These three unique ingredients, strengthened by hard work and bolstered by perseverance, define what we are all about here at Casanel Vineyards & Winery.
We are a family-owned and operated business, in every sense of the phrase, and our mission is to preserve that legacy through our land. Just as any other small business, we have gone though our ups and downs. It hasn't been easy; but, through it all, we have realized just what these 42 acres mean to us and to the future generations of our family.
On a cold, clear November day in 2006, our owners, Casey and Nelson DeSouza, left their mark: two signatures penned along the dotted lines, laying claim to the ownership of what was now their very own little slice of heaven. Casanel Farm was born, and little did they know what an awesome, monumental undertaking lay ahead of them. Casanel was a homestead, a place we could call our own, and a place where we could build something beautiful and build it together as a family.
We started right away, hand-planting over 10,000 vines on seven acres in three separate vineyards on the property. We chose varieties that defined regions (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon), and varieties that we hoped would define us as a Virginia farm winery (Carménère, Petit Verdot, and Norton). We set to work on renovating and restoring the historical buildings on our property: choosing to reuse the wood and stone of our land, combining old world with the new, as well as paying homage to those who came before us. In the meantime, while our vines were growing, we chose to source quality fruit from our neighbors in Loudoun County, and to produce wines that would highlight the uniqueness of our region here in Northern Virginia. However, our main goal, what we strove for years to achieve, was to be fully Estate, in that we would grow our own grapes and produce our own wine right here on our home site. From bud to bottle, our family wanted our fingerprints visible on every aspect of our business.
It was tough. No one really ever tells you just how hard it is to succeed in this business. We cried during the harvest time rains, we fought at the dinner table over the countless rules and regulations imposed upon us, we lost sleep, worrying about the “what-ifs” and what the future held for our family. But despite all of that, we pushed ourselves to do more than the best we could.
Slowly but surely, things began to fall in place.
A SENSE OF PLACE
Our first Estate harvest was hand-picked by our family in September of 2010. We grew and expanded in the tasting room, constantly aware of the growing competition around us in Loudoun County. With the coming of the new year, our 8th year at Casanel, our energy ignited in full force. Armed with new knowledge, reinvigorated passion, and a never-say-die attitude, daughters Anna and Katie were primed and ready to take our business to the next level. And that level? That level was to be Estate, to be truly representative of what we knew our site could do.
Under Anna's and Katie's leadership, our family realized the need to return to our roots. Casanel had to get back to that sense of place, that sense of home, which brought us here to begin with. So, we rebuilt our team: we pulled on our work boots and reacquainted ourselves with the dirt. With the rising and setting of the sun, our family put in the sweat equity our vineyard needed.
Our first Estate crush began in the Fall of 2014, which led to our first Estate hand-bottling in the following Spring of 2015. We re-branded Casanel Vineyards as Casanel Vineyards and Winery in June of 2015, and honestly... we could not have been more proud of how far we had come. Those fingerprints, our fingerprints, were finally showing, and they were showing everywhere.
We have the people, the passion, and the sense of place to give us that motivation to keep going, to keep experimenting and creating, and to prove that Virginia deserves a seat at the international wine table. Through it all, we realized what we had all along: a home, a place to call our own, and a story unlike any other.
We cannot wait to share our story with you.
The Casanel Family
Nelson & Casey DeSouza, Anna DeSouza Want, and Katie DeSouza Henley.
Nelson was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1942. He was the eldest of 12 children of Moyses and Dorcelina DeSouza. His Father, Moyses, was an officer in the Brazilian navy and came to America to negotiate submarine purchases. Nelson visited him at age 15 and fell in love with the United States. Determined to return, he fulfilled his required military duty as a paratrooper in Brazil, obtained his visa, and in 1962 after many setbacks, he finally rose above his humble origins and arrived safely in the United States. He began his life here as a carpenter, working in Washington D.C. and making many friends throughout the years who have played major roles in his successes as an entrepreneur, father, and champion of the United States.
Kathleen, known affectionately as Casey by her family and friends, is number 10 of 11 children to Charles and Anna O’Donnell. Casey also grew up in a military family as her father served in the United States Air Force. Although born at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, her family relocated often around the world, including a long stay in Germany. Her love for Virginia brought her back to the Commonwealth where she worked hard in accounting and defense contracting, earning great respect for her numerical prowess.
Katie DeSouza Henley was born and raised in Vienna, Virginia, receiving her her B.A. in English from Virginia Tech in 2009. Soon after, DeSouza was “bitten by the wine bug” and retired her pen and paper for pruning shears and a pair of work boots. Under the tutelage of famed Viticulturist Lucie Morton, and Bordeaux-born and trained winemaking consultant Katell Griaud, DeSouza took over the winemaking and growing operations of her family winery, Casanel, in the spring of 2014. Since then Casanel has gone on to win numerous awards and accolades from the press thanks to her forward-thinking and innovative approach to grape-growing and winemaking.
Tyler Henley was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in Spokane, Washington. He received his B.S. with a double major in economics and government from Claremont McKenna College outside Los Angeles. Tyler began his journey in winemaking in 2009 when he worked at some historic California wine estates: Chappellet Vineyard & Winery, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Brassfield Estate, and he even ventured to the Casablanca area in Chile where he travelled and worked a vintage at Vina Matetic in 2013. In 2014 Tyler settled in to the latest hotspot in American winemaking, the Middleburg Virginia AVA. Tyler was Winemaker and Vineyard Operations Manager at a startup winery in Delaplane Virginia, as well as holding the title of Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg, Virginia. As of July 2018, Tyler has joined the Casanel family as our Production Manager.
When Anna’s parents told her they had bought property in Leesburg to grow grapes and make wine, she couldn’t have been more surprised. Having just finished earning her bachelors in history at Virginia Tech and soon to be married to Elliotte, Anna started helping Nelson with the construction of the stone barn. Anna always thought teaching history was her future, and despite earning her masters in education in 2009, she realized the new family business was calling her home. Anna learned as much as she could about wine before the grand opening in October 2008, and she’s been behind the bar ever since. Anna’s position has expanded as the business has grown. She is still in the tasting room, but she now also serves as Casanel's General Manager, helping to run the day-to-day operations of the winery. Anna’s vision for Casanel is one of knowledge. She looks forward to teaching people about what makes Casanel wine unique and sharing her family’s story with you.