Venge Vineyards is owned by talented winemaker Kirk Venge and his wife Sarah. Kirk was born in Rutherford, Napa Valley and like his father, winemaker Nils Venge, graduated from the University of California, Davis – in 1998 with a degree in Viticulture and Enology. In addition to winemaking at Venge Vineyards, Kirk is also a highly sought after consulting winemaker working with several premium Napa Valley based producers.
The Venge’s roots in the wine industry date back to the 1950’s when Kirk’s grandfather established Vencom Imports in Los Angeles, a wine and spirits importing company which specialized in Western European wines and spirits. Nils is also an accomplished winemaker – he is well known in the winemaking world for his numerous accolades including producing the first 100 point rated Cabernet Sauvignon awarded by wine writer Robert Parker for the 1985 Groth Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Nils also owns and operates Saddleback Cellars in Oakville and is a partner in Envy Winery near Calistoga. The family owned vineyards at Saddleback Cellars produce some of the grapes for Venge Vineyards’ own wines.
Vencom Imports, labels
Photos coming by end of February 2020, from author’s personal Napa Valley collection
The winery is located a very short drive south of Calistoga and sits well back from the Silverado Trail accessed by a gated narrow paved road. The property is nestled against the edge of the jagged Palisades (prominent stone outcroppings in this part of the Vaca mountain range). This is a lesser traveled part of the Napa Valley, feeling far removed from the busy “wine strip” along Highway 29 south of St. Helena.
A number of prominent vineyards are located in the region including the Eisele Vineyard which borders one corner of their property and nearby Canard (one of the two oldest commercially producing vineyards in all of the Napa Valley). The Venge estate vineyard (next to the winery) is planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon; Venge Vineyards named their property “Bone Ash Ranch” in homage to the significant volcanic ash found in the primarily whitish rocky soils.
Their wines are always made in small quantities (total production is typically around 5,000 cases annually) with some wines made for the direct to consumer market and some for retail distribution. For a relatively small winery Venge produces a wide variety of wines. A number of these wines are vineyard designates; Kirk often works with single vineyards – showcasing the terroir of particular sites.
2007 was the first vintage that Kirk made a Chardonnay for commercial release under Venge Vineyards. There are two noteworthy items to mention about this wine – one good and one bad; first it is a beautiful wine and two, the inaugural vintage was produced in such a low quantity that it was primarily available only for wine club members.
The 2007 Venge Vineyards Chardonnay is made entirely from the Dijon Clone in the style of a French Chablis. This wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation, sees some oak during aging but is not imparted in the actual flavors. Immediately intriguing is the delightful nose of lemon zest, pineapple and various mineralities. It is a rich yet refreshing Chardonnay with a generous helping of citrus, stone fruit (peach), and pineapple flavors. This is a prime Chardonnay to age for a few years to see how its color, character and complexities will continue to develop.
One of our our favorite Venge wines is “Scouts Honor”, a unique primarily Zinfandel blend with smaller percentages of other varietals that vary slightly from year to year including Petite Sirah, Syrah or Charbonno. This wine is their workhorse; made every year, it is their highest produced wine. It is named after the Venge’s first winery dog, Scout who Nils found at the Napa County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center. Sometimes specific blends hit upon a golden formula where the wine’s characteristics appeal to a broad array of palates – the Prisoner by Orin Swift is a great example, albeit a wine produced in significantly larger quantities. Scout’s Honor enjoys an enthusiastic and very strong following from loyal consumers.
The 2005 Venge Vineyards Scout’s Honor contains Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Charbono and was aged in American oak from Missouri. The several vintages we have tried have showy bouquets – showcasing a complexity of ripe fruit aromas. The nose on this vintage is no different; it reveals layers of fruit including dark cherry woven with pleasant nuances of cedar. The palate follows with a dusty quality and flavors of ripe blackberry and raspberry. This is a wine that can easily be enjoyed by itself; as Kirk says, it is his “Monday through Thursday wine”.
The 2006 Venge Vineyards Mulhner Steps Vineyard Syrah is a dark inky, chewy and juicy wine. The source vineyard is located in eastern Napa County (Chiles Valley) and is named after its step-like terracing – the soils are thin and mostly rocky. Both Syrah’s that Venge makes are great examples of terroir expression; this wine shows density across the palate and a robust backbone. The bouquet is fruit forward hinting at what follows on the palate – layers of ripe mostly black fruit dominated flavors.
The Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve is Venge Vineyards’ signature wine and is always hand harvested by the Venge family – aunts, uncles, cousins all descend on the vineyards at Saddleback Cellars to pick the grapes for this wine.
Their philosophy for the Family Reserve is to use only the best grapes possible – micro-sorting several times (removing unusual, sun damaged and bird pecked berries), employing a gentle bladder press, whole-berry fermentation and barrel aging only free run juice post fermentation. This wine is aged entirely in 100% new French oak. This wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered for maximum flavor.
The 2005 Venge Vineyards Family Reserve is dark ruby in color – the bouquet shows ripe cherry with just a hint of vanilla from the French oak. The palate is smooth from start to finish with very well integrated tannins. A slightly dusty earthy component shows on the super long finish. This is a very fruit forward showing.
Venge Vineyards also produces a late harvest Zinfandel but usually only several hundred cases a year; this wine sells out rather quickly. We are fortunate to have a 2007 bottle of this and will add our tasting notes to this review as time permits.
For several years Venge Vineyards produced their wines at the old Rossini Winery in Bell Canyon – a stone building that dates back to 1891 – the Venge’s purchased this property in the mid 1990s and completely restored this old ‘ghost’ winery which had sat vacant from prohibition until their purchase.
In mid 2008 Nils sold that property to vintner William Foley and it is now home to Merus Vineyards. After selling the Rossini property, Kirk acquired their Calistoga property, also in 2008 and along with his wife became the sole proprietors of Venge Vineyards, purchasing the brand from Nils. Moving extremely fast, the winery was completed merely two years after their purchase.
The former home of the previous owners was renovated and partly converted into an intimate tasting salon. While the salon is not open to the public, it can accommodate club members and their guests or select visits from interested parties on an appointment only basis. The winery is permitted to see only 20 guests per day so make reservations well in advance. Weather permitting guests taste at tables outside on the deck overlooking the Bone Ash Vineyard.
In Spring 2016, Kirk acquired Robert Rue Winery in neighboring Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. He renamed the property to the Croix Estate with the focus being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Tastings here are by appointment only. And Kirk also owns Marauder Wines.
Croix Estate notes coming by March 2020.
Venge wines are popular with wine enthusiasts and serious collectors – their wine club was appropriately titled “In Venge Veritas” but now is called the Wine Guild; it is limited to 1,000 members and as of our latest update to this review, is currently at capacity. We have seen their wines very selectively distributed locally over the years including at the Culinary Institute of America, Bounty Hunter and at CalMart in Calistoga.
For more information, to join their mailing list or to schedule an appointment, visit: www.vengevineyards.com
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing a major update.
Visit and photos coming soon