Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hess Collection Winery

I've been a fan of Hess Collection Winery for many years.  I first visited the winery when it was Mount La Salle Winery run by the Christian Brothers (1930-1986) but was very pleased when Hess took over bringing better quality wines and a great art collection. The historic stone wine building was built in 1903 from rock that came from the hillside behind the winery. The grounds are lovely and the service for us has always been very helpful, down to earth and friendly. Being a local Napan, Hess is one of the hand full of wineries I always bring out of town visitors.  Hess has a wide range of wines, always quite pleasant and affordable and sometimes really exceptional.  Of the thirteen wines offered for tasting, all but two of them are $30 or less, something that is increasingly unusual for Napa Valley wines. We use to be invited to the annual Christmas parties at Hess and can testify that their chef is outstanding.  Hess is open to the public without appointment but please see the times, dates, etc. below.  Much thanks to our host Andrew, who seems to have a natural gift for making people feel welcome and for being very down to earth and helpful.

Hess Collection Winery ivy covered building

Hess is one of Napa Valley's wineries that is well worth visiting even if you don't drink wine.  They have a small but world class art collection that is open to the public free of charge.  Yes, it is modern art.  No old masters.  But it is one of the highest quality modern art collections you will ever visit and some of it changes when new pieces are obtained. Three Studies of Lucian Freud, a 1969 triptych painting by the British artist Francis Bacon, sold on November 12, 2013 at a Christie’s auction in New York City for $142,405,000. (Yes over 142 million dollars. I did not add too many digits.) The Hess collection includes six of Bacon's works, including a few of his finest. Some of the art at Hess might make you wonder, but most of it is very accessible to anyone who is even mildly appreciative of modern art.  I imagine even Margaret Thatcher would have found something of interest even though she did not like Francis Bacon, who is surely one of the great artists of all time. An online, recorded or guided tour of the art collection adds considerably to one's enjoyment.  I have had a half dozen tours of the Hess art collection and learn something new every time.  Photography is allowed for most of the art works, but flashes are not allowed.  (That is why some of my art photos are not very sharp since I did not have a tripod and could not use a flash.) In 1981 ARTnews ranked the Hess art collection as one of the top 200 art collections in the world!  About a quarter of the collection is housed at the winery in Napa.  An online audio video tour may be viewed here: Hess Collection Winery Art Tour


Francis Bacon work
The Hess Collection Winery opened to the public in 1989 after being leased in 1986 from Christian Brothers by the Swiss born, Donald Hess, who became interested in winegrowing in the mid 1970's.  In 1978 he purchased his first vineyards and by 1982 he owned 900 acres of vines up on Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, all of which are sustainably farmed.  In 2008 Hess was one of the first ten wineries to be certified by the Napa Green Winery program and in 2010 they were among the first to be certified through the California sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.  Donald Hess retired in 2011 at the age of 75 but still remains chairman of the board for his wineries and other enterprises.  Hess Family History 


Great hospitality at Hess
Our tasting began with the Hess 2012 Artezin Verdelho at $22.  It is sold exclusively at the winery. Verdelho is a white  wine grape from Portugal, not to be confused with the Portuguese grapes Verdelho Tinto or Verdelho Feij√£o nor with the Spanish white wine grape that is spelled Verdeho without an "l".  Verdelho is especially common on the island of Madiera but is rarely offered at Napa Valley wineries.  Hess obtained the grapes from Amador County. A pale straw in color, the wine had a great aroma of melon and green apple with some floral notes.  It is dry and refreshing with melon, green apple, lemon, and tropical fruits on the palate followed by a medium plus length finish.  Very pleasant to drink and quite interesting.

Hess gold fish pond

The second pour was the Hess 2012 Small Block Albarino at $28.  This also is available only at the winery. Abarino is a popular Spanish white wine grape that is known as Alvarinho in Portugal.  It is one of my favorite white wines, but it is not found frequently at Napa Valley wineries.  Albarinos almost always have a pronounced and interesting aroma and this one is no exception.  It was fairly dry with lively acid and mostly citrus and white peach with floral notes and a hint of minerality.  Refreshing and very nice.


Hess outdoor patio

Third up was the Hess 2011 Artezin Mendocino Zinfandel at $18.  This has 10% Petite Sirah added.  It had a very nice aroma of red cherry and raspberry with some spice followed by a palate of fresh red fruit with a hint of black pepper.  The tannins are soft in this lighter style Zin and it is very well balanced, refreshing and easy to drink. You might want to think of it as leaning more toward the Pinot Noir spectrum than the Cabernet Sauvignon of red wines, although that is a simplistic comparison. More to the point, it is not one of those big, bold, tannic, rather rustic, high octane Zins that requires a bbq to be appreciated.  It is drinkable now and need not be paired with food to be enjoyed, although I think it would pair well with many different foods. This is a Zin to appeal to many tastes at a price that is very reasonable. Both of us really liked it.

