With budbreak on Mount Veeder, The Hess Collection Winery is beginning to reap the rewards of a $30 million, 10-year “quality enhancement initiative” to upgrade its Napa Valley estate vineyards and wineries.
With this vintage, a small number of new, primarily white varietals will start to come into production — a number that will increase in future vintages.
Founder Donald Hess was attracted to Mount Veeder for its elevation and unique mountain climate, which he believed would yield the best grapes to produce great wines. After more than 30 years, Hess remains committed to this vision.
$20 million is focused exclusively on vineyard redevelopment, including replanting 100 acres of vines out of the existing 300 acres on Mount Veeder — some of which were planted more than 30 years ago. The use of soil resistivity mapping allows tracking of specific soil types and the matching of specific vineyard blocks to new rootstocks, clones, trellises and irrigation.
Fruit from the redeveloped acres should express increased flavor and richness.
Though The Hess Collection has always been known for its estate Cabernet Sauvignon, decades of experience combined with many years of vineyard heat-unit accumulation records have led to the discovery that other varietals also can thrive in the cool mountain climate.
Perhaps most notable has been the consistent success of Malbec, which has been added in increasing quantities to the Hess Cabernet Sauvignon in recent vintages with positive results.
Reconfirming a commitment to sustainable farming practices, Hess also has found ways to decrease its ecological footprint on the mountain. In 2008, Hess brought 24 goats to its Mount Veeder estate — there now are more than 90 — which are released into vineyards prior to budbreak.
The goats forage between the vines, clearing the area to ensure there won’t be a proliferation of weeds in the coming months and virtually eliminating the need to use herbicides or till the soil.
For the balance of the year, they forage in the 600 acres of forest that surround the vineyards. In these areas they replace fire, which for millennia has kept the forest floor clear of brush.