Deep gold color; white peach, yellow apple, honeysuckle on the nose; white peach, yellow apple, honeydew melon, pear on the palate.
Dry (6 g/L RS); full bodied and round in the mouth for a chardonnay; moderately crisp with acidity (3.62 pH); judicious use of oak and malolactic fermentation keeps the emphasis on Hess’s Su’skol vineyard fruit and avoids the perils of too much butter and vanilla. Some complexity and focus, but not as much as previous efforts. Vintage 2015 was a testing season—drought, early bud-break, uneven maturing of fruit, one of the earliest—and least abundant—harvests in years.
The Hess Su’skol vineyard (named for the Su’skol people who once inhabited the location) is one of the coolest growing regions in Napa thanks to the morning fogs and gentle breezes from nearby San Pablo Bay. The vineyard is planted exclusively in nine distinct clones of chardonnay. In great years, the rich flavor palette winemaker Dave Guffy enjoys from the 175-acre vineyard produces outstanding, palate-pleasing chards. This vintage does not quite soar to those heights, but remains a delicious and attractive wine and an excellent value.
Hess enjoys a storied history in Napa wine. In the 1880s, the families of Fisher, Brandlin, and Streich H. Hudeman settled on the property where the Hess Collection Winery now sits. Hudemann established a botanical garden that included a 12-acre vineyard and small winery.
From 1884 to 1990 Rudolph Jordan owned the estate and made significant contributions to winemaking, including being the first to use cool fermentation and inoculated yeast. Col. Theodore Gier, a prominent wine merchant and leader in the California wine industry owned the property from 1900 to 1929. Gier planted more vineyards and built the three-story winery that holds the Hess Collection’s art gallery and its historic barrel chai (an aboveground building that stores wine in casks) today.
The stock market crash ended Grier’s operations, and in 1930 the Christian Brothers purchased the property to establish a new novitiate, school, and winery. The Brothers expanded the winery and began producing Mont La Salle wines, a major provider of Catholic sacramental wines still today, although now from other properties and different owners. Brother Timothy FSC was a world-renowned winemaster who significantly enhanced the reputation of Napa Valley and wines from the Mount Veeder region.
In 1978, Donald Hess, a Swiss entrepreneur, purchased 900 acres of land on Mount Veeder, with 20 acres planted in wine vines. Looking for space for grape production, he leased the Christian Brothers winery on Mount Veeder in 1986. In 1989, he opened a visitor center and a gallery to present his extensive art collection. In 1992, Hess was able to lease 125 acres in the historic Brother Timothy vineyard. In addition to vineyard purchases, Hess also set aside more than 600 acres to support wildlife corridors, fish-friendly farming practices, and biodiversity with the mantra: “nurture the land and return what you take.”
Over succeeding years, Dave Guffy became the second director of winemaking and Hess increased its emphasis on sustainable winegrowing, including helping establish the Napa Green program, gaining certification in 2008. Donald Hess retired in 2011 and Timothy Persson became the CEO, the fifth generation of the Hess family to guide the operation. The next year, Guffy added Stephanie Pope and Kate Ayres to the leadership of the winemaking team.
The Hess Collection Estate Grown Napa Valley Chardonnay 2015 is very well made, nice presentation of chardonnay from the coolest, most southern parts of Napa. It mercifully avoids the oak monster, butter bomb errors that plague some Napa chard efforts. This Hess chard is nicely complex, delicious, and elegant, even in this challenging vintage. Hey, that is what makes wine ever-surprising and wonderful. Pair with chicken, roast game hen, bay scallop chowder, crab cakes, avocado and tuna tapas, smoked or grilled salmon, brie cheese with apples, pears, peaches. $18-22