Amazing wines, music, and food at The Hess Collection

The Mount Veeder Appellation Association put on their 2012 tasting event on September 22nd at the wonderful Hess Collection Winery in Napa. This event featured over 20 wineries big and small and an array of varietals sourced from the Mount Veeder AVA. The wine, food, and music was exceptional as was the hospitality from the hosts at The Hess Collection.

First, let’s take a closer look at the Mount Veeder AVA…

The Mount Veeder AVA

Due west of the city of Napa lies the southern portion of the Mayacamas Mountains that separates the Sonoma and Napa valleys.  It’s high point is Mount Veeder which rises 2,700 feet above the valley floor.

Born of an ancient sea bed, the mountain AVA has a distinct mix of shallow volcanic and sedimentary soil that retains very little water. It is this soil plus the elevated rugged slopes of the vineyards that produces the small concentrated grapes typical of Napa’s mountain regions.

To the south, the strong influence of San Pablo Bay allows varietals such as Syrah and even Chardonnay to thrive. The center and North is exceptional Bordeaux varietal country producing stunning Cabernet, Malbec, and Cab. Franc.

History

Although the AVA did not receive its official designation until 1993, the mountain has a rich history in viticulture. The mountain was named after German born Pastor Peter Veeder, a Napa resident during the Civil War,  who enjoyed hiking on the mountain as it reminded him of home.

The first recorded wine sourced from Mount Veeder debuted at the Napa County Fair in 1864 by Captain Stellham Wing but it wasn’t until the 1880’s when two German born winemakers Ernest Streich and John Henry Fisher established the Striech and Fisher wineries. By the 1890’s there were 20 vineyards and 6 wineries producing from the slopes of the mountain. Solid production and rave reviews continued until prohibition.

The post prohibition renascence began in 1951 when Mayacamas Vineyards planted Bordeaux varietals on the mountain followed by the Bernsteins in 1964. One Bordeaux varietal Petit Verdot was introduced for the first time in California in 1975 by the Bernsteins and was part of the first true Bordeaux blend style wine ever produced from a California vintner. Almost all vines of Petit Verdot in California originated from cuttings from the Bernstein’s vineyard.

Today there are well over 30 wineries producing complex, well crafted, bold and fruit forward wines that arguably instill the greatest sense of terroir of any Napa AVA.

The Event

There was an amazing array of wineries pouring at the event:

Fields Family Wines
Fontanella Family Winery
Foyt Family Wines
Godspeed Vineyards
Hess Collection
Jake-Ryan Cellars
Lagier Meredith
Lampyridae Vineyard
Lokoya
Marketta Vineyards & Winery
Mayacamas
Meadowcroft Wines
Mount Veeder Springs
Mount Veeder Winery
Mt Brave
Neal Family Vineyard
O’Shaughnessy
Paratus Vineyards
Progeny Winery
Random Ridge
Renteria Wines
Robert Craig
Y Rousseau Wines
Rubissow Wines
Scaggs Vineyard
Spotted Owl Vineyards & Cellars
Trinchero Estates
Veedercrest
VGS Chateau Potelle Winery
Vinoce Vineyards
Yates Family Vineyard

All of the wines we tasted were truly exceptional. Though we will be covering our very favorites in the next section, each of the wineries listed above are very worthy of your attention.

The early birds get the worms. Tasting begins at the 2012 Mount Veeder Tasting

The event was held in the beautiful Hess courtyard. Each of the wineries were situated in straight rows that were thankfully shaded. Surrounded by the beautiful wildflowers in the center courtyard it was an idyllic setting for making our way through the event. Each section had a table of Chef Hendrickson’s tremendous bites and a thoughtful water cooler to keep us hydrated.

Rachel and Bob from Robert Craig pouring the best of the best of Mount Veeder

At the far end of the courtyard, the Hummingbirdz dazzled us with fantastic blues music. The placement of the band was quite well thought out as it allowed us to enjoy the music but also talk to the folks from each winery about their wines.

The Food

It’s hard to go to a tasting event in Napa or Sonoma and not have tasty bites to enjoy with the wine. However, so many times, while the treats are tasty, they do not necessarily pair with the wines being poured.

Not so at the Mount Veeder tasting. The Hess Collection’s Executive Chef Chad Hendrickson created a menu of tasty bites that truly complemented the myriad of varietals offered for tasting. From the decadent Rogue River bleu cheese and walnut spread to the tangy sliders, each enhanced the overall tasting experience with impressive grace.

