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The crimson & gold bounty of Le Casque wines

Tasting room near Granite Bay is on the rise
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Celebrating good earth and lush vines is the philosophy behind Le Casque, a Rhone-centric winery surrounded by gardens on the border of Granite Bay and Loomis. Winemakers Kevin Stevenson and Tim Weyrich are true believers that beautiful vintages are born more in vineyards than production rooms, and their French-traditionalist approach at Le Casque is matched by a pouring room webbed in falling vines and outdoor, natural elegance.

Twenty-seven years ago, Stevenson began a long journey as a wine enthusiast. It started with a trip to Napa and Sonoma and ended with excursions to France, Italy and Spain. He was an avid collector of bottles, but it wasn’t until he started helping manage a vineyard in Placer County that he discovered an insider’s perspective on the ancient art of vino. For 8 years Stevenson tended to grapes for Cabernet Franc before deciding to open his own small wine operation that put out 200 cases a year.   

Eventually teaming up with Weyrich, Stevenson’s Le Casque began making its mark on the Placer Wine Trail. Stevenson opened his own production center in 2010, soon followed by the tasting room on the corner of Horseshoe Bar and Auburn-Folsom Road. The tasting room shares the fragrant grounds of John and Annie Bowler’s Flower Farm and Café, an ornate maze of vine lattices, orchids, weeping willows and water lilies brushed in outdoor breezes.

“It’s a terrific little picnic spot,” Stevenson reflected. “I think people really like how they can order food from the Flower Farm’s café across the way and have it served where they’re drinking wine on our outdoor patio. There’s some good synergy between our winery and Flower Farm.”

Among the 8 different red varietals Le Casque is bottling, its Cab Franc — made from the very same vines Stevenson shepherded for years — has developed a strong fan base. This wine has a breathing black cherry essence, along with rich notes of nut and vanilla under the subtle tannins of its afterglow.

Stevenson said the winery’s Petite Syrah is also a sought-after selection, which won’t surprise anyone who’s tasted its relaxing highlights of cinnamon and raspberry expertly mixed with gentle nuances and a smooth, jam-like simmer.

“We seem to be known for Rhone varietals from the south of France,” Stevenson said. “Our blends like Calotte Red have a lot of syrah in them. Syrah has been huge for us.”

And the main Syrah offering at Le Casque also shines, pressed with a bold earthiness in its grape base, accented by faint, smoky notes and crisp tinges of red pepper. The Syrah is a main component to most of the red blends Weyrich and Stevenson experiment with. Yet despite the pride Le Casque takes in its crimson vino, Stevenson acknowledges that the decision to make different white wines has been foundational to the operation’s success.

“White wine drinkers seem drawn to us because we’ve got a nice variety,” he said. “We recently started releasing two brand new whites, the Grenache Blanc and our blend, the Adrian Blanc. The Grenache Blanc sold out with our wine club members alone; but we’ll be making more and offering it more widely in the near future.”

Building a following on white wine is no small feat: A 2015 report by Sonoma State University and the Wine Business Institute indicated red vino is more popular, with 6 of the top 10 preferred varietals falling into the blood-colored category. But that trend has created opportunity for Le Casque. Beyond creative white blends, a mainstay white is its Sauvignon blanc, with a singing sour apple swirl, light reflections of Limoncello and warm traces of nectar. For Stevenson and Weyrich, mastering red and white varietals is all about partnering with the best grape farmers in the Sierra foothills.

“Grape growing is the biggest part of winemaking,” Stevenson observed. “All of the important stuff happens in the vineyard. If everything goes right there, then our biggest job in production is trying to not ruin that.”

Hence, Le Casque wines are made entirely grape-growers in Amador, El Dorado and Placer who enjoy a high level of Stevenson’s confidence. And that faith has paid off: Le Casque Sergent Port wom a Double-Gold Best in Class medal at the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine competition, as well as the California State Fair.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make sure our production is first-class and that we’re using top-notch fruit,” Stevenson said. “We’re always looking for the best fruit. And it’s starting to show to all of the customers who are spending time with us.”

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at standerson1@live.com. Follow him on Twitter at STA_reporter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/STAndersonJournalist