Venge Vineyards is owned by master winemaker Kirk Venge. In case you are familiar with his last name, perhaps it is from his father’s accomplishments. Nils is well known in the Napa Valley and beyond for producing the first 100 point rated Cabernet Sauvignon when he worked at Groth Winery from Robert Parker. Besides being the primary owner, Kirk is also Venge’s winemaker. The Venge’s have roots in the wine industry dating back to the 1950′s when Kirk’s grandfather established a wine and spirits importing company. Today the Venge family also own and operate the wonderful Saddleback Cellars and Envy. The family vineyards at Saddleback Cellars in the heart of the famed Oakville appellation produce some of the fruit for Venge’s own wines. For a throwback tasting to a more rural agricultural feel that Napa wineries used to have, visit Saddleback.
Some days during our tastings we heard the Venge name dropped at almost every winery we visited; this well-respected family has their hands in an large number of wine related projects within the Napa Valley. Kirk’s new vineyard is planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon and is situated on a stunning piece of land that is located against the edge of the jagged Palisades in the northern part of Napa Valley just south of the town of Calistoga. The property sits well back from the Silverado Trail. This is a secluded part of the Napa Valley far removed from the busy “wine strip” along Highway 29 south of St. Helena. A number of prominent vineyards are located in this area and the famed Eisele Vineyard which produces fruit for the cult Araujo Estate, runs right down to one corner of their property. Venge Vineyards has named this location the “Bone Ash Ranch” after the high volcanic material found in the mostly whitish rocky soil.
Their wines are always made in small quantities (the total production is under 4000 cases annually) and typically sell out very quickly. For a relatively small winery Venge makes a wide variety of wines. A number of these wines are vineyard designates as Kirk likes to produce small quantities of wines from select vineyards – showcasing that particular vineyards’ fruit. Believe it or not, 2007 was the first vintage that Kirk has made a Chardonnay for commercial release under the Venge label. There are two things 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 its is mainly available just for the wine club – in other words it is a difficult wine to find. The 2007 is made entirely from the Dijon Clone in the style of a French Chablis. This wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation, it sees some oak during aging but it is not imparted in the actual flavors. It is quick to win you over with its delightful nose of lemon zest, pineapple and various mineralities. It is a rich yet refreshing Chardonnay with an explosion of citrus, stone fruit (peach), and pineapple flavors. This is a prime Chardonnay to age for a few years and 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 – Petite Sirah, Syrah or Charbonno. This wine is their workhorse wine; it is the most produced wine and is made every year. It is named after the Venge’s first winery dog, Scout who today is a legend among Napa winery dogs! Sometimes specific blends hit upon that golden formula where the wine’s flavors appeal to a broad array of palates (think The Prisoner, Orin Swift). Well, Scout’s Honor also falls into this category. This wine is aged in American Oak (Missouri); the 2005 contains Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Charbonno. The nose is full of fruit including dark cherry and is intermingled with pleasant cedar aromas. The palate follows through with a dusty quality and wild blackberry and raspberry fruit flavors. This is a wine that easily pairs with everyday food and as Kirk says, it is his “Monday through Thursday wine”.
The 2006 Mulhner Steps Vineyard Syrah is a dark inky, chewy, juicy Syrah. The vineyard is located in eastern Napa County (Chiles Valley) and is named “steps” after its terracing – the soils are thin and mostly rocky, perfect conditions for growing rich concentrated fruit. Both Syrah’s that Venge makes are great examples of terroir expression; this wine shows a big backbone and mouth feel. The nose is all fruit hinting at what follows on the palate which is an explosion of black fruit flavors. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve is their 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 fruit for this wine. Their philosophy with this wine is to start with the highest quality fruit as possible, micro-sorting several times (removing unusual, sun damaged and bird pecked berries), employing a gentle bladder press and using only the highest quality free run juice and whole berries in the fermentation. Also this wine sees 100% new French Oak during its aging. The result is typically this wine can be bottled unfined and unfiltered for maximum flavor. The 2005 vintage is dark ruby in color and the nose 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. There is a slightly dusty earthy component to the super long finish. It is very fruit forward.
They also make a Late Harvest Zinfandel but only in amounts of several hundred cases and this sells out rather quickly. We are fortunate to have a 2007 bottle of this and will add our tasting notes as time permits.
Venge moves fast when it comes to their winemaking – after purchasing the property within a relatively short amount of time they had built their new winery. The winery is not open to the public but can accommodate club members and their guests on an appointment only basis. Venge wines are popular with a number of serious collectors and large format bottles are produced. Their wine club is appropriately titled “In Venge Veritas” – their wines can be found locally at the Culinary Institute in St. Helena and at Cal Mart in Calistoga among a number of other locations. Visit: www.vengevineyards.com