Venge Vineyards is a small production winery featuring many 90+ point wines and a nice quiet atmosphere for tasting by appointment only.
Venge sits on 25 acres off the Silverado Trail about 1-1/2 miles south of Calistoga. The tasting room, located behind the production facility, is a quaint little cottage with a cozy sitting area and a large porch overlooking the 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines known as the Bone Ash Vineyard.
It was a hot day at Venge, yet the quiet porch was very comfortable. Since the winery only allows a limited amount of visitors per day, it feels more like a private tasting. Brad, our gracious and animated host, met us at the door and took us to the open patio where we learned a little Venge Vineyards history as we enjoyed a splash of the 2015 Spettro Proprietary White Blend.
Nils Venge, founder, began studying viticulture in the 1960’s at UC Davis. In 1976, he bought a 17- acre parcel in Oakville which was the beginning of the Venge Vineyards legacy. Kirk Venge, the current wine maker and Nils’ son, took over full ownership of Venge in 2008 putting his spin on the wines and consistently releasing 90+ point wines in very limited quantities. Venge is also associated with the Marauder and Croix Estate brands.
Harvest is in full swing so it’s always fun visiting a production facility to see the inner makings of a wine. As we were tasting, nine tons of custom crush grapes were being processed for fermentation. Custom crush refers to fruit that is processed and stored for a person or winery that has no production facility. A winery will do this to earn extra income.
As the grapes sit in the bins waiting, dry ice is added to inhibit the fermentation process until they go to tank or barrel. Kirk does many custom crushes for wineries like Macauley, Trespass and Honeycutt to name a few.
As we returned to the patio, Brad explained more about the wine, ‘Spettro’ meaning Spectrum in Italian. Spettro is a white blend with the primary varietal being Vermentino. Vermentino is a varietal from Sardinia, which is reminiscent of sauvignon blanc but lacks the grapefruit and grassiness and instead has a key lime or citrus cheesecake quality about it.
Spettro still had a brightness and crispness with a rounder, creamier feel. Adding Chardonnay and Viognier brings out tropical notes and stone fruit, a lot of honeysuckle, peach and lemon drop. It was lovely surprise on a hot Calistoga afternoon. Now it was time to try some reds.
Scout’s Honor is Venge’s most popular and sought after wine. Scout was Nils’ golden retriever who was rescued in 1989 and spent a lot of time with him and Kirk in the vineyards. In 1996 Scout passed away. As a tribute, Nils made 100 cases of Scout’s Honor from Zinfandel he had purchased. He threw a big party, gave the wine away and it was so well received that after 20 years, Venge is still making Scout’s Honor.
The 2014 Scout’s Honor Proprietary Red had lots of tart cherry, plum and licorice, spice on the nose and a nice jammy quality. It is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Syrah and Charbono. Charbono is a grape not widely found in Napa Valley, it adds added color, weight and acidity to the blend. Scout’s Honor is an everyday drinking wine, going well with pizza, barbecue, pulled pork or chinese. It can, but doesn’t need to be aged. At a $55 price point, no wonder it sells out quickly.
The 2014 Scout’s Honor has a production of 1094 cases out of the 8500 estimated cases total that were made at Venge Vineyards. The 2014 Silencieux is the largest with 1790 cases and the remaining wines are very small productions at 300-500 cases each.
We moved on to the small production 2014 Oakville Estate Vineyard Merlot (320 cases) which had aromas of fresh tobacco, cedar and earthiness combined with cherry, plum and vanilla. The fruit is from the Saddleback Vineyard in Oakville, Nils Venge’s home. It has well balanced tannins with a nice harmony of oak and fruit. It finishes with vanilla, lavender and a hint of pipe tobacco. You could either drink now or cellar this merlot, I prefer older merlots so I would love to try this wine in 10-15 years, I think it would be even more spectacular.
Moving on to Syrah, we tasted the 2014 Stagecoach Vineyard Block I-4 Syrah sourced from the Krupp family in the Atlas Peak AVA. On Pritchard Hill lies this vineyard with hot days, cold nights, and lots of sun exposure as well as rocky soil, creating berries that are small, complex and very intense.
This Syrah, dark blackberry in color, had hints of blueberry, pepper, smoke, licorice and meatiness. Slight tannins and a bold, fleshy finish make this a perfect wine for aging. Only 375 cases were made of this Syrah, and priced at $58, this wine won’t be around for long.
Last but certainly not least was the 2014 Silencieux Cabernet Sauvignon, pearl-like tannins and velvety finish made this cabernet my favorite of the bunch. Sourced from six different vineyards (Calistoga, Oakville and Soda Canyon), this is the most approachable of the three cabernets made by Venge, Bone Ash Vineyard and Family Reserve being the other two.
Silencieux is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Merlot. It’s priced at $55 which is a steal for this wine that can rival $100 Cabernets. Coffee, anise and blackberry on the nose followed by bold fruit up front and soft yet lingering finish, this cab can hardly disappoint the most finicky wine lover.
Our tasting wouldn’t have been half as fun if it wasn’t for Brad and Al. If you’re interested in small production wines for your collection or just want to get out and try something special in a nice tranquil setting, visit Venge Vineyards.
Enjoy… Wine Ho