Nils Venge is universally regarded as one of the foremost pioneers of the Napa Valley wine industry. Born to Danish immigrants, Venge’s exposure to wine came at an early age: his parents operated a wine and liquor import and distribution company in Southern California.  Venge continued his pursuit of wine at the University of California in Davis where he earned a BS in Viticulture in 1967.

Following a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Navy Reservist, Venge moved to the Napa Valley to pursue his interest in winemaking.  In the subsequent years, Venge worked for the notable wineries Charles Krug, Sterling, Villa Mount Eden and Groth.  During his tenure at Groth, Venge became the first American winemaker to receive a perfect 100 point rating from Wine Critic Robert Parker Jr.  The 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon catapulted Venge to a venerated position in the California wine industry.

Nils Venge continues to produce outstanding wines at his Oakville facility, Saddleback Cellars.


Rustic and modest, Saddleback Cellars takes its name from Saddleback Mountain located in Orange County, California where Nils was born and raised. Established in 1976, the first vintage was released in 1982 and we became a bonded winery one year later. The winery is owned and operated by Nils Venge and his family. There are 17 acres of prime Oakville fruit on property. Saddleback Cellars is proud of its diminutive stature and being one of the ’boutique’ wineries in the Napa Valley.

Lady Liberty welcomed the Venge’s into the New York harbor in 1942. The Danish family included Nils’ grandparents and his father, Per. The patriarch, Knud, was asked by his company in Denmark, George Jensen, to oversee the New York City outlets. The new world was fast paced and exciting, and particularly intrigued Per who decided to attend New York City College and studied business administration. When Knud retired from the silver jewelry business, the Venge’s looked westward, and Southern California is where they headed.

The family bought a home in the Hollywood Hills where Per was able to indulge in his love of horses. He worked at Lockheed as an efficiency expert during World War II and was a member of the Sheriff’s Posse of Los Angeles County. One day, on horseback, Per spotted Gudren Ingwersen, also a member of the Posse. When their eyes met, he knew he was looking at the woman he’d love to marry. Soon after, Nils and his twin sister Karen were born to the clan.

After the War, Per started a wine, beer and spirits distributorship in City of Industry which specialized in Danish products. Nils spent his summers working for his father while attending San Marino High School. It was intended that Nils would take over the family venture, and both he and his father agreed that they really needed to know more about the essence of wine. After his high school graduation, Nils enrolled at the University of California at Davis where he went on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Viticulture with a minor in Enology in 1967. When he returned to Southern California, Nils enrolled at L.A. State College as a graduate student working on a degree in International Business Law. At the same time, Nils signed up as a Navy Reservist whereby he fulfilled his obligation to Uncle Sam by serving a tour of duty in Danang, Vietnam.

When he returned in 1970, Nils decided that what he really wanted to do was put his degree to work in the Napa Valley and not take over the family business. His first stop was the Charles Krug Winery where he was a vineyard supervisor in charge of planting operations. In 1972, he moved over to Sterling Vineyards where he was the co-vineyard manager in charge of their 400 acres. 1973 was his first move into the winemaking end of the business at Villa Mount Eden where he was the inception winemaker and general manager. After putting Villa Mount Eden on the map with their 1974 and 1978 Cabernet Sauvignons, Nils moved ever westward in Oakville as a minority partner with Dennis Groth in 1982 and formed Groth Vineyards and Winery where he was, again, winemaker and general manager. His expertise as a winemaker became known worldwide when Robert Parker, Jr. gave his Groth Vineyards and Winery 1985 Reserve Cabernet a perfect score of ‘100’.

In 1976, Nils and his father-in-law, Robert Call, purchased the property now known as Saddleback Cellars, named after Saddleback Mountain top. After growing and selling the grapes from the property for a few years, Nils decided to make his own wine with the Saddleback label. 1982 was the first vintage of Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and the winery was bonded in 1983. Operating Saddleback on weekends, after work and during vacations from his more formal winemaking duties at Groth kept Nils a very busy man, just the way he likes it! After parting company with Groth Vineyards and Winery in January of 1993, Nils branched out and became a consulting winemaker in addition to running Saddleback Cellars.

Nils Venge has earned a place in the halls of lore and tradition in the Napa Valley, where he is considered to have the biggest hands and one of the best winemaking instincts. He continues to receive awards and high scores from reputable wine journals at his family winery, Saddleback Cellars, located in Oakville, California.

Nils Venge: