On your next trip to Napa Valley, be sure to work into your schedule a visit to Saddleback Cellars in Oakville- a relatively modest, old school anomaly among some of the most prized real estate in the entire world. In a valley where opulence has become commonplace, Saddleback offers a reality check – a sort of reset button to Napa’s earlier times: The bar in the barrel room, and a shady picnic table beside the vineyards, and a relaxed vibe. The narrow old rustic lane into the winery property is ironically named Money Road.
The proprietor here is a true hall of famer, Napa Valley living legend, Nils Venge (pronounced Veng-ge), who is memorialized as the first American Winemaker to achieve a 100 point score. (His achievement being for the 1985 Cabernet he made for his nearby neighbor Groth Winery.) The Saddleback tasting room is in the cellar among the barrels and don’t be a bit surprised if you bump into Nils who is still involved in day to day operations and tastings.
Saddleback makes primarily Cabernet Sauvignons from the family’s estate vineyards but a sought-after secret weapon in the Saddleback arsenal is a Zinfandel from the iconic Frediani Vineyard in Calistoga. Every Zin-maker would want to get their hands on some of the Frediani’s prized old vine grapes but Nils and son Kirk Venge’s winery – Venge – are longtime clients. Nils applies the same deft touch and bold approach to his Zin as he does his Cabs. Limited in production, this Zinfandel has a fanatical following among Saddleback’s customer list and sells out every vintage, so when you make your appointment ahead of time, it would be a good idea to ask first if the Frediani Zinfandel is available!