Patz & Hall ‘side hustle’ led to 8 million glasses of wine, 35 years in business
At its core, the story behind Patz & Hall is one of love. The love of two couples who came together with a shared vision to make exemplary pinot noirs and chardonnays. And the love of the land and how it can produce the ideal grape for each vintage that winemaker James Hall has meticulously envisioned this past 35 years.
It began at the University of California Santa Cruz, where Hall and Anne Moses studied as undergrad students. They ran in the same social circle that, even as teens, enjoyed the finer bottles they could find.
“We met wine tasting in college,” Moses said casually.
A boisterous Hall added, “Did she tell you I fell in love with her at first sight? I thought, ‘She’s gorgeous and she knows how to taste wine? Are you kidding me?’”
Moses, however, had a boyfriend. That boyfriend, however, had a bottle of 1971 Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes, a highly decorated dessert wine that can sell for $1,000 a bottle today.
“I really wanted to try that wine,” Hall laughed, while sipping his own rosé in the winery’s tasting room on Eighth Street East.
As a restaurant server, Hall figured out that up-selling wine was an easy way to increase his tips, and so he learned, bottle by bottle. Although he wasn’t old enough to legally drink, the wine business piqued his interest.
He switched to UC Davis, with its fledgling winemaking program (in the years before Robert Mondavi made it a world-class wine institution). Moses stayed on at UCSC, but the two kept in touch, linked by their love of wine.
Fresh out of college, Hall landed a gig as associate winemaker at Flora Springs Winery in Napa in 1983, working under Ken Deis. That’s where he met Donald Patz, who was on the national wine sales team. Hall also met co-owners Julie and Pat Garvey, who eventually asked him to make a chardonnay from their private vineyard, a side project they called Leaping Lizards. His first solo wine.
“They wanted two barrels. They bought a new barrel and an old barrel and we pressed the juice,” Hall remembers. “We hand-bottled it right out of the barrel. It was sensational.”
Hand-bottling and harvesting became a signatures of Hall’s process, who insists on being hands on with all aspects of his winemaking.
Patz and Hall started to dream about making their own wines, their own way. They knew they couldn’t afford pricey cabernet, but decided if they could find $20,000, they could make 300 cases of chardonnay, just enough to launch a label.
By this point, Moses and Hall were an established couple, as were Donald and Heather Patz. They agreed to each contribute $5,000 and, over a bottle of Krug Champagne, they toasted the future of Patz & Hall in 1988.
They convinced a vineyard contact to give them the grapes upfront, promising to pay him back when the wines sold. They each played a role. Hall crafted the wines. Donald Patz took them out on the road, selling bottles from California to New York. Moses, a Los Angeles native, pushed the wines into the Southern California market before becoming the winery’s president. Heather Patz worked as a brand ambassador.
“It was supposed to be a side hustle,” Hall said. “We sold all the wine before the next vintage.”
When asked to look back on his many bottles, which produced an estimated 8 million glasses of wine, Hall quickly identifies the 1990 chardonnay as his most memorable. It was a make-it-break year for the new winery.
“This is it, if we can’t sell our 1990 bottles, we’re out of business,” Hall said. “It was the first year I bought grapes from Larry Hyde.”
Buying from premiere vineyards would become a hallmark of Patz & Hall, but as a new label, they were lucky to get access to grapes grapes from Hyde’s iconic vineyards. Famed wine critic Robert Parker, who had spent the past few years questioning the quality of California chardonnay, reviewed the bottle and credited Patz & Hall with rekindling his confidence in the local market.
Right after the review published, a seller called at 8 a.m. seeking a pallet of wine. Then another. And another. By 3 p.m, they had sold the entire vintage.
The business was up and running. They didn’t have the money to buy a vineyard, so they bought grapes — very specific grapes, from just the right regions. They wanted big names, like Hyde, and although they began in Napa, they started exploring Sonoma County.
Hall met Warren Dutton in 1997, as the famed grower was transforming an apple orchard into a vineyard, and he promised to be a regular customer. In turn, Dutton encouraged Saralee McClelland Kunde, another notable name in winegrowing, to sell grapes to Patz & Hall.