Envy Wines is located on the site of the old Calistoga Cellars winery a few minutes’ drive north of the town of Calistoga. In this part of the valley, physical wineries begin to thin out, as does the traffic and as a result wine tastings are often less crowded than at some of the busier wineries to the south. For a tasting experience with the fewest people, come on a winter weekday in the morning. Envy Wines purchased the site in 2006; the acquisition included existing vineyards, a winery and tasting room. The 17-acre estate is planted to 11 acres of vines; they also source fruit from various vineyards throughout parts of Napa Valley with a focus on vineyards in Calistoga. Production is generally limited to only several hundred cases for most of their wines.
From the driveway in front of the tasting room or from the patio one can see the location of Old Faithful Geyser (a local natural geyser) and if timing is such, it will be spewing its white spray high into the air. There are also excellent views of the nearby Vaca mountain range including the tallest mountain in the vicinity, Mt. St. Helena which is sometimes capped with snow on its upper reaches during the winter, although we have seen rare snow on its summit as late as mid-May.
Well-known winemaker & co-owner of Envy, Nils Venge, used to work at Groth Winery; his Cabernet Sauvignon many years ago was awarded the first 100-point Cabernet Sauvignon by the famed American wine critic Robert E. Parker. Nils also owns Saddleback Cellars in Oakville and Cougar’s Leap, located in the Red Hills of Lake County to the north, although Cougar’s Leap was for sale as of our latest update to this review in 2022. Nils son Kirk is a well-known winemaker and runs Venge Cellars (located slightly south of Calistoga) and Croix Estate in neighboring Sonoma County.
Incidentally, this is one of the more creative winery names in all of Napa Valley; Nil’s initials are NV and NV also stands for Napa Valley; one can make the argument that one can be envious of others drinking Envy wines and as of yet, there is an untapped play on words, as perhaps someday Envy Wines will create a non-vintage wine (NV).
During our first visit many years ago, we had the privilege of barrel tasting what was Envy’s first vintage of several wines including a nice Syrah. During a later visit we sampled the final version (big nose, great flavor, full bodied) but by this time it had already sold out. Fortunately, larger productions of future releases were later offered.
Visitors can either taste indoors at the long tasting counter or relax on their patio outside the tasting room. Weather permitting, the patio is often used to host small bike groups who use Envy Wines for both a tasting and a lunch stop. If it’s not too busy, visitors may request to see their barrel room and staff may thieve a barrel sample or two. A tasting includes both white and red wines from Envy’s portfolio including wines available from multiple vintages.
Napa Valley grown Chenin Blanc is in extremely short supply. The 2017 Napa County Crop Report lists merely 7 acres, although with several premium producers making and promoting wines from this variety, perhaps the acreage will slowly grow. As recently as the late 1980s Napa Valley used to grow several thousand acres of Chenin Blanc. In 2019 Envy bottled a Calistoga grown Chenin Blanc however in 2020 Envy sourced their Chenin Blanc outside of Napa Valley and bottles it as North Coast. The 2020 Envy Wines North Coast Chenin Blanc is pale gold in color; the aromatics are generous with notes of grapefruit peel, honeysuckle, citrus blossom, lemon meringue and hints of ginger and vanilla deeper into the aromatics. Its texture is creamy and supple (almost with a saline quality) across the palate with flavors of green apple, pear, quince and lime. This wine is richly flavored with an accompanying brightness of acidity – especially noticeable on the lingering finish.
Envy’s popular Bee Bee’s blend is made every year. This bottling is named in honor of Nil’s now deceased dog and is the only blend produced for Envy Wines. The 2019 Envy Wines Bee Bee’s Blend is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 10% Petite Sirah. This wine is dark ruby in color; the bouquet initially shows light green pepper notes (jalapeno), but underneath are layers of generous darker fruit aromatics including blackberry and ripe plum. The aromatics also show dried herbs, bittersweet chocolate and aromas of wintergreen/mint nuances. The mouth feel is plush across the palate. This wine lingers with juicy mouthwatering acidity and flavors of spicy plum, crushed peppercorn, dried tobacco leaf and red cherry. The tannins are dark and persistent with a medium still somewhat tight grip in their youth. The finish is savory and long.
For many years Envy focused on estate wines only – however starting with the 2012 vintage they began offing single vineyard non-estate wines. The first release of this was a 2012 Petite Sirah from Fortuna Vineyard in Oakville. Today Envy Wines produces several premium Petite Sirahs.
