- Rating: 94 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $45 or Free with 2-bottle purchase
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Calistoga, CA 94515
Nils Venge is a household name in the Napa Valley. He’s consulted for wineries such as Groth, Saddleback, Carter Cellars, and was even the first American winemaker to receive a 100pt score for a wine (earning it for his 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Parker). It turns out that the winemaking talent runs in the family, no doubt also the hard work and perseverance required to be a successful winemaker. Venge Vineyards is run by Nil’s son, Kirk. And while Kirk doesn’t quite have the same resume and reputation that his father does, I have no doubt that he will garner it in the future. The quality of the wines in the tasting communicate that quite clearly. So consider yourself lucky that you can enjoy his wines at affordable prices until that happens!
Venge Vineyards doesn’t have the advertising or fame of many other vineyards in Napa. With their current alcohol license (they can only host a maxium of 20 people per day), I think that is fine. In fact, I’m sure it helps them build deeper relationships with consumers since they do not have the production level or resources to sustain a large, rotating membership pool. To get an tasting appointment with them, I had to submit a request and then take a phone call with one of their front-office folks to explain how I heard about them and where my interest came from. Although the logistics were a little tougher than normal, it was well worth the effort. I am used to paying much more for the quality of the wines and exclusivity of the experience.
When navigating to the winery, rely on Google Maps to make the correct turn (even if the signage is absent/unclear) and just trust the one-lane road all the way back to the winery. You’ll get to drive past the entire vineyard in front of the winery along the way. When you arrive, you may see one other group wrapping up their tasting, but other than yourself and the wine ambassador on duty that day, you’ll have the place to yourself. Once you get settled outside, prepare to try 5 really good wines. And for purchasing as little as $70-$80 worth of wine (2 bottles), you’ll get your $45 tasting fee waived. It’s a “can’t lose” situation here. So just enjoy yourselves to the max.
When people ask me what type of wine they should expect from Venge, I think it boils down to a few points for me. It’s affordable (which is always important); the quality is not off-the-charts, but very solid; the blends are different and interesting; the grapes are sourced from different areas, giving you different styles of wine in each bottle; and the red wines have a prettiness and are made to be consumed immediately, though you can age them if you want to. This is similar to the style that Mark Beringer that ushered in at Beringer as well. I don’t know if this is the beginning of a trend among winemakers, but I personally approve and think that it will engage younger drinkers that don’t/can’t sustain a cellar to grab a perfectly aged bottle from each evening.
Can I elaborate on the actual wines you can expect to taste at the winery? Of course I can!
- 2018 Jewell Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($35)
- Fermented predominantly in stainless steel, but also some in concrete egg to round out the acidity a bit and add a bit of minerality. It is still searing high, even when served warm and interacts with the citrus flavors well. This is not your traditional Napa Valley ripe Sauvignon Blanc with melon/stonefruit flavors. This wine indexes closer to the varietal qualities of the grape like New Zealand with its lemon, lime, and mineral character. Very good.
- 2017 Scout’s Honor (Red Blend) ($39)
- A blend of Zinfandel, Charbono, Syrah, and Petite Sirah which is a highly unusual blend - I can’t think of another like it in the Napa Valley. Deep red baked fruit with black pepper and baking spices on the nose. Although it’s deep, it’s also bright which is very interesting. Very light body, medium sweet tannins, with ripe, light, juicy red fruit on the palate with cinnamon, other baking spices, and hints of earth. This is white-meat red wine and for those that like sweet Pinots. This is their highest production wine and also the most likely to appear in stores and restaurant menus, so keep an eye out.
- 2017 Signal Fire Vineyard Zinfandel ($45)
- The white and black pepper are on full display on the nose with bright red fruit. Medium body, medium(+) acid, medium ripe tannin, with flavors of red plum, cooked cherry, vanilla, and sweet baking spices. The wine has a long finish and leaves you with a little white spice. A very nice rendition of Zinfandel that is both enjoyable and interesting.
- 2016 Silencieux Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
- Pronounced nose of raspberry, strawberry, and blueberry jam with integrated alcohol that provides a minty note. Very soft body with high, smooth tannin that needs a few more years for integration. The body emulates the nose but the alcohol bites a bit with the baking spices on the finish. The alcohol actually reaches the point where it burns the mouth a bit. So decant this wine and serve it during cooler weather to maximize enjoyment.
- 2016 Missouri Hopper Cabernet Sauvignon ($125)
- Cabernet from one of the famed Beckstoffer sites. There is a brightness with crushed candied cherry that eclipses the Silencieux. The aromas and flavors are a bit deeper as well. Again, the flavors are intense but balanced and feel lighter on the palate. There is some tertiary complexity that is just starting to emerge and blend into the profile, but it’s too young to judge how it’ll integrate and play into the big picture. You can taste the quality of the grapes though which is what you want in the best wines. I don’t think this wine scored any major accolades, but wow it was really good to drink…
I like to support smaller wineries like Venge Vineyards that thrive on foot-traffic and inquisitive visitors to the Napa Valley since I hope to have one myself one day and because they introduce different styles, flavors, and techniques that continue to add diversity to the wine world. If the wines seem like they match your palate, I highly recommend that you fill out the form on the winery’s website and plan a trip there. It’s a low risk, high reward chance to take. So do it!!
Rating: 94 out of 100