APPELLATION: 47% Mendocino County, 37% Lake County, 16% Napa County
The Hess Collection Winery
The Hess Collection was founded by Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess, who first purchased vineyards on Mount Veeder in 1978 and began making wine under The Hess Collection label in 1983. In 1986, he began renovation of the historic winery, originally constructed in 1903 by Colonel Theodore Gier. The winery opened to the public in 1989. The Hess Collection has vineyards on Mount Veeder, along with their Napa Valley estate vineyards - Su'skol and Allomi in Napa Valley, and Shirtail Creek Vineyard in Monterey. Each of these vineyards is sustainably farmed in accordance with Donald's philosophy: "Nurture the land, return what you take."
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Beyond Napa and Sonoma in the north you find a couple of other counties producing great wine. Among these are Mendocino and Lake County. The northernmost California winegrowing regions, these two counties are right above Napa and Sonoma, geographically. Yet, wine-wise they are very different – both from their southern neighbors and from each other.
Mendocino has a high amount of organic vintners and vines. The first winery to settle here was Fetzer, which practices organic viticulture and holds some of the most vineyard land in the area. Mendocino has many pockets of micro-climates while Lake County, being smaller in size, is less diverse climactically. As for the grapes, Chardonnay is the most popular in both counties, but there are also some excellent Sauvignon Blancs, particularly in the Lake County. In red wine, Zinfandel leads the way, followed by Rhone Blends and Petite Sirah. The reds in both counties are complex and sumptuous. Anderson Valley is a sub-AVA of Mendicino and is quite well known for its excellent cool climate, producing the delicious Roederer Estate sparkling wines and some wonderful cool-climate Syrah.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country into itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Fruity
Red wines that are more fruit-forward and lighter in tannin and body.
Smooth & Supple
Medium bodied reds that go down easy, with smooth tannins and supple fruit.
Earthy & Spicy
Wines where earthy and/or spicy dominate the flavors – typically medium to full body.
Big & Bold
Full bodied wines that have concentrated fruit and are higher in alcohol and/or tannins. Some need age.