Hess Collection Winery sits above Napa Valley on Mount Veeder. The drive to Hess from Napa takes you through residential neighborhoods that eventually give way to mountain forest. As the winding road narrows the sights and smells of forest replace those of Napa’s valley floor and it is no longer obvious you’re in wine country. Once you arrive at the winery a variety of experiences, in addition to the traditional tasting at a standing tasting bar, await you at this historic winery.
Last fall I joined a group of writers at the Hess Collection Winery for a survey of the consumer experiences offered at the winery. All included wine, of course, and I came away impressed not only by the variety of experiences offered, but by the continued quality and breadth of wines crafted by Dave Guffy and the team of winemakers at Hess.
Just as impressive is the beautifully restored stone building that houses the barrel room and art collection. The building dates back to the early 1900s when it was built by Colonel Theodore Gier. As you walk up to the winery, be sure to take note of the stone gateway. Look back as you pass through it and note the Colonel’s name, date (1903) and Sequoia Vineyard carved into the stones.
Click on individual photographs in galleries to view. Close to return to the post.
In 1930 the winery was purchased by the Christian Brothers. Donald Hess became steward of the site in 1978 when he purchased 900 acres. He began expanding the vineyards, while setting aside land to preserve native habitat, and established Hess Collection Winery in 1986.
The winery sustained major damage, and loss of wine due in part to a damaged tank, during the 2014 Napa earthquake. That damaged tank, dating back to the Christian Brothers, was incorporated into the renovation of the wine cellar after the quake. Renovations were completed in 2018, and the cellar christened Lions Head Cellar, but only after a delay due to the wildfires of 2017.
The lion has been a symbol of Donald Hess’ family for generations. You will notice the lion theme throughout the various ranges of Hess Collection wines. Tim Persson (Donald’s son-in-law) and his wife Sabrina are the next generation to assume stewardship of Hess Collection Winery.
Wine and Food
Our group was welcomed with a splash of the crisp and bright 2016 Small Block Series Blanc de Noirs Sparkling wine, which we enjoyed with appetizers and a tour of Lions Head Cellar before moving on to dinner.
Over dinner we enjoyed sipping 2017 Lioness Chardonnay, 2016 Napa Valley Lion Tamer and 2016 The Lion. All are complex and paired beautifully with the three-course meal created by Executive Chef, Chad Hendrickson. Most of the produce is grown in on-site gardens.
A warm fall afternoon provided the perfect weather to enjoy lunch the following day in the courtyard of the winery. We sipped 2016 Panthera Chardonnay along with an assortment of cheeses before moving on to seared scallops. The 2016 Lion Tamer paired as nicely with smoked chicken, peppers and grilled fig spread as it did with grilled beef tenderloin and vegetables.
A quick look at the Hess Collection Winery VISIT page gives you a number of options for wine experiences. Food and wine pairing experiences include:
- Courtyard wine & cheese plate.
- Tour, wine & cheese pairing.
- The Hess experience: tour + wine luncheon or tour + wine dinner.
If, like me, you love being in the vineyard then choose one of the ATV Excursions. There is nothing quite like experiencing the smells and sights of a vineyard combined with the opportunity to stop along the way and taste wine in the vineyard.
This tour will give you a feel for the remoteness of the Hess estate vineyards. Choose either the ATV tour + wine luncheon or ATV tour + cheese pairing.
Do you want to play winemaker? The blending experience at Hess Collection Winery will allow you to use three varietal wines in crafting your own custom blend. The Hess Collection Lion Tamer Red Blend is provided as a guide, but the blend is up to you.
You will leave with a greater appreciation for the complexities of blending wine and a bottle of wine that should suit your palate perfectly since it’s the blend you made.
Wine and Chocolate
I must admit wine and chocolate isn’t one of my favorite pairings, so I went into this tasting expecting to be underwhelmed. To my great surprise I found all the pairings delicious and was particularly surprised by the white wine pairing with chocolate.
The Hess Collection Lion Tamer White Blend (74% Pinot Gris, 17%Albariño, 9% Viognier all grown in the Mt. Veeder vineyards) was bright and citrusy. It made the perfect sip for Opus Blanc a white chocolate, EVOO ganache, lemon and almond delight that was rich and lemony.
Red wine pairings included 2015 Hess Small Block Rockpile Vineyard Zinfandel + Blackberry Balsamic chocolate, 2015 Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvée, Mt Veeder + Berries & Violet chocolate and 2015 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder + Cherry & Crisp Berry chocolate. It was difficult to choose a favorite.
All chocolates are made in-house using Swiss chocolate with attention to every detail. When you do this tasting be sure to turn over each chocolate to see what lies on the underside. I’m not telling.
I can’t be certain which pairing will suit you the best, but I am certain you will find this tasting fun and illuminating. And as Valentine’s Day approaches this pairing might be of particular interest.
Hess Contemporary Art Museum
The art collection alone makes the drive to Hess Collection Winery worthwhile and of course unique. Donald Hess began collecting artwork in the mid-1960s. The Hess Contemporary Art Museum represents a fraction of his collection and includes about 20 artists. Museum curator Robert Ceballos seeks to make art accessible and understandable without using, as he puts it, “art lingo.” Robert wants you to fall in love with art. It’s the same with the wine experience at Hess — it’s educational without the pretense that can come with wine.
Choose A Tour of the Palate (art tour, wine and small bites) or the Museum Walk (art tour and wine tasting). See the website for details.
When you visit the winery be certain to see the Barrel Chai, or barrel room. This is where the Hess Collection Mt. Veeder Estate wines are aged and this is part of the original winery built by Colonel Theodore Gier. Take a moment to appreciate its beautiful stone walls.
The variety of experiences at Hess Collection Winery are as impressive as its mountain location and the winery’s history. And so is the wine. Hess wines offer quality across the board and at a range of prices. There are few wineries in Napa that can offer this combination of location, history and quality. Once you factor in the impressive Hess Contemporary Art Museum you have a destination and experience you will be hard pressed to match. To be certain you have the experience you want at Hess Collection Winery plan ahead and make reservations online.