April 17, 2021

Uncorked: Patz & Hall taps into coastal vineyards

With affection for his craft and the dedication of a family farmer, James Hall has everything he needs to make a great wine.

The veteran Patz & Hall winemaker has spent 30 years scouring coastal California vineyards for sites that produce the best pinot noir and chardonnay. He’s found the perfect muse with Chenoweth Vineyard.

Patz & Hall has a monopole; it’s the only winery with the name on its label of the vineyard that Charlie Chenoweth’s family has owned since the mid-1800s.

“It’s a quintessential Russian River Valley pinot,” said Hall about the Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2017 ($65). “It’s an opulent, round, generous wine with lots of very up-front and persistent red fruits. It’s hard not to love it. You taste it and go, ‘Wow, that’s delicious.’ It’s a wine that just jumps in your lap and licks your face. It’s the Labrador retriever of our pinot noir program and is universally loved.”

Located at the western edge of the Russian River Valley, Chenoweth ventures close to the Pacific Ocean, and only 200 acres of the 600-acre ranch’s rugged, rocky soils are planted to vineyards. It’s just one of over 20 wines from Patz & Hall that taps into vineyards up and down the California coast, as far north as Mendocino and as far south as the Santa Lucia Highlands. In between, Hall has captured the essence of Carneros, the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast.

But, it’s the relationship with Chenoweth that’s special.

“Charlie is so experienced,” Hall said. “I love to do business with him, because he has great intuition on how to farm vines and give them what they need. Every farmer has a base program. It’s how they adjust, flex and move with the vintage that keeps the quality really high. Charlie is so close to [the] ground, he sees things others don’t.”

Because Patz & Hall started in 1988 with two wines, a chardonnay and pinot noir, Hall has had a front-row seat in the evolution of California’s North Coast. The improvement in farming has matched rootstocks and clones with the proper soils and microclimates to open up a vast network of quality vineyards.

“Grape growers started with apples or dreams of agriculture and then started planting vineyards with pinot noir and chardonnay,” Hall said. “It’s been a golden age of new vineyards and finding the best terroir. I’ve unearthed a lot of great vineyards, and our portfolio has grown, driven by the quality of grapes we’ve found.”

The Patz & Hall appellation blends showcase the wide variety of discovered vineyards. Hall said the Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2017 ($40) is a “fun wine to blend,” because of the collection of flavors he can weave together. There’s stone fruit, pear and even lime zest, while the wine never turns creamy, there’s a noticeable body and structure.

Due to the expansive nature of the Sonoma Coast AVA, Hall can paint with a broad brush of flavors and textures when blending in the cellar. If he were a basketball coach doling out playing time, he’d have to choose between an upstart rookie vying to challenge a veteran for minutes in the final blend.

For the Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2017 ($40), there’s fresh cherry and strawberry with interwoven baking spice flavors and an enduring finish. The 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40) also was tasted, and its darker fruit, cherry cola and pine needle flavors were powerful and long-lasting. Both proved Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir as one of the best values in California pinot noir.

“The sense of discovery gets me up in the morning,” Hall said. “The portfolio of grapes has evolved. What we used to get for Sonoma Coast pinot has gone through some changes. As new vineyards become available, it’s like putting a sports team together. You have to know who your starters are and if you need to make a cut.”

If there’s a bench player that turns into a starter after a few years in the cellar, it’s the Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 ($65). Tasted on a Zoom call with Hall, it was light, racy and flinty. There were orange peel and marzipan, almond flavors and very delicate hints of pear and the slightest touch of Granny Smith apple.

When it comes to wines from the vineyard, Larry Hyde planted to the Wente chardonnay clone back in the 1960s, and has since replanted over the years so well the Hyde-Wente clone bears his name. What’s in the bottle takes time to show.

“… Minerality, light on its feet, but aromatically complex,” Hall said. “It’s a little light at first, a little closed in. Two years later, the aromatic intricacy is almost transparent on the palate and full-flavored. It’s a bit of a conundrum, and I’m not sure why it’s shy, but its complexity gains.”

Dipping down south into the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Patz & Hall Pisoni Vineyard 2014 ($100) wasn’t part of the Zoom tasting, but rather tasted at a year-end celebratory dinner. Time had started to pull away the wine’s youth, and secondary flavors of mushroom, soy and umami joined the chorus of plum, black cherry and orange zest, which were on the verge of being complementary pieces in the band.

So, is Hall done when it comes to adding to the Patz & Hall portfolio?

“We want to go further into new vineyards,” Hall said. “There’s clearly a lot of opportunity to work with small family vineyards that I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by. Our customers are eager to try new wines. The great sense of adventure and discovery still drives grape growing on [the] North Coast.”

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.