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Exclusive: Hess Collection Expands At The High End

September 6, 2016

Napa-based Hess Family Wine Estates is expanding at the luxury tier with three upscale launches under its Hess Collection umbrella. The wines will include a Napa Valley red blend called Lion Tamer ($40) and a Napa Valley Chardonnay called The Lioness ($60). Hess is also relaunching its prestige wine The Lion with a Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($175), marking the first vintage of The Lion since 2008. Both Lion Tamer and The Lion are rolling out now, while The Lioness will debut next April.

Named to reflect the “tannin-taming” quality of the Malbec used in its blend, Lion Tamer is intended to boost Hess’s exposure to the luxury red blend segment. “We believe Lion Tamer brings a new dimension to the Hess Collection,” says Nicole Carter, CMO and director of winemaking at Hess Family Wine Estates, noting that the lion has been the emblem of the Hess family for nine generations. “Hess is one of the larger growers of Malbec in Napa Valley, and the timing is right to highlight the variety and extend further into red blends. The label is a dramatic departure from our traditional Hess look and feel—intentionally. We want to attract new consumers to the brand.” Lion Tamer’s initial vintage, 2014, totaled just under 3,000 cases.

The Lioness is also a departure for Hess, in that it’s a fuller style of Chardonnay from a company known for more aromatic, less oaky expressions of the varietal. For The Lion, meanwhile, Hess partnered with winemaker Celia Welch. The icon wine was taken out of production after 2008 so that Hess could redevelop its Mount Veeder estate vineyards to maximize quality, and is now returning with a 2013 vintage. The winery expects to produce about 500-1,000 cases each of The Lion and The Lioness annually, seeking to create a luxury halo for the Hess Collection.

Earlier this year, Hess COO John Grant told SND that premiumizing the portfolio is a focal point of the group’s strategy. “We’re at about 780,000 cases total, but I would stress that it’s less about size and more about shape,” Grant said, adding that growth has recently been fastest at the above-$20 tier. “We’re focusing the business as a premium and luxury wine player. There’s no doubt we’re getting momentum restored.” In particular, Hess Collection’s Allomi Napa Valley Cab has been rising swiftly, surpassing 50,000 cases in annual sales. —Daniel Marsteller

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