As you are traveling north bound on the Silverado Trail and heading into Calistoga, if you blink at the wrong time you might just drive right on without noticing Venge Vineyards. The winery and tasting room is far off the road, tucked up against the Palisades Mountains. Their road sign is barely noticeable. In fact, it was only because they had an abundance of mustard flowers that I slowed to take note of who owned the vineyards. Although they are not generally open to the public and require advanced reservations, I have learned that often times people cancel their reservations and so an opening becomes available or because I am a “party of one” they’ll fit me in. It never hurts to call and ask if they can give you an on-the-spot reservation. It was about 10:30 a.m. when I called and they squeezed me in for a noon appointment. So, I went and had lunch at Buster’s BBQ in Calistoga (great food at reasonable prices!) and returned at 12 p.m.
The Venge (pronounced “ven-ghee”) family has farmed grapes in Napa Valley for nearly a half-century. The family business began in the early 1900’s when Knud Venge traveled across the Atlantic from Denmark to the United States. Afterwards his son, Per Venge, founded Vencom Imports an importer of Western European fine wines and spirits. Then in the 1960’s Per’s son, Nils Venge, went on to study viticulture at UC Davis. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Grape Vine Viticulture, Nils took a job at Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga. Then in 1971 he was recruited by Villa Mount Eden as their first winemaker. While at Villa Mount Eden, Nils and his father-in-law bought a 17 acre Cabernet Vineyard in Oakville and they supplied grapes to Villa Mount Eden, which is now surrounded by other stellar wineries such as Silver Oak Cellars, Opus One and Groth Vineyards.
In 1982 Nils Venge became partnered with Dennis Groth to help form Groth Vineyard. Then in 1985 his craftsmanship as a winemaker became well known as their Cabernet Sauvignon became the first Californian wine to receive a perfect score, receiving a 100 point rating from Robert Parker. A decade later Nils formed Venge Vineyards.
Nils’ son, Kirk Venge, was the next in the family line to further the family business as he took an interest in winemaking at an early age growing up around the winery. In 1998 he earned his degree in Viticulture and Enology at the UC Davis. He then honed his craft during summer internships as the experimental winemaker for Mumm, Napa Valley. After graduating he further developed his skills during a harvest in New Zealand and then spent time travelling the great wine regions of Europe. Ten years later Kirk acquired full ownership of Venge Vineyards and today he continues the family’s trade in the Napa Valley.
In 2008 Kirk purchased a 12.5 acre vineyard and moved operations to the newly acquired Rossini Ranch in the foothills of the Palisades Mountains in Calistoga. The ranch then became the estate winery and tasting room. Here visitors can sample their wines at the ranch house seated inside the tasting room or while lounging on the deck that surrounds the front of the house and overlooks the vineyards. While visiting I sampled the following wines:
My first sample was the 2012 Juliana Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. This is, without a doubt, one of THE best California Sauv Blancs I have ever tasted. It has pronounced aromas of tropical fruits, mango, kiwi, and mandarin oranges. On the palate it is very crisp with medium ++ acidity, medium weight and a very prolonged finish. Unfortunately it is also THE most expensive Sauv Blancs I have ever tasted as it rolls in at $37 a bottle. I have never paid more than $30.
My second pour was the 2011 Maldanado Vineyard Chardonnay. This wine has not undergone M/L but it was aged sur lie. On the nose I picked up subtle notes of popcorn, baked pears, melon, and tropical fruits. On the palate it is slightly creamy with medium+ weight and yet it maintains its crispness with medium+ acidity and all the flavors are harmoniously balanced. Before checking the price I had guessed it would be around $45 but was pleasantly surprised to find it sells for $39 a bottle. If you like Chards that are not too austere but are also not a big butter ball this you’ll enjoy this wine!
The third wine I tasted was the 2011 Balcigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Up front on the nose I picked up strawberry preserves, root beer, and dark earth. On the tail end it has additional aromas of cloves and a hint of pistachio nuts. On the palate it has significant weight for a Pinot (medium +), more spice and a long finish. If I was tasting this blind I would have thought it was from Southern California, perhaps Santa Barbara County rather than the Russian River. It is a very nice wine but a bit steep at $58 a bottle.
The fourth pour was the 2011 Scout’s Honor Proprietary Red, Napa Valley. It is a blend of 70% Zinfandel, 13% Peite Sirah, 11% Charbono and 6% Syrah. The Zinfandel from the Moss Creek Vineyard in the Cappelle Valley in the eastern side of Napa Valley. The Charbonno is sourced from 60 year old vines in Frediani Vineyard in Calistoga. The Petite Sirah comes from the Baranek Vineyard in Clarksburg and the Syrah is from the Muhlner Vineyard in Napa’s Chiles Valley. This was my favorite in the line-up. It is bright ruby red and stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has pronounced aromas of strawberry and raspberry jam, Bing cherries, black olive, mint and it a hint of black pepper. On the palate it is luscious and fruit forward, full bodied with silky tannins, mouth-watering acidity and it definitely has the delicious factor in pleasing the palate. It is a complex and layered wine that is BIG and yet it is well balanced even though it has 15.3% alcohol. This wine sells for $38 a bottle and I brought one home.
The final wine was the 2008 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. On the nose it has aromas of cassis, black currants, blackberries, plums, dark chocolate and black pepper – a classic Napa Valley Cab profile. On the palate it is has very firm tannins, it is full bodied, has bright acidity and it well balanced. On entry it is very approachable and “drink now” but it will undoubtedly improve over the next 5 years or so. At $135 a bottle this wine has a lot of stiff competition in the valley and I’ve had similar Cabs in the $50 - $60 range.
Overall, I was very impressed with Venge Vineyards and out of the 123 wineries I have visited in the Napa Valley since the year 2000 it easily ranks in the top 20.
To see more pictures of Venge Vineyards, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:
To visit or for more information:
4708 Silverado Trail
Calistoga, CA 94515
Phone: 1-707- 942-9100