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  • andychalk


In honor of Donald M. Hess (1936-2023) who passed away on Monday 30th January in Bern, Switzerland. This article discusses the achievements of his daughter and son in law. I had it ready to run next Tuesday, February 7th, unaware of his health, but have brought it forward as a tribute to his accomplishments in the world of wine. Every bottle of Stalworth has a little bit of Donald Hess's spirit in it.

Donald Hess's love of art comes through in the label  by artist Michael McDermott. The yellow capsule signifies 'levity'.
Donald Hess's love of art comes through in the label by artist Michael McDermott. The yellow capsule signifies 'levity'.

by Andrew Chalk

I just met Tim Persson, proprietor, and Nick Fitch, director, of Stalworth, a winery on its second vintage in Rutherford, Napa Valley. They tasted me on their 2018 and 2019 cabernet sauvignons, thus far the only wines from this winery. Critics are grading these early efforts in the mid 90s ( a ‘classic’ rating). Pretty much game, set and match in the tough world of Napa wine. Based on my tasting, I agree, and I would expect their currently scarce ‘from the winery only’ offerings to become even more elusive. There are only 167 cases of the 2018 vintage, and 400 cases of the 2019. Stalworth does not expect to grow beyond 500 cases a year, remaining an ultra-boutique producer. I have seen this before. So long as the wine stays this good the demand grows, (and per Econ 101) the price adopts a hockey stick trajectory, and the winery imposes queuing to get on its wine list. The smart solution for wine drinkers is to get on today.

The quality will remain due to the dual forces of Tim and his wife Sabrina, as owners, creating Stalworth for precisely that purpose, and winemaker Celia Welch (already known for her work at Scarecrow) becoming ever more conversant with the fruit from the single 7 acre vineyard that is the source for all the grapes.


Tim was born in Ireland but raised in Eswatini (then the Kingdom of Swaziland). He graduated from Trinity College in Dublin and went to work in London. He met his wife, Sabrina there. She was the daughter of Donald Hess, one of Switzerland’s most successful businessman and founder of the Hess collection of wineries on four continents. When he looked to remove himself from intense involvement in his wineries he passed his US operations in Napa to his daughter and son in law. Tim found himself winery CEO in 2012.


He and Sabrina decided to start a small boutique operation in 2014, but the process was best with problems from the start. In 2014 an earthquake leveled the winery building. In 2016 landslides blocked access and cut off power. In 2017 smoke taint reduced the output to a small fraction of what it should have been. In 2018 and 2019 conditions were near perfect and two fine wines (see below) were produced.

STALWORTH 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, CA ($250)

Appearance: Opaque ruby;

Nose: Herbal, ripe raspberry, blackberry, pencil shavings, rose petals, forest floor. A heady mix of fruit and perfumes that maintains its components in a knife-edge balance.

Palate:Intense raspberry and blackberry fruit, a glorious structure of velvet tannins and a backbone of medium-plus acid. Hints of clove. Fruit envelops the mouth and releases seemingly unending aromas that reconstitute in the throat for a lengthy finish.

Unmistakably Napa in its bones, this impressive cabernet sauvignon is tasting well now but if you can resist finishing it immediately will likely keep for a decade. Since it is a first vintage such estimates must be hedged with caution but that has been the nature of Rutherford cabernet sauvignon.

STALWORTH 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, CA ($250 - sold as a 3-bottle set at $750, or in magnum at $600)

Appearance: Opaque ruby bordering on blackberry;

Nose: Black cherry, oak, cedar, thyme;

Palate: Black cherry, blackberry, new French oak, baking spice, herbs de provence, burnt créme brulée;

A strikingly well-balanced wine where the flavor components mesh so well it is hard to cease sipping. One of the best integrated Napa cabernets that I have tasted in the last year. I would advise buying several bottles, cellaring four to taste at 5-8-11-14 years from now to track its ageability. As with the 2018, to buy this wine now is to be part of it building its destiny.




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