In California’s hyper-competitive wine world, it pays to have an advantage. Some producers try and spread their weight around by offering every wine under the sun. Others focus on doing a few things and doing them well. Patz & Hall has chosen the latter route, and this group of four friends has found that crafting distinctive Chardonnay and, perhaps more importantly, Pinot Noir gives them that distinct advantage that one needs to succeed. As tends to be the case with California’s Pinot specialists, Patz & Hall work with some of the best growers in the state, giving them access to a wide variety of fruit from choice vineyards across Sonoma county, as well as a handful of plots in Carneros, Mendocino, and Monterey counties.
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Once they get the fruit to the winery, Patz & Hall follow fairly specific routines for both their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Pinots all benefit from whole cluster additions, the blending in of, literally, whole clusters of uncrushed berries, stems and all.
This technique adds a certain freshness to the aromatic profile of the finished wines as it tends to slow down the pace at which the fermenting must generates heat, but it also has the side benefit of improving drainage through the cap of pomace that forms on the fermenting must. In addition, the fact that the grapes are not subjected to the stresses of crushing and destemming ensures that no bitter tannins are released from cracked or bruised seeds.
Of course the stems add tannin to the finished wine, but only clusters with physiologically ripe stems (and grapes of course) are used for this addition. The ripe stems add flavor to the wine as well, giving them layers of nuanced complexity that a simpler fermentation can’t offer.
Once the wines have gone through their initial alcoholic fermentation they are racked into French oak barrels to complete their malolactic fermentation. The Chardonnay on the other hand is barrel fermented, again in French oak, and allowed to rest on the lees for almost a year, allowing the wines to gain that trademark layered complexity and develop a round, enticing mouthfeel before being bottled.
Patz & Hall really are able to capture something special in their wines and unlike many single-vineyard bottlers, each vineyard designated wine has a unique character that speaks as much about the winemaker as it does about the soils from which it sprung. These are certainly wines worth looking for, made in a style that seems to be a middle ground toward which many of the finest producers have gravitated over the past decade: Richly-fruited and noticeably oaked, yet with balanced complexity and depth.
Continue reading for my favorites from Patz & Hall's killer line-up.