California is, of course, a place where a family-owned wine business currently in its third generation defines it as “pioneering.” Kirk Venge fondly recalls growing up in the industry in Rutherford, knowing as early as the first grade that — like his father Nils — he wanted to ride a tractor, travel around, meet interesting people, and grow up to be a winemaker one day. “My earliest memories are of being at Saddleback Vineyard in Oakville with my dad, standing around the basket press, and my job was to change the bucket out from a tiny drain pan. We probably made five or six barrels of Cabernet back then.”

Because his grandfather, Per, was a wine and spirits importer, the family story goes back to the 1950s. Like his father before him, Kirk attended UC Davis to obtain a degree in viticulture and enology. Following overseas internships and mentorships with some of the best, including Mumm Napa, Kirk Venge’s vision eventually came true.

Today, his extensive viticultural skills are highly sought after, reflected in the quality of well-balanced wines crafted at his two properties: Venge Vineyards in Calistoga and Croix Estates in Russian River Valley, where over a dozen wines are produced. A busy man in big demand, Kirk is also the consulting winemaker and collaborator for 12 different and exciting brands: Hunnicutt, Macauley, Bacio Divino, JAX, B Cellars, Trespass, Eleven Eleven, Mirror, Tres Perlas, Promise, Sky Devil, and Implicit.

“I’ve been making wine for over 20 years. And as a consulting winemaker, it’s the opportunity to make wine for other people that truly round out my continued learning and broader experiences. Winemaking is an evolution. You take what Mother Nature gives you, plus the variables you can control. And each season, you must ask yourself, ‘What can I do this year to improve upon last year?’”

Venge Vineyards wines are handcrafted from fruit grown on family-owned sites throughout Napa Valley. Due to limited production, they’re available to current subscribers during seasonal allocation periods year-round. With advance reservations, visitors in groups of six or less are welcomed for privately hosted tastings at the 12-acre Calistoga estate seven days a week.

These days, Kirk spends about six weeks a year on the road visiting key markets in places such as Florida, New York, Texas, and Michigan. He also gets to France a couple of times a year, most recently to storied destinations like Vacqueyras, Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape along the Côte du Rhône. Napa Valley Life Magazine caught up with him on the way to Talon Lodge & Spa in Sitka, Alaska for a fishing trip with his father— but that’s another story.

“I do like big wines,” said Kirk. “But most of all, I enjoy encouraging people to become confident about wine and appreciate the ease of having a good time.”

Story by: Laurie Jo Miller Farr