Hess window into barrel room

I love Petite Sirahs and never pass on tasting one so we had to try the Hess 2011 Artezin Mendocino Petite Sirah at $25.  It had 6% Zinfandel added.  This one leans more toward fresh fruit than being one of those bold, tannic, rustic Petite Sirahs.  I got a light aroma of red cherry.  On the palate it was lighter bodied than many Petite Sirahs, with relatively soft but decent tannins along with blackberry, black pepper and spices.  Finish was medium length.  Pleasant and reasonably priced.

Hess native plant garden

The Hess 2011 Artezan Napa Valley Charbono at $30 was up next.  Charbono is a French varietal, also called Douce Noir or Charbonneau, that is very rarely found in Napa Valley.  In fact, it is not found very often in France anymore either but is the second most common varietal grown in Argentina (Malbec is first, of course.)  The only other Napa Valley winery where I have encountered a Charbono is at Summers in Calistoga.  According to the Hess vineyard notes, these grapes are from a Charbono vineyard that was planted back in 1904 and was used by Inglenook but is now farmed sustainably by Gary and Peter Heitz.  It is "one of Napa's heirloom virus-free sites."  This one has 1% Zinfandel added and is available only at the winery.  It was very dark in color, almost black with a good aroma of blackberry and black currant.  Charbonos tend to be full bodied wines and this is no exception.  On the palate I got black cherry, black currant and chocolate, all very well balanced, chewy and smooth.  For being such a big, dense wine it is actually quite approachable, although if paired with food you would need to make sure it does not overwhelm the food.  I happen to like Charbonos and really liked this one.  Highly recommended.

Hess art by Anselm Kiefer

I could never visit Hess without tasting the current release of their famous Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Hess Collection 2010 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $55 or $44 to wine club members.  (The do have an even more premium Hess Mount Veeder "The Lion" Cabernet Sauvignon that sells for $125 but I have never tasted it.  I'd happily do a long and thorough review of either wine if I happened to encounter a bottle.)  This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It had a moderate nose of cherry with vanilla, cedar and spices.  On the palate I got black cherry, toast, vanilla, cedar and forest floor, with well integrated tannins, all well balanced, followed by a fairly long finish.  Although it was definately a mountain Cab, it was more approachable than many.  With many mountain Cabs that are this young, I immediately start estimating how many years of cellaring it will take to make it more accessible or what I'd have to pair it with to tame the tannins.  This is a mountain Cab you can either drink now or lay away in your cellar for further development.  It is not as big and powerful as I remember some of the Hess Mount Veeder Cabs.  As with many very high quality mountain Cabs, however, this one spoke of terroir and uniqueness.  If I tasted this blind I would immediately think something like this, "Hmm, I wonder where this is from. Napa Valley but from the mountains, not the floor. Unique and single vineyard. Not Spring Mountain but probably Mayacamas."  This Cab speaks of a unique place and terroir.  And it is very accessible now. The Hess 2010 Mount Veeder is an outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon and is highly recommended. 


Hess window view

We were about to leave but our hosts wanted us to try the Hess 2010 Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that is made from Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grapes but sells for only $30.  They wanted us to know that Hess offers alternatives to big mountain Cabs.  This Cab is much softer than the Mount Veeder with tamed tannins and acid.  I got a light nose of red cherry and vanilla with mostly blackberry and black currant on the palate with soft, round tannins. It was very easy to drink and I imagine some people who like lighter style cabs might even prefer this one.  But for me it was not nearly as interesting or complex as the Mount Veeder.  It was pleasant but not very unique or distinctive.  It is a nice Cab for the price, though, and you should drink it now because I don't think it will improve with cellaring.


Hess garden arch

Hess Collection Winery should be very high on the list of Napa Valley wineries to visit.  They have some unusual and interesting varietals that are priced very competitively compared to other Napa Valley wineries.  They make some outstanding mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder.  Service for us has always been very friendly, hospitable and down to earth.  They have a world class art collection that is worth a trip in itself if you love art. And if you ever get invited to one of their dinners or food events, you will be in for a special treat.

Hess entry sign


4411 Redwood Rd
Napa, CA 94558
Phone: 707-255-1144 
Date of visit: November 13, 2013

Hess offers a number of tour and tasting options, some paired with food.  Please see their web page for current offerings. Current offerings.

The standard tasting includes the choice of four tastings from an option of 13 wines for $15.  This includes some less common wines such as Albarino, Pinot Gris, Verdelho, Carignan, Mourvedre and Charbono as well as their famous Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals found more frequently in Napa Valley

Hess is located in northwest Napa on a winding road that heads up toward Mount Veeder.  It is a lovely scenic drive and not that far but you probably want directions first unless you have a good GPS unit. You can obtain directions to the winery here: Directions

From the Hess webpage 11/13/13. Please call or check out their webpage for any changes: Hess experiences, tastings and tours.
"Please Note: the visitors center, gallery and tasting room will be closed from January 6-17, 2014 and reopening on Saturday January 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM. We apologize for any inconvenience."
"Visitor's Center Hours
Tasting Room: 10:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Art Museum: 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Winery & Vineyard Tours: 10:30 AM - 3:30 PM"

Hess reception desk

Johanna 2 by Frantz Gertsch

The Crowd by Magdalena Abakanowicz






Hess window view



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