Chef Hendrickson demonstrated his extensive knowledge of the Mount Veeder terroir in way that an outside chef could not. Another very nice touch was the vast array of crackers and bread sticks that allowed the patrons to get a quick palate cleanse when switching from the Chards/Sauv Blancs to the Syrahs to the Cabs.

While the wines here were the stars, there was certainly plenty of bright light from Chef Hendrickson and his terrific staff who were spot on all day.

The Music

As our readers know, we love The Hummingbirdz! Blues music at a wine event was not really on our radar until we saw them at the Joseph Phelps Insignia Release Party and then again at the Howell Mountain Benefit. The band’s ability to weave between soulful blues ballads to high energy numbers is uncanny.

As we were working our way through the tasting we couldn’t help but notice the admiration from the crowd of their soloing abilities. People in groups would suddenly stop and look at the stage as they would tear into their music with abandon. Standouts included the haunting Willie Dixon songs Spoonful and I Can’t Quit You to the out of this world rendition of Peter Gun. A truly great band and a great pairing for the event.

We sat down with guys for a quick interview that you can read HERE.

The Wine

The guys from Foyt Winery. One of the many standouts at the event.

Although we love all the mountain AVAs, there is a special place in our heart for Mount Veeder. Here we are going to list a few we found to be our favorites. Unfortunately we can’t write-up every wine but we can tell you that every single wine we tried was exceptional. We urge our readers to look through the entire list of Mount Veeder wineries and seek them out.  All are truly impressive.. Now on to our favorite list:

Best of The Event
As with the Howell Mountain Benefit, we found that Robert Craig and O’Shaughnessy were the best of the best by just a small bit. The other wines profiled here were also impressive.

The pick for our top spot and “Best of the Event” goes to:

Robert Craig –  2009 Mount Veeder Cabernet
Opulent and refined. Bold but nuanced describes this incredible effort from Robert Craig. Sourced from the Pym Rae Vineyard at 1,800 feet this big but very balanced wine is among the very best of the vintage. Bold dark huckleberry, cocoa, dark cedar and hints of mineral greet on the nose with more of the same on the draw and mid. Silky luxurious mouthfeel and a perfect balance of tannins and acidity. Finish is nice and long with some hints of black cherry and graphite. That’s the good news. The bad news is all 1,000 cases are sold out for this vintage. $70.00

More Amazing Wines!

O’Shaughnessy 2009 Mount Veeder Cabernet
Another standout from winemaker Sean Capiaux. Dark red berry and licorice blend wonderfully with hints of wild flowers, mint and exotic spice. Superior balance and refinement. Finish is very long making this an ideal candidate for the cellar but shows quite nicely now if decanted. The only disappointment was the price point as O’Shaughnessy has been a stand out winery delivering exceptional wines for fan friendly prices. $100.00

Foyt Winery – #77 Reserve Cabernet
Legendary Mount Veeder winemaker Tom Meadowcroft has created a very impressive Cab. with this effort for hall of fame race car driver (and one of my childhood heroes) A.J. Foyt. Dark mountain blackberry, cassis, and ripe blueberry are in full effect. Finishes long and balanced. A wonderful expression of the mountain’s terroir. $75.00

Paratus – 2009 Mount Veeder Cabernet
Winemakers Massimo and Mario Monticelli have crafted a distinct and truly elegant Cabernet. On the nose blackberry and hints of leather lead to rich expressions of mountain blackberry and huckleberry on the mid. A moderate gentlemanly finish with more berry and minerals round out this 100% Cab. $70.00

Vinoce – 2009 Cabernet Reserve
A tremendous and finely crafted Cab. effort here. Dark berry, plum, and cedar on the nose lead to more full lush dark berry and very subtle hints of spice and oak on the mid. Finishes nicely with hints of roasted coffee bean and mocha with just a pinch of oak. $75.00

Vinoce – 2009 Mount Veeder Estate Cabernet Franc Blend
Best Cab. Franc I’ve had in a long while. Raspberry and bright cherry notes usher in rich currant, cherry and bright plum. Finish is stunning with ample notes of dark cherry. Wonderfully dry but velvety mouth feel. Exceptional! $60.00

Yates Family Vineyard – 2007 Cabernet
A runner up in the best value category but can also stand up to any of the other wonderful cabs in craftsmanship. Dark berry, oak, and vanilla on the nose give way to rich mountain berry and subtle spicy cedar on the mid. Nice long finish with subtle minerals and fruit. $52.00

