by DANIEL MANGIN | PHOTOS COURTESY OF Venge Vineyards
“We’re on the cusp of harvest,” enthused Kirk Venge in mid-August. “It’s going to be busy and exciting and I cannot wait for it to begin!”
The winemaker appeared remarkably calm for a guy soon to be juggling pick-date, fermentation, and other decisions for his wineries—southern Calistoga’s Venge Vineyards and Sonoma County’s Croix Estate—and the dozen elite brands that hire him as a consultant. “I’m having the time of my life,” he declared.
Loving It From The Start
Then again, the Rutherford native and St. Helena High grad does know the drill. Born the same year (1976) as the Judgment of Paris tastings that raised the Napa Valley’s profile, he’s the son of Nils Venge, famous for earning the first 100-point score critic Robert Parker bestowed on a wine from these parts. Before entering kindergarten, the younger Venge was already performing farming and cellar chores—and loving it. Counting his grandfather, Per Venge, a wine-and-spirits importer, Venge is part of his family’s third generation in the wine business.
Standing amid his 12½-acre Calistoga estate’s Bone Ash Vineyard, Venge inspected its 32-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, elated with their progress despite California’s ongoing drought and dodgy spring weather that included frost scares and hail. Two years earlier from nearly the same vantage point, Venge watched the Glass Fire burn to within 20 feet of his 9,500-square-foot skylit, solar-powered production facility. “We were getting rained on by ashes that were still on fire,” he recalled. The gravity-flow winery survived the conflagration.
Attention To Detail
The attention to quality-elevating detail begins in the vineyard. Venge’s crew makes six or seven passes through the rows each season, from pruning in March and dropping fruit in mid-summer (to focus vines’ energy on the remaining clusters) to harvesting. Although not certified organic, Bone Ash benefits from the use of compost, cover crops, and nutrient-laced “teas” applied to the soil; no herbicides or pesticides are sprayed.
View From The Porch
Guests sitting on the wide porch of the hillside former home the winemaker converted into a tasting space take in vineyard, winery, and Silverado Trail views as they sip. The lineup always includes Scout’s Honor, a predominantly old-vine Zinfandel blend, and the Silencieux Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines over-deliver for their reasonable price points.
Other wines to look for include the Stagecoach Vineyard Block I-4 Syrah from the fabled Atlas Peak vineyard; the Igneous Cabernet, a tribute to Calistoga’s volcanic soils; and the Cabernet from Bone Ash. The pièce de résistance at many tastings is the Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper Cabernet. An Oakville heritage site dating to the 19th century, Missouri Hopper is Venge’s favorite Napa Valley vineyard.
Opulent And Big
Venge described his style as “opulent and big,” his wines meant to be drinkable now but with sufficient acidity to support aging for two decades or more. Although the wines routinely garner mid-to-high-90s scores, hosts at one-on-one tastings maintain a low-key atmosphere reflecting the ebullient Venge’s unpretentious ways. Think old-Napa hospitality with a dash of new-Napa winemaking panache.