Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Hess Collection – Napa, California

Wine, fine dining, music and art are perfect compliments to a trip to the wine country. While the genre of music and style of art may differ, it is not uncommon to find food and wine pairings, live music and various types of art on display at wineries. Wineries such as Turnbull, Markham and Mumm have photography galleries while others such as Clos Pegase have modern paintings, statues and abstract art. So, if you want more than just a venue that serves wine these are great destinations. The Hess Collection is another winery that marries art and wine and they provide free public access to Donald Hess’ extensive private collection at the contemporary Art Museum. 
History and Founder

The historic stone winery that is home to The Hess Collection was originally constructed by Colonel Theodore Gier in 1903. It is not uncommon to hear about historic Napa Valley estates that either closed due to Prohibition or remained opened because they sold sacramental wine to the church. What we don’t hear much about is the history of those who resisted the Prohibition and suffered the consequences.

Colonel Gier was born in Hanover, Germany in 1860. About 20 years later he immigrated to the U.S.A. and eventually pursued the wine business, purchasing vineyards in Alameda County, Livermore, and the Napa Valley. After coming to America he maintained strong ties with Germany, and even received a medal from Kaiser Wilhelm. Later he was arrested during World War I for singing patriotic German songs about our German enemy.

In 1929 Colonel Gier’s winery was closed because he continued to sell wine and was subsequently arrested and heavy fines were imposed which brought his business to an end. He then sold the winery to the Christian Brothers who produced Mont La Salle wines at the winery.

In 1966 Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess’ began collecting art. Today his extensive collection comprises 1,000+ works of art of 65 international living artists of whose works he has followed throughout their careers.

In 1978 Donald purchased vineyards on Mount Veeder and then accumulated additional property bringing the total to 900 acres in 1982.  Then in 1986 he leased the winery from the Christian Brothers. The courtyard garden at the entrance to the visitor center, designed by landscape architect Peter Walker, is bordered by a reflecting pool that carries on the tradition of Gier’s lily pads, with stone sourced from the original quarry. The winery opened to the public in 1989.

Today Donald Hess owns eight wineries in four countries including the U.S., Argentina, Australia, and South Africa. His four U.S. wineries - Artezin, the Hess Collection, Mac Phail Wines, and Sequana - are in northern California. His art collection is displayed at his four museums and four of his wineries including the Hess Collection winery, one in Argentina, one in South Africa and one at his winery in Australia.

The Vineyards and the Wines

The Hess Collection has four vineyards totaling 635 acres on which grow 14 different grape varietals. Two of the vineyards are on Mt. Veeder near the winery. The vineyards are in a variety of microclimates at altitudes ranging from 50 to 2,000 feet above sea level.

The Hess Collection Winery is best known for its flagship Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, and they also produce single vineyard designated wines from two additional Napa Valley estates. At the tasting room they serve nine wines that are distributed as well as eight wines that are only available at the tasting room. While visiting I chose to mostly focus on the “winery exclusive” wines some of which were the following wines:

The first wine was the 2012 Hess Small Block Pinot Gris. Visually this wine is near water-white and on the nose it has subtle hints of melon, pineapple, grapefruit peel and white flowers. On the palate it has very intense flavors of orange zest, lemon, grapefruit, and dried apricots. It is light in body with crisp medium+ acidity and a prolonged finish. This wine is not distributed and only available at the winery and it sells for $28 per bottle.

The second pour was the 2010 Artezin Mourvedre, Evangelho Vineyard This wine is clear dark ruby red with pronounced aromas of dusty wild blackberries, dried plums, dried roses, dates and a hint of spice. On the palate it is fruit forward with well refined medium+ tannins, it is full-bodied with ample acidity but supple on the mid palate and additional notes of vanilla and dark cherries on a medium+ length finish. This wine is not distributed and only available at the winery. This wine sells for $32 per bottle.

The third wine was the 2009 Artezin Charbono, Napa Valley. A blend of 96% Charbono  and 4% Petit Sirah. There isn’t very much Charbono being grown anywhere in California, let alone the Napa Valley. Charbono is also known as Douce Noir, Bonarda, and Corbeau. It is a red French wine grape variety that has been historically grown in the Savoie wine region of eastern France but today is more widely planted in Argentina where it is second only to Malbec. This wine is inky black at the core and violet at the rim. The nose on this wine is very tight so it takes a while for it to open up and display any aromas. But after much swirling I picked up subtle aromas of black currants, figs and dusty wild blackberries. On the palate it is very soft with grainy tannins, a medium body, medium acidity and a medium length finish. This wine is not distributed and only available at the winery and it sells for $30 per bottle.

The fourth wine was the 2010 Petite Sirah, Allomi Vineyard. This wine is inky black at the core to dark purple at the rim with tears that stain the glass. On the nose the aromas are very dense and concentrated consisting of dusty blackberries, dried black fruits, freshly cracked black pepper, bramble bush, and a hint of herbs and spice. On the palate it has more intense fruit and more black pepper that doesn’t interfere or overwhelm the fruit. This wine is not distributed and only available at the winery and it sells for $36 per bottle.

The final wine was the 2008 “The Lion” – a blend of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec.  This wine is dark black at the core to ruby at the rim. On the nose it delivers seductive aromas of black currants, dark cherries, blackberries, black licorice, damp earth and vanilla. On the palate it explodes on entry with rich dark chocolate and juicy fruit. It is full bodied with silky tannins, mouthwatering acidity and it has a very long finish with more vanilla on the return. This is an absolutely delicious wine sells which for $125 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:

The Hess Collection
4411 Redwood Road
Napa, CA 94558
Phone: 1-707- 255-1144

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