Monday afternoon. “Brazilian by birth, by accident – but American by choice.”

Asked when he arrived in the U.S., the charming DeSouza quickly responds. “September 22. 1962. 4:16 p.m. Washington National Airport.”

“I was 20 years old. No English. No Money. No nothing … In America, everything – everything with all capital letters – is possible.”

Only in America, DeSouza stresses, could a man who never drank wine until his 40s decide to purchase a vast property in one of the most expensive places in the nation, clear the trees and relish in the grueling process of planting a vineyard. And only here could that new winery owner, a former construction worker, watch the operation expand through a recession, and then – here's the best part – lure his two daughters home and hand them control of the whole damn thing.

There's the eldest, Anna DeSouza-Want, the front-of-house manager who in a previous life believed she would be a teacher.

Then her father called.

“At first, it was just that daddy asked … We thought he was nuts,” Anna, still in her 20s, says, describing why she decided to work at the winery. “It was not like we decided right away that we were going to grow grapes and make wine. First, in 2007, it was, 'We'll just grow grapes, then it was like maybe we'll make some wine.' Everything just kind of snowballed.”

“I'm very much my father's daughter. I'm not very good at having a boss,” Anna adds.

Then there's Katie DeSouza, who is now co-winemaker after several years of apprenticeship with the likes of Katell Griaud, Kerem Baki, Lucie Morton and Bryan Toy. DeSouza has devoted most of her past two years to raising the bar at Casanel. With an unfeigned focus on quality and wine education, the young DeSouza strives to become the face of her family's winery.

Rounding out the founding family is Nelson's wife, Casey, the matriarch of the whole operation. (Casanel is a mash-up of Casey and Nelson.) Casey brims with pride at the family operation, tagging her husband as “very shrewd” and Katie as “so smart.”

This month, the winery launched a sharp rebranding, including modernized labels for the 2013 and 2014 vintages, the first line of wines heavily influenced by Katie, and a still-new tasting room that opened in April 2014.

The latest releases, which include pinot gris, chardonnay, a rose, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and carmenere are exceptionally crafted – not a bad one in the bunch. The Jose Rose, named after a central vineyard worker, is fresh with vibrant red fruit, and the carmenere, which is for sale exclusively to club members, boasts a rich and spicy texture against notes of plum and violet.

Katie underscores that all of the 2013 and 2014 offerings are composed of Casanel grapes, with the exception being the rose, which includes roughly 50 percent grapes from another Virginia vineyard.

Several of Casanel's wines honor Nelson and Casey's family, including the Ellianna and Patricia Marie pinot gris, named after their first two grandchildren.

On the stormy Monday, 2-year-old Ellianna is at the winery, drinking from a different kind of bottle. Katie and I are chatting, dissecting the wines. The whole family's there, and Nelson's smiling. Only in America.


***


Featuring news on the Loudoun County wine industry, the Times-Mirror's award-winning “Wine Wednesday” appears the first Wednesday of each month. Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Check out recent Wine Wednesdays:

-"No, not that Catoctin Creek" -- May 6, 2015
-"We're talking grapes by the tons" -- April 1, 2015
-"Meritage is the new black" -- March 4, 2015
-"Let's get weird: Five funky wines in Loudoun" -- Feb. 5, 2015


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