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Donald Hess: ‘Artist converted me to organic’

Wine mogul and art collector Donald Hess was converted to organic practices by an impoverished artist who accused him of 'polluting the earth', he tells this month's issue of Decanter.

The unnamed artist refused to sell any of his works to Hess because, at the time, he was involved in brewing.

‘We often met to discuss his principles, and that’s what made me aware of the importance of organic practices,’ Hess tells Decanter contributing editor Stephen Brook during the interview in the December issue.

Since then, Hess’s Colomé vineyard in Argentina has converted to biodynamism, Hess Collection in Napa Valley is sustainable, and he has vowed to make Glen Carlou’s vineyards in South Africa organic once the business turns a profit. Peter Lehmann’s Stonewell Shiraz will also be sourced organically in future.

Swiss-born Hess, whose hobbies included boxing until he gave it up at the age of 68, also reveals that he came close to buying Château Ausone in St-Emilion, but the deal fell through when he refused to promise not to change anything at the estate.

His latest acquisition is Argentina’s Bodegas Muñoz – like Colomé, in Salta province – planted with 20 hectares of Malbec, Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.

The winery, on the northern outskirts of Cafayate, is to be renamed Bodegas Amalaya, after the second wine of Colomé which will now be produced there.

And Hess says he has seen huge stylistic changes in Napa Valley wines during his 30 years’ involvement in the area.

‘In the 1970s and 1980s the wines were far too woody – oak juice, basically,’ he says. ‘Today wines seem to have less oak, but more fruit and elegance.’

Written by Richard Woodard

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