Chardonnays and pinot noirs reflect Patz & Hall’s vintage year

Even the most liberal wine drinkers, when pressed, will admit to having their favorite varietals.

Many white wines fans still lean heavily toward chardonnay, with its bright flavors and vanilla notes from its full, oaky backbone. Red drinkers split evenly among several varietals, but more of them seem to be turning to pinot noir, which manages to be both subtle and delicate while retaining a robust palate of dark fruit and full mouthfeel.

Some of the best of both come from Patz & Hall. The Sonoma winery produces nothing but chards and pinots, which founders Donald Patz and James Hall admit are their personal favorites. Their affinity for the two varietals has served the winery and its customers well since 1988, when the two combined forces to produce their own wines.

As in all good partnerships, each winemaker has his own duties: Patz is the businessman, Hall is the winemaker. Together, they produce some exceptional vintages that have attracted a large crowd of loyal followers. They recently shared their thoughts with the Wisconsin Gazette, as well as giving some insights on their most recent wines and personal favorites.

Patz & Hall only produces chardonnays and pinot noirs. Why?

Donald Patz: It’s important, I think, not trying to be all things to all people. There’s a discipline to focusing on just one white and one red wine variety. We love drinking California chardonnay and pinot noir and, by focusing on just these two varietals, we better understand the needs in both the vineyard and in the winery for each. It makes our wines better.

I know that the two-varietal concentration has changed the nature of the winery itself. How does your winery differ from others?

James Hall: It was only logical to focus our design around optimizing the facility to produce these two varieties at the highest quality level possible. That meant installing small open-top pinot noir fermenters, large cooled barrel rooms for chardonnay fermentation, blending and racking tanks sized to hold our single-vineyard wines and all of the appropriate winemaking equipment scaled and geared toward pinot and chardonnay, including a large sorting table, large chardonnay presses for whole cluster pressing and small-scale de-stemmers for careful de-stemming.

By not having to accommodate other grape varieties, we didn’t have to compromise any tank configurations or equipment styles. This specialization has led to higher wine quality by having just the right equipment to meet our stringent standards of excellence.

Can you compare several of your chardonnays, specifically the 2013 Hyde Vineyard Carneros ($60) and the 2014 Sonoma Coast ($40)?

DP: It’s an interesting contrast. Hyde Vineyard wine always has great acidity and a purity tension on the palate. It has great concentration but also a delicacy. It would certainly be a “grand cru” if we had them in California. The aromas swing more toward exotic citrus fruits and minerality. It’s a very serious chardonnay that benefits from additional aging to show the complete set of flavors buried within.

The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, on the other hand, is focused on floral and pretty perfume aromas. Whereas the Hyde is serious, the Sonoma Coast is playful and delicious. It is the most “California” of the chardonnays we make.

Can you do the same comparison for the pinot noirs, specifically the 2013 Chenoweth Ranch ($60), the 2013 Hyde Vineyard Carneros ($70), and the 2013 Sonoma Coast ($46)?

JH: 2013 was an excellent vintage year. The long, moderately warm growing season produced profound wines of great depth, intensity and character. The wines tend to show excellent balance and structure, with juicy ripe flavors moderated with smooth tannins and higher-than-typical acidity.

Our Chenoweth Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir shows wonderful cherry, boysenberry, clove spice and dark chocolate aromas coupled with an exceptionally smooth, rich and flavorful mouthfeel. The Chenoweth Ranch consistently produces one of our finest single-vineyard wines and 2013 is proving to be one of the best years ever.

The 2013 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir had an equally fine year. The wine shows wonderful aromas of dried roses, cinnamon spice, dried cherry and delicate layers of moist fresh soil and black tea. This was a great year for Hyde Vineyard, which tends to produce wines that are lighter and more elegant, with higher acidity and leaner, more focused textures than Chenoweth Ranch’s broad more powerful structure.

Overall, the success of the 2013 vintage shows most clearly in the 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The wine is a blend of 18 vineyard sites stretching from Sonoma Valley through Russian River Valley to the far Sonoma Coast. Having such a broad collection of vineyards, and having them all succeed at startling levels of quality, is proof of how special the 2013 vintage is.

Of all your wines, which is your personal favorite?

DP: I don’t really have a favorite among any of the wines we make. I do drink a lot of the Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($44). It seems to marry well with everything I eat at home.

JH: I like all of our wines and believe they each have a distinct reason to be bottled. Just like music, there are many different styles and modes, with no single type being the best for every mood or situation.

That said, if I were forced to choose one wine and drink that alone for the rest of my life, it would have to be our Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir. To me, the complexity, subtlety and flexibility match with many different foods, and the overall grace and style of the Hyde Vineyard, makes it my favorite … at least until I’m in the mood for something different.