Donald Patz: A New Beginning

Donald Patz in the cellar. | Lou Phillips

Donald Patz has never been known for being a wallflower in the wine world and his Patz & Hall wines were always as bold as the man himself. But not much had been heard from this larger-than-life winemaker since he cashed out on the brand a few years ago. So when I ran into him at a wine auction last year and found out that he has been working on a few new projects, I was intrigued.

Each wine we tasted, whether from barrel or bottle, had its own distinct character and a sense of place. These are not cookie-cutter wines.

He invited me down to his new digs in Sonoma to chat and sample. I couldn’t refuse. What I found was a man getting back to his roots, creating small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from top Sonoma vineyards with a brand called Maritana Vineyards. I also learned that in honor of his charming Bordeaux-loving wife, he is also crafting top-notch Napa Cabernets, again from impeccable grape sources under the Secret Door label.

Homage to Mrs. Patz. | Courtesy Secret Door Wines

Patz spoke of how wonderful it is to be back to his roots, working with growers he respects and taking a no-holds-barred approach to sourcing grapes and making wine that is only possible with hands-on, small production. I’ve known him for decades and he has never looked younger, radiating the energy of this new wine life. And then, of course, the visit moved into the production area for some barrel-raiding.

On the Maritana brand side, even the regional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blends had the genuine Russian River Valley style. The Pinots display dark cherry and berry notes and the signature sarsaparilla spice on the palate; the Chardonnays luscious tree fruits and winter spices — and all were lifted by bright acidity. The single vineyard offerings added more earth and complexity to the mix.

The Secret Door Cabernets were also single sourced. Although I can’t reveal the exact Napa vineyards, the wines will probably be identifiable to Napa aficionados and will please any lover of quality Napa Cabernet: rich, but not overdone. As with the Maritanas, you can sense the quality of the fruit and winemaking equally. They brought real Cabernet Cassis and dark fruits, mineral notes in line with the area of Napa they came from and surprisingly integrated tannins for young Cabernets aged in largely new oak.

Each wine we tasted, whether from barrel or bottle, had its own distinct character and a sense of place. These are not cookie-cutter wines. Patz is shooting for the stars with these wines and based on his first few vintages, I believe he is on his way. | maritanavineyards.com, secretdoorwines.com