Updated: May 9
After recently attending an event where I had the pleasure of hearing from numerous female winemakers around the nation, I was inspired to create a new blog series highlighting some of these amazing women throughout Virginia and beyond. And, it just made sense to decide to share these new blogs on my favorite day of the week – #WineWednesday, which is also the highly popular “Women Crush Wednesday” (#WCW).
Katie and husband TylerAll you have to do is Google “female winemakers” and you’ll see there is a proliferation of women who are blazing trails in the vineyards – literally and figuratively! I personally am thrilled to see so many female winemakers gaining prominence all over the world. And, I am of course also enjoying the fruits of their labor!
First up in my #WCW Q&A series is Katie DeSouza Henley, Winemaker at Casanel Vineyards & Winery. Casanel is a family-owned and operated business located in Leesburg, Virginia. If you’ve followed me on the Virginia wine trail at all, you will know this is one of my favorite vineyards because of the people and the wine. You can learn more about them on their website.
So, let’s get to know Katie and hear the story of her path, wine, and family.
Q: I am personally intrigued by you because not only are you a female winemaker but because you are young female winemaker! How did you become interested in wine at such a young age and what made you follow that passion towards winemaking?
A: If you’ve met my family, you’d know exactly why I became interested in wine at such an early age! My Father is originally from Rio in Brasil and our Portuguese family and friends always shared a good Port with us! (I was 7/8 years old when I had my first “real” glass of wine!) Joking aside, my family is the ultimate reason behind everything. After visiting family and vineyards in Portugal, we bought the family farm here in Leesburg, VA in November of 2006. We established the vineyards together in 2007 and 2008, and then formally opened our tasting room in October of 2008. After graduating early from Virginia Tech with a degree in English, my father asked if I could stay and help before taking a writing job in New York. After just a couple of days into my time on the farm, I decided to forgo the NY job and stay with Casanel. I saw huge potential and opportunity to grow in Virginia’s booming wine industry; I started as the dishwasher and never looked back.
Q: As a Virginia-based vineyard, what do you think differentiates Casanel wines from others throughout the state?
A: Three things separate Casanel from the rest: consistency, transparency, and quality. When we first started this business, we had an idea of what we wanted Casanel to achieve and to mean to our family. We wanted a place that not only showcased the amazing terroir of Loudoun County and creative talent of our vineyard/cellar team, but we also wanted a business that passionately advocated for the Loudoun wine community. From the beginning, Casanel has chosen to cultivate estate-grown vines, as well as source the highest quality grapes from surrounding Virginian grape-growers who share our interest to promote the “Virginia” in Virginia wine. We operate on the highest principles of transparency and quality when growing and making our wines and we make this information readily available for our customers in the hopes of sharing with them the amazing potential Virginia has within the international wine world. Our entire operation is done by hand: whether it’s hand-harvesting our grapes grown on the Estate to hand-disgorging our estate sparkling wines, my family’s fingerprints are on everything (literally and figuratively). Just taste the wines, and you’ll see what I mean.
Q: You’ve undoubtedly produced a lot of wine in your career thus far, but if there was one wine you could pick to highlight as your most unique creation or proudest accomplishment, which wine would it be and why?
A: I’d have to say that my favorite wine is a combination of both my most unique creation and proudest accomplishment: our Estate Carménère. We planted the first 900 plants in the Spring of 2008. For 5 years, it was fruitless. We had multiple consultants and wine-growers tell us to pull it out – that a grape like Carménère couldn’t survive the humidity of Virginia. My family and I held firm; we did our research, we revamped our entire spray program (employing the use of foliar nutrients and other biodynamic/organic practices), we put in the sweat equity it needed. From 2014 on, Casanel has had a consistent harvest of Carménère. Our 2016 Carménère recently won Best of Class in the San Francisco Chronicle, North America’s largest wine competition. It was the first time in the history of the competition that an East Coast wine beat out the otherwise dominant West Coast entries. I still can’t believe it!
Meet the familySo, where can you meet Katie and try some of her amazing wines? Well, since they are a pretty small family-owned operation you can visit them in Leesburg or go to their website (www.casanelvineyards.com) and purchase their wines online.
If you’re ever in the Loudoun County, Virginia area, they also sell to the following restaurants and wine shops. So, definitely stop by and give them a try. The Wine Kitchen (Leesburg, VA) Magnolia’s at the Mill (Purcellville, VA) Dragon Hops Brewery (Purcellville, VA) The Yelping Dog Wine Shop (Staunton, VA) Merrifield Garden Center (Gainesville, VA) Whitebarrel Winery (Christiansburg, VA)