As sumptuous, rich, and densely concentrated as Napa Valley reds get, thanks to a gorgeous 2014 vintage
Kirk Venge knew he was going to make wine like his Dad from the age of 4. Kirk’s father, Nils Venge, crafted the 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the first American wine to earn 100 points from Robert Parker. The legendary pioneer of California viticulture brought his son Kirk along with him from an early age. Kirk rode shotgun on the tractor over the Oakville Estate vineyard, hauled hoses across the cellar floor, basket-pressed Cabernet from Nils’ Saddleback Vineyard, and worked late into the night on barrel racking, controlling the pump switch. Like Mozart’s father showing off his child prodigy, the elder Venge would impress friends by having Kirk identify grape varietals with a single sniff from the glass.
Kirk eventually studied viticulture at UC Davis and apprenticed with some of the best in the business. But he always valued his father’s guidance the most. Kirk guided the Yountville winery Beau Vigne in racking up 11 scores in Robert Parker’s rarified 96-98+ point range. And in 2013, Kirk matched his old man’s landmark accomplishment, pulling down a perfect 100-point score from Parker for his Beau Vigne Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
As Kirk’s renown grew — Food & Wine Magazine named him one of the top 20 young winemakers in the world — he was wooed by a small operation, Jax Vineyards, in the northern part of the Calistoga AVA at the foot of St. Helena. Kirk leapt at the chance to work with Jax’s 1.9 tons of fruit per acre drawn off 12 acres of immaculately dry-farmed vines planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in alluvial soil.
Kirk knows the Calistoga appellation well; it’s where he broke ground for his own winery, Venge Vineyards, in 2010. It’s not hard to see why — Calistoga boasts a litany of superlatives that make winemakers giddy. It has the most extreme diurnal temperature shift in all of Napa Valley, often seeing temperature changes of upwards of 50 degrees between night and day, making for wines of incredible phenolic ripeness. It has the highest percentage of volcanic soil of any Napa Valley AVA, lending magnificent concentration. Its vineyards are the steepest in Napa and sit on the most geologically uniform bedrock. And the list goes on.
In 2014, these factors combined with picture-perfect weather to make for a series of blockbuster, high-scoring releases. A warm, dry winter and spring led to early bud break. Flowering went off without a hitch under ideal conditions. While the sun shined brightly during the summer months, temperatures remained mild, making for a large, uniform set of small-berry clusters.
Just as vines began to show the first signs of hydric stress in September, several well-timed showers refreshed the Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The call to harvest came early. Sugars were sky-high at harvest, the equivalent of 2012, while acids were firm and tannins nearly as sturdy as the fabulously age-worthy 2013s.
Napa Valley’s “exceptional” 2014 vintage earned praise from Antonio Galloni. It left James Suckling searching for adjectives like “extremely attractive” and “bright and sophisticated.” Suckling pointed out that on the whole, the 2014s were more expressive of terroir and microclimate rather than previous years. Kirk Venge’s 2014 Jax Cab is as eloquent a distillation of the wildly sumptuous Calistoga AVA as you’ll find anywhere.
Deep purple to the rim, with blue and black berried fruit, cherry liquer, and lilacs. Very rich on the attack, mouth-coating, with a ripe-fruited core of boisenberry, blackberry and black currant, buttressed by fine-grained, sweet tannin and lively acidity. Difficult not to drink now, but for those who enjoy a little age on their Napa Cabs, you’ll be rewarded to cellar for the next decade and a half, as Parker suggests.
Kirk’s absolutely stunning Cab off these valley floor vines earned a glowing 93-point review from Parker. “This is super and a great value,” Parker wrote, and we won’t argue. He calls it an “intriguing Napa value” and that’s an understatement.
As sumptuous, rich, and densely concentrated as Napa Valley reds get, thanks to a gorgeous 2014 vintage, the astonishing natural advantages of the Calistoga AVA, and the long and rigorous education of Kirk Venge. $44.99 from WineAccess today. A magical release, not to be missed. Shipping included on 4.
Wine was full bodied with great finish, dark fruit with that dust lingering on your palate
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