By Celia Strong
We’ve talked about blends many times before. How more than one grape variety in a wine gives us more flavors and textures when we drink it. I’m guessing that since we all keep drinking them, we all pretty much agree that more flavors and more textures are good things. So, this week, why not another blend? And, off we go to visit California for our new wine.
The Hess Collection Winery is it. A truly distinguished Napa Valley company. Their years of operation, three decades, tell a story of commitment to quality and innovation. If we take a look at the long list of “firsts” in their thirty years, we can see what makes our Hess wine for this week as special as it is.
In the second half of the 19th century (1876-1884), the first pioneers to settle in the Mount Veeder area of Napa were of German descent. H. Hudermann settled on the property that is now the site for Hess. Hudermann established his “Sprout Farm,” a botanical garden resort. Along with all the other plants, he planted a twelve acre vineyard. And, he built a small stone winery.
From 1884-1900, Rudolph Jordan owned the property. Now the “Lotus Farm,” Jordan made significant contributions to the winemaking techniques used for the wines. He was the first to use cool temperature fermentation and yeast inoculation (adding the yeast of your choice to augment certain flavors and the textures in the wines).
Colonel Theodore Gier held the property from 1900 to 1929, and planted more vineyards and built the three-story building that now holds the Hess Collection’s barrel chai and their art gallery. Gier was a wine merchant and played a role in the development of the California wine industry.
From 1930 to 1986, the winery was owned and operated by the Christian Brothers. Today, we really only associate this name with California brandy, but when they bought the site in 1930, it was to use it as a new novitiate, school and winery. They expanded the winery and produced award winning wines under the Mont La Salle label. Two brothers in particular were very active with the winery – Brother John F.S.C. (Stanley S Hoffman) and Brother Timothy F.S.C. (Anthony G Diener). Bother John’s vision and energy led the winery to eminence as one of California leading wineries. Brother Timothy was a world-renowned winemaker. He made a reputation for wines from the Mount Veeder area of Napa.
Finally, in 1978, Donald Hess came to the area. He bought 900 acres of Mount Veeder land, in 1982, set aside 600 of them to stay undeveloped to support wildlife, fish friendly farming and biodiversity, and began vineyard development with the direction to “nurture the land and return what you take” from it. In 1986, he established the Hess Collection Winery. Originally, Hess rented the winery facilities from Christian Brothers. In June of 1989, Hess Winery opened to the public. It included a 13,000 square foot hall for Donald’s collection of contemporary art. He also leased 125 acres of vineyards, including the Brother Timothy vineyard. In 1992, Hess Winery hosted the first Natural Farming Symposium. More than 100 winemakers and growers attended.
In 2007, Hess Winery held a seat on the Napa Valley Vintners Association steering committee. They helped to set up the “Napa Green” program – sustainable farming in Napa vineyards. Hess was one of the first ten wineries to receive Napa Green certification. Hess bought two dozen goats to clear ground and manage underbrush. Turns out all 24 goats were pregnant. Some people have more luck than the rest of us! Even today, goat herds are released into the vineyards to eat weeds. Almost no machines touch the vines. In 2011, Donald Hess retired, but family members, the fifth generation, still manage the company.
In the last several years, Hess Collection Winery has continued to move forward. They have celebrated decades with some of the same winemakers, hired some new assistant winemakers, (women winemakers), survived extensive damage and the loss of several thousand gallons of wine from the 2014 earthquake, received certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance for both their Mount Veeder and American Canyon vineyards and upgraded the visitors’ rooms at the winery so that their visitors get the best possible experience. With the release of their 2012 wines, Hess Collection Winery celebrated 30 years of stellar wine production.
Our wine this week is the Hess Winemakers Blend Treo. A red wine from the Hess Select tier of their wines – wines that are more affordable for everyday drinking. This wine is named for the trio of Hess family members who work together on the wine. And, it is a blend of three varieties – Petite Sirah, Syrah and Zinfandel. The fruit flavors in Treo are bright and full, red fruits and some black fruits. Truly this wine is made for everyday. Meaning every dinner. Pot roast to pot luck, chicken, burgers, meatloaf, casseroles, Mexican flavors, grilled fish, mushrooms, peppers, onions, sausages. Smooth textures, mild tannins, a long finish. Everything we’ve trained ourselves to look for and like. Good things do come in threes. For $14.99. Enjoy.