About six years ago, my wife and I were on a business trip in Savannah, Georgia, with her boss. We decided to have dinner at one of the best restaurants in the historic section of the city, a place called the Olde Pink House on Abercorn Street. We didn’t have reservations but were fortunate enough to get a table in the basement bar, where there was a fire blazing in a large fireplace, and the light in the room was soft and low. It was a very relaxed setting, with an old world kind of atmosphere, which is exactly what one should expect in one of the South’s oldest cities. Our waiter was quite knowledgeable about their wine selection, so we asked him to decant a nice, dry wine to go with dinner. He brought the bottle to the table, poured half the contents through the filter into the large decanter, swirled the liquid to release the bouquet, and allowed us to smell the wine before he poured each of us a glass. I have now forgotten the variety (probably a merlot), but I do remember that it was just about the best glass of wine I had ever tasted. We asked him about the brand, and he told us it was a Hess. We had never heard of it, but we were determined to find out more about the winery.
The Hess Collection winery is in the Mount Veeder area of Napa Valley in California. Grapes have been cultivated on the property at least as far back as the 1870s. From 1900 to 1929, the property was owned by Colonel Theodore Gier, who built a three-story building that would eventually hold the Hess Collection’s historic barrel chai and art gallery. After a few more owners and continued development and expansion through the 20th century, a man named Donald Hess purchased 900 acres on Mount Veeder to begin the Hess Collection. Over 600 acres are set aside as undeveloped land to support wildlife corridors, fish-friendly farming practices, and biodiversity. The Hess Collection opened to the public in June, 1989, following a two-year renovation of the facility which includes 13,000 square feet of Donald Hess’s personal contemporary art collection.
In 2011, my wife and I took a fabulous vacation to San Francisco, which included several side trips. One of our excursions was a drive up to Napa to pay a visit to the Hess Collection winery. It was magnificent. In addition to tasting several varieties and buying a case to take home with us, we also visited the incredible art gallery and gardens. According to the website, “Donald Hess began collecting art in 1966. Today, the Hess Collection houses less than a quarter of a collection that is shown in museums worldwide. His collecting style is a personal endeavor driven by passion rather than monetary investment or current trends. He develops a close dialogue with an artist to better understand what drives him or her to create and he carefully limits his focus as a collector to 20 living artists whose work he faithfully supports long term. As is evident by the caliber of the collection, he collects with the uncanny ability to acquire works by lesser known artists who often go on to become well known and respected in their disciplines. His typical commitment to an artist spans decades and various stages of his career.”
My wife and I drink wine fairly often. We are nowhere close to being authorities, and we are certainly not wine snobs. Grocery store brands work fine for us most of the time. Our favorable impression of the wine we had that evening at the Olde Pink House may have had more to do with the company and the dining experience than the sophistication of our palates, but we liked it enough to search out where the grapes are grown, which gave us an even deeper appreciation for the brand. The story of Donald Hess and his enterprise, which he has now passed down to the next generations, is a fascinating one. Seeing the actual vineyards where a great bottle of wine originates presented us with a wonderful moment of connection that I’m sure we will remember for a long time.