On the Trail

A Rebirth of Quality on Mount Veeder

Bryan Brick

Hess put themselves on the map in the late '80s and early '90s by making some of the best value wines on the market from serious vineyards on Mount Veeder and near the San Pablo bay, not to mention from purchased fruit across California. The problem was that at some point in the early 2000s the brand lost its identity and dedication to quality. They created more tiered labels than anyone could understand or keep straight, and what they built slowly receded to just another brand on supermarket or "big box" stores shelves. So then why, you may ask, are we putting these wines in front of you right now? It's because Hess has completely rededicated themselves to quality over the last few years on all levels. They've gone green in the vineyards (sustainable and certified Napa Green), cut way back on production, and are focusing on estate-grown wines from a number of prime Mt. Veeder vineyards. All in all, it is a great comeback story capped off by the affordable and tremendous wines that we have today.

The 2014 Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay is a perfect example of the winery's rededication to quality. Using fruit entirely sourced from their estate vineyard Suskol, this is a focused, powerful and rich Chardonnay that clocks in at under $20. Fermented in stainless steel and new and used French oak, allowed to partially go through malolactic fermentation (28%) and aged for 10 months in French oak, (20% of which was new) this wine has shocking balance for a wine of considerable heft. A swirl of French oak spice, melon and crème brûlée build on the nose. With vibrant fruit flavors of honeydew melon, spiced pear and a hint of crystallized ginger there is plenty of fruit complexity to go with broad oaken swath in the mid-palate of vanilla custard and creamed corn this is one full bodied Chard for a shockingly reasonable price. It's a clear example of how good the Suskol vineyard truly is.

One of our favorite wines from Hess is the 19 Block Mountain Cuvée, a wine that showcases all the reasons Hess's improvements need to be noticed. This unusual blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Verdot from 19 blocks of their Mount Veeder estate is something to behold. The combination of being Malbec dominant and from high elevation vineyards, 1,300-2,000 ft, has this bursting at the seams with power and structure. Lifted aromas of wild iris and boysenberry are bolstered by deeper, darker inky aromas of dark roasted coffee bean and dark chocolate. Creamy and lush, yet holding considerable power, on entry with wild flavors of cola, blackberry and mocha this is one interesting and thoughtful wine. Some will love this for its outright power, certain to please any lover of mountain vineyard Cab or Argentine Malbec, but others will love it for its surprising lift and cut, energetic to its end, this is simply a must try for any big red fan all for under $30.

Robert Parker recently came out and wrote: “Hess Collection winery up on Mt. Veeder is profiting from a complete makeover and producing better and better wines.” I'm glad he's noticing what we're noticing here at K&L: a rebirth of quality on Mount Veeder that needs to be talked about.

-Bryan Brick