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Swirl n' Spit

Hess Collection Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Contemporary art, like a good glass of Cabernet, often requires a bit of reflection and contemplation to be fully appreciated. Standing in the massive public gallery of the Hess Collection--which serves as both winery and one of the largest private collections of contemporary art open to the public--there's a lot of reflection and contemplation happening over Rauschenbergs and Bacons. As well as some head-scratching and uncomfortable giggling over some of the more, er, conceptual pieces, like the flaming typewriter. Hey, not everyone can be a connoisseur.

High above the fracas of the Napa Valley, the Hess Collection is an intellectual outpost of art and wine housed in the century-old Christian Brother's winery. After making his fortune bottling Swiss mineral water, Donald Hess turned his attention to bottling something altogether different: wine.

The large Mt. Veeder winery, which is challenging to reach but well worth the trip, now houses the massive production of nearly 500,000 cases of wine annually, as well as the museum-quality collection of art, gardens and a visitor's center. And, should that not be enough to reflect on, you can sneak in a stroll through the vines of the nearby Christian Brothers' Conference Center and Retreat.

Mouth value: Cabernet Sauvignon is the Hess Collection's signature varietal. Grown high in the mountains, it has a rich, concentrated complexity that separates it from the lower altitude Cabs grown in the valley. If you're fortunate enough to get a chance to taste the reserve wines, the '99 ($90) and '00 ($80) have remarkably different characteristics. The earlier vintage has lots of concentrated fruit; the '00 is a bit more complex, though a bit pricey for everyday drinking.

The '02 Hess Collection Cabernet ($40) is a good pick for a special dinner--still complex with richness and ripe tannins at a more affordable price. The most approachable Hess Wine is the Napa Chardonnay ($18.50), which is not overly oaked, though vanilla and caramel flavors come through, and maintains a crispness that helps it pair well with food. Also nice is the '02 Mountain Cuvée ($36), a rich, spicy blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec.

Five-second snob: The burning Underwood typewriter, entitled Hommage, represents the inflammatory writings of the artist Leopoldo Maler's Argentine uncle, who was murdered over the content of his political essays.

Spot: Hess Collection Winery, 4411 Redwood Road, Napa. Open daily, 10am to 4pm. $10 tasting fee. 707.255.1144.

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From the October 26-November 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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