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When a Wine is Good - It's Good: Patz & Hall
Preisers’ Reserve: Anything Sea Smoke. It was only a few years ago that we first encountered the Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir at Foxen - their 2002 vintage - and fell in love. The Foxen was (and remains) small production and almost impossible to find (2004@$64). This year, we were able to taste all three of the 2004 Pinots produced by Sea Smoke itself from their Santa Rita Hills estate vineyard. The best, "Ten" ($70), is full bodied, complex, and loaded with dark plummy fruit. "Southling" ($50) isn't exactly second fiddle in flavor, with bold blueberry and florals. The winemaker recommends that both of these be decanted. Third is the bargain priced "Botella" ($30). All are beautifully balanced with a big mouthfeel (at 14.5% alcohol there are no wimps in this group), and possessing that elusive quality that "sea smoke" (marine fog) brings to the vineyard.
You can always recognize a “hot” winery at a large tasting – its table is the one you can’t get near. Such was the case at the popular Family Wine Makers tasting in San Francisco a few months ago. As soon as the doors opened, the crowd of thousands quickly gravitated to a number of well known producers. But our observation was that Patz & Hall was inundated more quickly, and ultimately longer, than anyone else. When we asked people what they thought of the wines, the answer was almost uniformly, “very good,’ yet said in that sort of sing song manner suggesting they were well understating their opinion.
All of this was not a real surprise to us, as we had been drinking some of Patz & Hall’s wines for a long time, had spent some time with affable owners James Hall and Anne Moses at their offices earlier in the summer, and again at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic. So we were already devotees of these well made wines.
The creation of four individuals (add Donald Patz and Heather Patz to the mix), Patz & Hall Wine Co. was founded in 1988 with the goal of producing what would be among the industry’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. To this end, vineyard sites in the prime growing areas were located, fruit contracted for, and responsibilities determined. James and Anne, veterans of the production of fine wine at Flora Springs, Far Niente, Spring Mountain, Honig, and Cain Vineyard, bring their talent as winemakers, while Donald handles sales on a national basis and Heather does outreach to the community.
Studying the process of winemaking with James and Anne makes for a fascinating time. The Pinot Noirs are produced using whole clusters, and 20% go straight to fermentation with no de-stemming or crushing. The remaining 80% is de-stemmed only, allowing flavor development during fermentation. When fermentation is complete, only free run juice is used for the wine, except for the portion of pressed juice specifically chosen by James. The Patz & Hall Pinot Noir is all oak aged, but in a carefully constructed barrel program that permits excellent integration of flavors and aromatics.
Chardonnay grapes receive equal care, being hand harvested in the cool early morning, and then immediately whole cluster pressed to decrease tannins while preserving the flavors. After pressing, the juice and the lees are placed into French oak barrels where fermentation will take place. All P & H wines undergo malo-lactic fermentation, and when finally transferred to bottle, they are unfiltered. The yeast particles that remain prevent further oxidation and bottle shock, allowing the Chardonnays to be opened and enjoyed at the time of their release.
In search of just the right terroir to make its wines, Patz & Hall specializes in single vineyard bottlings, and thus makes 6 different Chardonnays and 6 different Pinot Noirs. Each of course has its own distinct characteristics. We have decided to list them all below so you can get an idea of the breadth of the production. and list them in order of our particular preference. But make no mistake – we like them all.
Chardonnays: -2005 Durell ($44), which maintains butter and cream throughout the layers of fruit; -2004 Hyde ($55), a crisp wine with the usual Hyde vineyard concentration of flavors. Unfortunately for all, it is sold out; -2004 Zio Tony ($55), with lots of spice and nuts complimenting the citrus; -2004 Dutton Ranch ($39), which is probably the most typical Chardonnay P & H makes in terms of its apple and pineapple overtones; -2004 Alder Springs ($55), an elegant and concentrated wine, yet the only one of this winery’s whites we feel to be overpriced; and -2005 Napa Valley ($36), with hints of oranges and apples, and a long finish – an excellent “buy.”
Pinot Noirs: -2004 Chenoweth Ranch ($47), which immediately gives off a beautiful cherry nose which seamlessly morphs into the wide spectrum of cherry flavors in the mouth. And note the price; -2004 Burnside ($60), a wine that has it all – blueberries, cherries, etc., and is huge on the mid palate; -2004 Pisoni ($80), which benefits as always from superior Pisoni fruit. It is a credit to Anne and James that you need not always spend $80 to enjoy the other wonderful wines they produce; -2004 Hyde ($50), exhibiting plums and cherries interspersed with nuances of flavors such as coffee and clove. It is also sold out. -2004 Alder Springs ($55), a wine that we feel is sometimes overwhelmed by the hugeness of its structure – the fruit does not always stand out; and -2005 Sonoma Coast ($36), probably our least favorite of all the Patz & Hall wines, not because it isn’t nice to drink, but because it lacks the evidence of terroir so well shown in the rest of the production.
Patz & Hall wines are available widely in many states. For Napa visitors, the staff welcomes them to call the office for an appointment to taste wines in the beautiful salon. The $35 tasting consists of three Pinot Noirs, three Chardonnays, and various small side dishes. While those tasters in San Francisco said the wines were “very good,” we think they meant “excellent.” We certainly do.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.