Marketta – 2006 Cabernet
The stunning blend of 60% Cab, 20% Malbec, 20% Merlot is still big but quite refined. Big dark berry, hints of cocoa, and subtle oak are the highlights. Finish is smooth as can be. $69.00

Other Standouts
The Cabs really showed extremely well here and included those from Mayacamas, Meadowcroft, Mount Veeder Winery, Fontanella, Y’Rosseau, and Rubissow. These were all exceptional. The Fontanella was another value winner at $52.00 and of truly impressive quality. The Random Ridge Sangiovese was a wonderful surprise as was the Mount Brave Malbec. Both were tremendous!

The Mountain’s Other Varietals
As we mentioned in our about section, Mount Veeder plays host to more than the Bordeaux varietals. Several notable Chards, Syrahs, Malbecs, Sauv. Blancs and a new varietal to me: a Mondeuse.

The Chardonnay
The Chardonnay made here may not be ready to take out the Sonoma Coast or Russian River Valley just yet but it’s not far behind. Spotted Owl Vineyards had a wonderful Chard offering with crisp full fruit as did Mayacamas with their elegant but big wine. Marketta and Fontenella also had tasty refreshing Chards that were truly enjoyable.

The Sauvignon Blancs
Some really impressive offerings were on hand here from Fontanella, Rudd, and Vinoce. The 2011 Rudd was close to life altering. This 87% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Sauvignon Gris, 2% Semillon blend was a gift from citrusy peach heaven. Probably the best Sauv. Blanc of the vintage but you’ll pay dearly for it at $62.00 a bottle.

The Syrah and a Surprise

Several producers had outstanding Syrahs to share. Lagier Meredith’s 2009 Syrah was simply fabulous as was their 2011 Rose of Syrah. However, it was their 2009 Mondeuse that really created a stir for us.

Lagier Meredith – 2009 Mondeuse

The Mondeuse or Mondeuse Noir varietal is a native of the Savoy Region of France and was nearly wiped out by the phylloxera infestation in the late 1800’s. In France, this varietal is usually used in a blend with Gamay or Pinot Noir but has gained some traction with single bottlings since 1970. It’s close cousin the Muscardin from the Soutern Rhone is one of the 13 varietals permitted to compose Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A Mondeuse Blanc varietal is also at home in the Savoy Region but is not a close relative.

Enter Stephen Lagier and Carole Merideth. Besides being truly delightful people, these folks are true farmers of the old school. Their wines are made by hand. They have no investors, employees, or consultants. They do it all themselves. Truly inspiring.

Their 2009 Mondeuse is simply fantastic. Lush berry flavors abound with such subtle hints of white pepper, it seems to weave in and out as you get the smooth silky finish.

Lampyridae – Communication Block 2009 Red Wine
John and Ashley Derr are primarily farmers who sell the majority of their grapes to other wineries. That is until they came up with the idea to create a terrific wine to support a very good cause. Their Communication Block project supports the Napa Valley Kids Connect program (which promotes academic achievement for children who have severe communication needs) by giving 100% of the proceeds of the sale of this wine to the program. Local vintners and a local artist donate their time to produce this delicious Syrah blend. The wine is composed of 66% Syrah and 34% Cabernet and exhibits lush bright cherry, plum, and a nice spicy finish.

For more info or to purchase:

http://www.lampyridaevineyards.com/the-communication-block.html

So how about the hosts? How were their wines? Awesome, of course!

The Hess Collection

Another huge surprise was the exceptional Albarino that Hess was pouring. This is a limited production wine and available only at the winery but was mouth-watering! They also poured their 2008 Mount Veeder Cabernet which at $48 was the value of the day. A very finely crafted Cabernet at an amazing price point.

They also were pouring one of our very favorites here at DdV: The 19 Block Cuvee. This blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, 8% Syrah, 8% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc is not only a fantastic bargain but simply bursts out of the glass with dark mountain cherry, lush plum and hints of creamy dark chocolate.

Summary

The “Stone Man” digging the event

We truly can’t give enough credit to our hosts from the Hess Collection. Each nuance of this event was very well planned and very well executed. The setting, wine, food, music, and hospitality was quite impressive. This event is still a bit under the radar of many Napa fans but it most certainly shouldn’t be.

We found this to be among the best events we’ve been to and will be looking forward to returning next year. Well done and thank you!!

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