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Local winery Le Casque off to good start

Food & Wine
By: Joyia Emard Gold Country News Service
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LOOMIS––You don’t have to leave town to find award-winning local wines. A boutique winery started by two Clos du Lac neighbors just won a Best in Class Award at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The duo won right out of the gate with the first wine they produced — Le Casque 2007 Carlotte blanc, a white Rhone-style blend of grapes grown in Amador County and bottled in Auburn. Vintners Kevin Stevenson and Mark Breunig both built homes in Clos du Lac, the Tuscan-style Loomis development that boasts acres of vineyards and front yards planted with wine grapes. Stevenson is a business law attorney who works in high-tech with start-up companies, and Stevenson is a musician and former music producer. They share a love and appreciation of wine and socialized together as neighbors, along with their wives, before becoming business partners. “We’ve drank a lot of wine together over the years,” said Breunig. “We have a great synergy,” he added. Now, the two are bottling handcrafted wine together under the label Le Casque. Le casque is the French Adrienne military helmet created during World War I. The partners said it “symbolizes protection and the care taking of the vines” and evokes their respect for the winemaking tradition. Along with their award-winning Rhone blend, the little winery has also produced a Cabernet Franc with grapes grown in the Clos du Lac vineyards, and a full-bodied Syrah from Placer County-grown grapes. Those wines weren’t ready in time for the competition, but the partners plan to enter them in other contests. Stevenson runs the operations end of the winery and Breunig takes care of the business and marketing along with his wife, Tina Morarity-Breunig. Stevenson also runs a company that manages the Clos du Lac vineyards. He spends countless hours amongst the vines walking the vineyard. He oversees the pruning and care of the vines, then as harvest approaches he thoughtfully tastes the grapes, chewing the skin and seeds to determine the perfect time to pick. “You have to live it,” Stevenson said. Stevenson said the harvest begins at night when it is cool and the fruit is at its peak. The crush occurs within hours. “By picking at night, you lock in the aromatics and freshness,” he said. Breunig and Stevenson said they believe that Placer County will become a respected winemaking region. “It’s 95 percent about the grapes. We can make world-class wines here. People come here and plant vines because the have a passion for it,” Stevenson said. “We’re focusing on the unique type of Rhone and Bordeaux wines that can be made and how to blend them to make a wine that hits all aspects of the palate from the nose to the finish,” Breunig said. According to Breunig, Casque produced 400 cases in 2008 and plans to double that in 2009. They also hope to open their own winery where they can blend and store their wine and even offer wine tastings. Their wines are served locally at the New Horseshoe Bar Grill, Cafe Zorro and Wild Chicken. They can be ordered on line at www.casquewines.com or by calling (916) 660-9671.