The story of two friends drinking late into the evening and fantasizing of one day owning their own winery has been reenacted countless times over the past few decades in California. Remarkably, though, these dreams have frequently become a reality. Countless wineries spring forth from the passion and hard work of “just a couple of friends” and a surprising number of them become great successes.
Maybe after watching this phenomenon for twenty more years I may be able to pin down the reason that so many wineries that begin as passing fancies, even in the heads of people who are already working in the wine industry, end up coming to fruition and frequent fame. The only thread I see running through them all is passion, but if that were all it took to create a successful winery, we’d have a lot more wineries than we do now in this country.
In the case of Patz & Hall winery, its not so hard to sketch the recipe for success that two husbands and their wives forged through their talents and their friendship. Interestingly, the passion that initially brought Donald Patz and James Hall together was Chardonnay, an unusual grape to spark twenty-years of success as a winery. And in a business where sometimes the wives just come along for the ride, it may be that the two women involved were as much responsible for the rise of this winery than anyone else.
Patz is the salesman. Hall is the winemaker. Both fell in love with wine during college, and fell in love with their wives over wine. And in the late 80’s their paths crossed in the cellars of Flora Springs Winery in Napa. James was the assistant winemaker at the time, and Donald was busy selling as much wine as James could make. In off hours, they would get together and expound on the charms of fine Chardonnay, slowly laying plans for a virtual winery together — one that would own no vineyards — dedicated to producing high quality Chardonnays from some of the best vineyard sites in California.
And just for the heck of it, they’d make some Pinot Noir, too.
Most likely, their wives didn’t need much convincing. Heather Patz was a lover of wine, and the culture of hospitality that goes with it around the world. Anne Moses, James Hall’s wife, is a U.C. Davis trained enologist, who worked at Far Niente, Marimar Torres, Spring Mountain Vineyard, and Cain Vineyard and Winery before bringing it all home, as it were, to Patz & Hall. While Anne ran the lab and pushed her husband to make better wine, Heather ran the business and pushed her husband to get the wine sold in better and better places, and their husbands, well, they just kept running.
Two decades later, Patz & Hall is well recognized as one of the original boutique wineries of California, for a simple reason — the wines have been good for a long, long time.
James and Anne still manage the cellar and the relationships with the many growers with whom Patz & Hall have been doing business, in some cases for as long as the winery has been around. Together, they make the harvesting decisions, and then shepherd the grapes through the winemaking process in their winery that has been specially designed for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Pinots are fermented in small lots in open-top fermenters, including about 20% of each lot that undergoes no destemming or crushing whatsoever, and is fermented in whole clusters in separate vats. After fermentation, the wines are aged in French oak barrels (of which 50-70% are new) until they are ready for bottling.
The Chardonnays are pressed as whole clusters, immediately after coming into the winery, and are poured directly into French oak barrels where fermentation takes place on its own schedule, occasionally lasting several months. For at least 11 more months, the wines remain in New French Oak barrels before bottling without filtration.
Patz & Hall takes great pride in the wood used in its barrels, which is custom sourced from France, and which they say is aged for 18 months longer than most wood that goes into standard barrels. This extended aging in the open air is purported to add complexity to the character of the wood.
Early in my evolution as a wine lover, Patz & Hall’s single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs were among the wines that I could occasionally barely afford, but often coveted. Their prices put them at the upper limit of my wine spend, and so were reserved for special occasions or expensive gifts to those who deserved and would appreciate them.
As a result they hold a fond place in my heart, even though it’s been years since I bought a bottle.
I recently had occasion to taste through their current releases, and offer my tasting notes below.
Full disclosure: I received some of these wines as press samples.
2007 Patz & Hall Chardonnay, Napa
Light green-gold in the glass, this wine smells of apples poached in butter. In the mouth it is satin smooth, with a nice acid balance and flavors of pastry cream, fresh baked croissant, lemon juice, and sweet apples that linger in a nice finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. Where to buy?
2007 Patz & Hall “Hudson Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of cold cream and lemon curd aromas. In the mouth it is spicy and bright with lemon juice and zest coming to life with a core of tart apple, good acidity and a nice weight on the palate. Decent finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9 Cost: $55. Where to buy?
2007 Patz & Hall “Zio Tony Ranch” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
Light gold in color, this wine has a juicy nose of lemon, toasted bread, and fresh orange oil aromas. In the mouth it is zingy and bright with juicy pink grapefruit, lemon zest and golden apple flavors making up the shining core of the wine. The flavors blend and linger nicely in the finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2007 Patz & Hall “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a tropical nose of lemon zest and dried mango. In the mouth it has a wonderful mineral quality to its bright acidity that counterpoints the more tropical flavors of pineapple and mango that meld with the citrus body of the wine to nice effect. Excellent finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $55. Where to buy?
2007 Patz & Hall “Dutton Ranch” Chardonnay, Green Valley
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a toasty, lemony nose that intrigues. On the palate the wine is silky and lively, with grapefruit and toasted nuts flavors, mixed in with a little lemon curd for good measure. Nice long finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $39. Where to buy?
2007 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a rich nose of pomegranate and cherry aromas. In the mouth the cherry character prevails, with plum and cranberry notes creeping around the edges. Good acidity supports somewhat bombastic fruit that is missing a measure of subtlety. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42. Where to buy?
2007 Patz & Hall “Hyde Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Carneros
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a cheery nose of cranberry and cherry fruit aromas. In the mouth it does a similar dance, with great acidity and a glassy clarity that leaves the impression of vibrance in a nice finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2007 Patz & Hall “Chenoweth Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a deep, rich nose of black cherry and almost grapey aromas. In the mouth it is showing both its youth and its power, with rich black cherry and cranberry and cedar flavors. Nice acidity and a long finish make me want to revisit this wine in a couple of years. Score: around 9. Cost: $55.
2006 Patz & Hall “Alder Springs Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mendocino
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of forest floor, wet wood, and raspberry aromas. In the mouth this is tart raspberry, wet wood, and mineral undertones. Silky and smooth with excellent balance, the wine finishes long and earthy. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2006 Patz & Hall “Chenoweth Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Light garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of raspberries, wet wood and cranberry. In the mouth it is spicy, with flavors of wet wood, cranberry, and hints of sandalwood, that linger into a moderate finish that has a small hint of heat on it. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $55. Where to buy?
2006 Patz & Hall “Pisoni Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of dried cherries, pine duff, and raspberry jam. In the mouth it offers smooth, rich flavors of spicy raspberry, cherries, cedar, and wet earth. A nice finish rounds out what I think is one of the better wines made from this vineyard. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. Where to buy?