FOR ALMOST 10 years, with little or no fanfare, Swiss industrialist Donald Hess has been establishing his California connection, only recently unveiled as the Hess Collection. High on Mt. Veeder, in the Mayacamas Mountains that form the western rim of the Napa Valley, 280 acres of vines, now mature, have been planted to classic Cabernet varieties and Chardonnay.
The 50-ish president of his own diversified international conglomerate headquartered in Bern, Hess is a Swiss national whose mother was born in New York and whose wife is from Boston. Their 14-year-old daughter is American at heart. Hess is a ninth-generation brewer but opted to divert the family business into Valser mineral water, soft drinks, agriculture (including a trout hatchery), resorts and restaurants, and international real estate--commercial, agricultural and industrial.
Beyond all the above diversified subsidiaries in different countries, Hess believes that art is personally enriching and something to be shared. Over the years he has brought together a distinguished multimillion-dollar collection of paintings and sculpture, with works by Robert Motherwell, Olivera Neri, Arnulf Rainer and Morris Louis. The large old Gier Winery, which has been completely gutted and outfitted with modern and traditional wine-making equipment, allowed additional space for an art gallery in which to display the hundreds of artworks that make up the Hess Collection in the atmosphere of a producing vineyard and winery. From this private collector comes an outstanding public museum. "Art is to be shared," Hess has said.