The Hess Collection has been on my short list of “Must Visit” wineries, since moving to California in 1992. This desire demonstrates how busy someone can be, if you’re living and working in California. It’s only taken me 17 years to finally get there. This said, I’m already planning a return visit, as their three story art gallery is a gallery in motion, and I need to keep up. One thing I really miss about New England is my membership to the Boston Museum of Art. It is what it is, and it’s ever-so-far away. How I long to be in the Impressionists area, but I just got a mini fix at Hess. I say mini fix, because we were on a tight schedule, and there simply wasn’t enough time to take in more. I needed an entire day, and so will you, if art is one of your passions. Art and wine? Oo-la-la… It doesn’t get better than that. (We were also treated to delicious foods, if you were thinking, “food.”)

Proprietor Donald Hess‘s art Collection is considered one of the top 200 in the world, by ARTNews Magazine.

High up on Mt. Veeder sits the Hess Collection. Few wineries have the reputation for art that this winery does, with its own three story art gallery. Wrap a second label into the art and wine configuration, and Artezin was born. This was my reason for visiting the Hess Collection, to explore its second label, because in that portfolio is a Petite Sirah and a member of PS I Love You.

Originally Artezin was dedicated to Zinfandel. Art + Zin = Artezin. But then something even more meaningful happened along the way, and this brand evolved in honoring heirloom cultivars. Petite Sirah and Charbono were also added to the portfolio, and more will be following.

I made an appointment with my winery colleague Jenna Hudson (left). She took it a much deeper step forward than I expected, by bringing in winemaker Randle Johnson (right). I had met Randle at PSILY’s annual meeting last November, and we hadn’t seen each other since. He was about to leave for travels, but fit my traveling companions and me into his busy schedule. (Kathy Conley of North Carolina, her daughter Kia, Melanie Hoffman and Jose Diaz of PSILY)

In this private tasting, they pulled out all of the stops. We were treated to exquisite appetizers with our wines in their library. I mean “library” in every sense of the word. Book cases and books lined the walls. The room was rich and welcoming with history, ambiance, and every attention to detail being paid homage.

As we tasting with Randle, we discovered that he’s been at the winery for 26 years. When I learned this, I couldn’t help but marvel at the dedication by both this wine maker and the company that hired him. Within the wine business in California, this is a true rarity. I was honestly impressed. There’s a lot of positive things that could be said for the ethics of both Donald Hess (founder) and Thomas Selfridge (president).

My greatest revelation of the day was when Randle began to talk about taming the tannins of their Petite Sirah.

What I just learned at Artezin is something I’ve never considered or heard about in my 17 years in this business, and is worth sharing.

Taming Petite Sirah’s Tannins Starts in the Vineyards

Who knew? Certainly not me. This is definitely beyond my Viticulture and Oenology 101 teachings. It’s also a subject being covered at the upcoming Petite Sirah Symposium. I’m pleased to have had this primer with Randle, and I certainly look forward to hearing even more about this concept.

I’ve never considered that tannins could be managed in a vineyard, before wine was even begun in its wine making process. I’m sure there are those among you who might consider this shocking, but it’s not so shocking to me for not knowing, because when I put the word out to the members to help shape the symposium’s agenda, this came up several times. And, it came from many wine makers.

With wine making, I’ve only thought about levels of sugar (brix), and knowing that seeds become brown when the grape is ripened to perfection… T.A. pH, alcohol levels… But tannins, too. Who knew?

Well, Randle’s got it figured out, and he was very willing to share, so we could be better informed.

“If you get the tannins ripe in the field, that means that we have to let them hang. Tannins gets mature at 26, 27, 28 brix. Tannin maturity in the skin and seeds, also happens. When we bring in PS, we let it cold soak at least two to three days. This way, we get a more gentle extraction.”

The Artezin wines are a great value, crafted from the experienced wine making team at Artezin. It’s given Randle the ability to work with fruit that is not all from their estate at Mount Veeder. For a wine maker, this is like saying to him or her, “Here you go. You’ve not got another new set of oils (cultivars), they’re made from  different materials (structure), they’re different colors (potential for expression), and we’re giving you a new type of canvas (terroir) with which you can work. This must have been the most exciting innovation in the wine cellar, when this decision was mad, coming at a time when their Hess Collection wines were well understood.

As a result, using fruit from other appellations, allows the Artezin wines to come from places better known for those cultivars; Mendocino for Petite, Dry Creek Valley for Zin, etc. The flavors were lush and voluptuous from the wines we tasted. I’ll be writing an entire blog about these and other wines we tasted on this field trip, because this blog is coming to an end. (For me, about 1,000 words is a perfect place to stop.)

Price for Artezin wines are about $16.99. In my estimation, they’re exceptional wines from a master, artisan winemaker. They’re from hand selected vineyards, and these are wines are sure to wow your palate and enhance your food experiences. You should be very pleased to share Artezin with your family and friends.