The 2020 Envy Wines Napa Valley Petite Sirah Oso Vineyard, formerly owned by Michael Mondavi, is a gorgeous vineyard growing on the hillsides on the east side of Howell Mountain. This vineyard sold to Plumpjack in 2022. It is wines such as this bottling that perhaps are the reason why Wine Wipes were created for cleaning people’s teeth. Just look at the cork as soon as you open the bottle. This wine is inky dark, deep purple and very opaque. Offers beautiful aromatics that are driven by floral overtones including violets, lavender and rose petals but also with darker fruits including blackberry and boysenberry. It is dark and meaty with a bloody/iron like aroma. Also offers dried herbs which reminds us of hiking in the chaparral of California’s central coast on a warm summer day. This wine is intensely flavored (blackberry and plum) but without the robust structure that sometimes this variety is known for. Lingers savory, juicy and mouthwatering with a gravelly textured and dry grip of long-lasting tannins.
The 2016 Envy Fortuna Vineyard Petite Sirah (Oakville); roll this wine on its side in the glass and try to see your fingers underneath. You won’t. It is seriously dark and savory – the bouquet offers up meaty aromatics including mushroom, along with pronounced floral tones including violets. It also shows aromas of blackberry, fig and sweet black licorice. The aromatics are generous. The palate is intensely flavored but without muscular tannins. There is a certain chewiness on the finish with dark fruit, dark spice and darker grainy yet well-integrated tannins. The texture is simply put, lovely; this wine is easily enjoyed by itself. Features a persistent flavor filled finish.
The 2017 Envy Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is dark ruby in color; the aromatics are dark with notes of sweaty baseball mitt, blackberry, dust, anis, black licorice and some darker baking spices deeper into the bouquet which show more as the wine evolves in the glass. The palate is as generous as the bouquet with flavors of ripe blackberry, boysenberry and plum. We tasted this wine 5 years post vintage date; it is very likeable at this age and probably going to continue to improve over the next decade plus. The grape and wood tannins offer a noticeable grip but are not course in their textural feel. This wine shows a brightness of fruit on the finish and lingers with a dark tobacco note.
Envy also makes a late harvest dessert style wine. The most recent vintage we tasted (2012) featured Sémillon from neighboring Lake County and Sauvignon Blanc from their own estate vineyard. They are the only Napa Valley winery we know of that cane cuts the fruit before fermenting. They utilized this technique (several Australian wineries we know of also do this) for the Lake County Sémillon – letting the fruit hang on the cut canes for three weeks before fermenting. The result is pleasing, producing a wine that is rich in flavor but not overly sweet; it is an ideal after dinner drink.
Besides Envy’s wines, a number of other wine brands are produced on site. The reason for this is that much of the production facility is setup for custom crush where parts of the winery are rented out to producers who do not own their own physical winery. One brand made here was Vine Haven which was Nil’s “pet project” off and on again for the better part of the last 20 years. Wines bottled under this label were extremely reasonably priced.
One other note of interest is the historical looking house far to the west of the tasting room was used in the movie, Nine Months starring Hugh Grant.
A brand often associated with Envy Wines is Carter Cellars because the Carter Cellar wines are made at Envy and proprietor Mark Carter is Nil’s partner in Envy Wines. These wines are vineyard designate with some of the bottling sources from the exact same rows each year. While visits and tastings of Envy Wines can sometimes be arranged at last minute, a tasting of the Carter Cellar wines generally requires an appointment in advance. Carter Cellars focuses on premium Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a Merlot. Their first vintage was in 1998 and their wines have received excellent ratings over the years. Please reference our separate review of Carter Cellars on this website; please see that review for more detailed information about their history and wines as well as photography from our visit.
Mark also runs the romantic Carter House Inn in Eureka; the original Carter House is a beautiful Victorian mansion that he rebuilt in the early 1980’s based on plans which detailed the original Carter House located in San Francisco (destroyed by the great 1906 earthquake and fire).
The well received Restaurant 301 is located at the Carter House. This restaurant has won the much-coveted Wine Spectator Grand award for a number of years. While purchasing wines for this restaurant Mark was introduced to a number of Napa Valley’s top labels, vineyard sites and personalities during the 1980s and into the 1990s. One of those vintners he met and befriended was Nils Venge. Nils made Carter Cellars first vintage in 1998 but is no longer the winemaker for Carter Cellars.
The total production of Envy Wines every year is usually between 2,000 and 2,500 cases. For more information, to book an appointment to taste the wines and or to join the Envy wine club (with discounts on the wines offered for members), visit: www.envywines.com