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Spring tasting in Carneros

  • Bruce Carter, left, and Gary Merkel tour the newly opened Patz & Hall tasting room along 8th Street in Sonoma on Friday, March 21, 2014. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Where the San Francisco Bay influences Napa and Sonoma most, the Carneros region is a lovely place to travel in spring. Its cooler climate is likely to nurture green hills and plenty of mustard in between the myriad rows of vines, dotted with the occasional flock of sheep. It has always been home to grapes and is increasingly home to wineries, some of which are newly opening their doors to visitors.

Sonoma-based Patz & Hall winery has been making sublime and much-sought-after single-vineyard pinot noirs and chardonnays for decades. But not until last month did they have such a well-appointed place to share them. Patz & Hall's Sonoma House is a refurbished home with expansive garden and extended estate vineyard, from which the winery has sourced for some time.

The heart of it is the window-filled salon, adorned with striking black-and-white portraits of California grape growers instrumental to Patz & Hall's history — the Duttons, Lee Hudson, Larry Hyde and Gary Pisoni among them.

Patz & Hall Tasting Room

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Here, more than likely, partner Heather Patz will walk visitors through a seated tasting ($50) of six to eight signature wines, paired with inventive savory panna cotta infused with flavors meant to complement the wines. The visit begins with a glass of 2010 brut sparkling wine, a new endeavor for the winery. Seated tastings occur three times a day, at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Recent pairing examples include 2011 vintage chardonnays from Hudson Vineyard, Hyde Vineyard and Zio Tony Ranch with two panna cottas, the first made with whole-grain mustard with Fra' Mani ham and egg; the other lemongrass-kissed with crab and coconut. Experimentation and discussion of which of the wines pairs best with each dish is highly encouraged; there's no right answer, just differences.

The Hyde from Carneros, for example, is given time in 55-percent new French oak, and is full-bodied and robust but plenty fruity, with a taste of orange peel, white flower and fresh acidity. Hudson, another famed Carneros property, is fuller still, a signature of the site, as it spends time aging in about 50-percent new French oak. It imparts toasty smoke amid more savory fruit.

Zio Tony Ranch, on the other hand, a Russian River Valley chardonnay, is a beautiful blend of minerality and classic apple and pear fruit.

With the selection of pinot noirs, the panna cotta included candy-cap mushroom and Nueske bacon jam accented by truffle and fries. The vineyards on the bottles showed Jenkins Ranch on the Sonoma Coast, effusive in bright red fruit; earthy Moses-Hall, named for Anne Moses and James Hall, the winemaking partnership side of Patz & Hall; and spicy Pisoni Vineyard.

Patz & Hall celebrated its 25th harvest in 2012 and sources from vineyards as far north as Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County to the famed Pisoni Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, though the majority of its grapes come from both the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations.

It produces roughly 30,000 cases a year, including tiny amounts of its new brut sparkling wine and the occasional late-harvest offering, like the 2011 Late Harvest White Wine, made from chardonnay, roussanne and marsanne, the winery's first, offered only via the tasting salon. The salon will also break open library wines from time to time, the chance to taste far into the 1990s in some cases.


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