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Hess Persson Estates exterior.

Hess Persson Estates in Napa

By Published On: June 15th, 2023

An historic Mount Veeder winery with a renowned modern art gallery.

High above Napa, on the Mount Veeder site of one of the region’s oldest vineyards, sits Hess Persson Estates. Known for rich, complex wines and a three-level modern art gallery, this wine country destination is the vision of the late Donald Hess. 

The Swiss-born entrepreneur started Hess Collection Winery in 1978, convinced that Mount Veeder’s rugged terrain, volcanic soil and extreme microclimates would be ideal for his style of elegant wines.

Hess Persson Estates with Mount Veeder in the distance.
Mount Veeder with winery in the distance. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The signature wine at Hess Persson Estates is the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from the 600-1,120-foot Veeder Hills Vineyard, where the clay and shale soil restrict the root growth, producing small berries with intense flavor.

Hess Persson Estates Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The mountain environs also yield themselves to big, beautiful Napa Valley Chardonnay, 100-percent barrel fermented and aged 18 months in 50-percent New French Oak.

Hess Persson Estates Chardonnay.
The Lioness Chardonnay. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

Hess Persson Estates is also one of the largest growers and producers of Malbec in Napa County. Malbec is one of the winery’s exclusive Small Block Series varietals, and serves as the backbone of several popular red blends including the Hess Collection 19 Block Mountain Cuvée and the Lion Tamer Red Blend, part of the Lions Head Luxury Collection. 

The Tastings

The tastings are integrated with creative, elevated experiences at Hess Persson Estates. With advanced reservations, visitors can choose between everything from an Estate Tasting and Tour to a Chardonnay Discovery Tasting.

Hess Persson Estates food and wine pairing.
Chardonnay Discovery Tasting. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

One of the more adventuresome experiences takes visitors into the vineyards to learn about farming practices. Guests ride in one of the winery’s three all-terrain vehicles in the ATV Vineyard Tour and Tasting. 

Hess Persson Estates ATV experience.
ATV experience. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The Tour of the Palate experience begins with a tour of the gallery and history of the storied winery. Guests will taste limited production, estate-exclusive wines thoughtfully paired with Winery Executive Chef Chad Hendrickson’s savory three course menu. 

Hess Persson Estates Tour of the Palate experience.
The Tour of the Palate experience. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The Cabernet Appellation Tasting explores four Small Block Series Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons, sourced from Moon Mountain, Rutherford, Oakville and Mount Veeder. 

Hess Persson Estate’s hands-on Blending Experience lets guests play winemaker for a day and create a custom blend to take home. 

A guided tour of founder Donald Hess’s extensive art gallery can be booked through the Walk the Collection with our Director of Art experience. Director of Art, Rob Ceballos, leads the tour which culminates with a tasting with one of Hess Persson Estates’ Wine Educators. Participants can enhance their experience with a food and wine pairing created by the winery’s Executive Chef, Chad Hendrickson.

Hess Persson Estates tour.
Walk the Collection experience. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

History

Donald Hess spent the early part of his life in the beverage industry in his home country, selling Switzerland’s first non-alcoholic beer. After pivoting into the mineral water industry, he moved to the Napa Valley and made a deal to lease the Christian Brothers’ Mount Veeder vineyards for his Hess Collection Winery. 

With a pioneer attitude that fostered phrases like “live each day with the courage of a lion” his winery grew to over 900 acres of vines across four vineyards by the time he died at the age of 86 in 2023. His son-in-law, Tim Persson, and wife Sabrina, moved to Napa in 2012 to help with the winery, and guide it through several challenging years of drought conditions that fueled a wildfire and mudslide in the region.

Tim and Sabrina Persson at Hess Persson Estates.
Tim and Sabrina Persson. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

In 2014, an earthquake destroyed the winery cellar. Undaunted, the family rebuilt the facility with the best technology available, calling the cellar Lion’s Head in homage to the family emblem – the lion. A large, crushed tank remains and has taken on an almost art-like quality representing the family’s resilience.

Hess Persson Estates Cellar Lion’s Head.
Cellar Lion’s Head. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The Winemakers

Dave Guffy was hired by Donald Hess in 1999 after studying and working in the industry for several years. Guffy’s philosophy is to work with the vines to maximize flavors and make “ripe, fruit forward California-style wines with both power and elegance.”

As a boy spending summers on his grandparent’s 500-acre farm in Kansas, he says he’s fascinated with the agricultural elements of winemaking, something he describes as a primal challenge. “You can never know everything,” he says. “Every year the challenge is to do it better than the year before.” 

Assistant wine-maker Stephanie Pope has been with Hess since 2008. Her early focus was Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley Chardonnay before being promoted to winemaker for the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon and Small Block varietals like Malbec, Chardonnay and Bordeaux-style red blends. 

Hess Persson Estates vineyard at sunset.
Mount Veeder and sunset. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The Wines

Hess Persson Estates is considered a pioneer in sustainability with its Estate vineyards and winery facilities all certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. 

Hess Persson Estates vineyard tour.
Walking the vineyard while tasting wine. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The Hess Collection includes several 90-plus rated wines. The winery’s Small Block offerings are sourced from tucked-away vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. They are winery-exclusive wines that are only available direct from the winery and can’t be found elsewhere.

Hess Persson Estates courtyard tasting with guests.
Courtyard tasting. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

Hess Select wines are made with grapes grown throughout California. The Lions Head Luxury Collection is billed as a modern and sophisticated collection of wines “leveraging contemporary wine making technology and blending practices to showcase the optimal expressions of the lands they come from.” 

Hess Persson Estates wine collection.
The Lion Hess Collection. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

The Art:

The art gallery at Hess Persson Estates is a unique attraction that features Donald Hess’s collection going back to 1966.

Hess Persson Estates art gallery.
The art gallery. Photo Courtesy: Hess Persson Estates.

Clearly, Hess had an eye for premium art, having bought a painting to decorate his home that was later discovered to be a Picasso.

The gallery at Hess Persson Estates is now curated by Director of Art Robert Ceballos. He gives guided tours of the collection, sharing stories of Hess’s relationship with each artist and their work.

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