Donald Hess was dining at a small bodega in Salta. The bottle of wine served that evening, a Malbec, was exceptional. Hess wanted to know its source, and much later learned the estate that produced it had been founded in 1831.
This year, that winery is celebrating its 180th anniversary, making it the oldest in Argentina, and Hess is its owner. Bodega Colomé has been completely renovated and revitalized, and the specialties of the house are Malbec and Torrontes.
The age of the vines (some as old as 160 years), the biodynamic practices and the altitude (the vineyards are perched between 6,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level) combine to create distinctive, bold and intense wines that speak of their origin.
Donald and Ursula Hess first visited the Calchaquí Valley in 1998, searching for the perfect terroir and the ideal weather to produce unique Argentinean wines. What they discovered at Bodega Colomé was beyond their expectations; they found their home away from home, the grandeur and natural beauty of the estate inspiring and rejuvenating them. In 2001, they purchased Colomé.
Since then, new vines (distributed among four estates) have been planted to reach the current 140 hectares, new winery facilities boasting the latest technology and equipment have been built, and the new Estate and Rural Boutique Hotel and the exclusive James Turrell Museum have been opened. We’ll have more on the museum tomorrow.
The Hesses’ vision has a high regard for social responsibility, and over the last 10 years, Hess Family has contributed to the building of the village’s community center and church, and to the betterment of the school and the neighbors’ houses. Today, Colomé is the source of employment and income for most of the village’s 400 inhabitants.
The winemaking philosophy is simple: to keep the grapes’ singular flavors from the vineyards into the winery and all the way through to the glass of wine. The oenological team works hand in hand with the people in charge of the vineyards.
Oenologist Thibaut Delmotte has been with Colomé since 2005. He’s from France and studied in Beaune, Burgundy, where he gained wide experience. He now speaks Spanish with a Salteñan accent.
Oenologist Consultant Randle Johnson has a Master’s in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California, lives in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, and works as Chief Oenologist for Artezin and advisor to the Hess Collection and Sequana labels.
Johnson visits Colomé regularly and, although he needs to improve his Spanish, still manages to share his ample knowledge and experience.
Thibaut and Randle, together with other members of the team, taste all the base wines to make the best assemblages for every wine produced at Colomé. They end up with purple teeth, lips and mouths, but their spirits are high once they’ve achieved their goal.
Colomé’s vineyards are located in the Upper Calchaquí Valleys, considered the highest altitude viticultural region in the world. The winery farms four vineyards: La Brava in Cafayate; Colomé, where the vineyards surround the winery; El Arenal, and Altura Máxima. Both El Arenal and Altura Máxima are located in the Payogasta-Salta area.
The altitude factor has a positive impact on the quality of the grapes because the sun’s ultraviolet rays are present in a higher concentration—thus the grapes are deeper in aroma, color and flavor.
Also, the great thermal amplitude between hot sunny days and cool nights contributes to the homogenous and balanced development of sugars, polyphenols, color, acids and flavors in the grapes.
All of these factors combine to produce an ideal final result: renowned high-altitude wines of great concentration and balance.