Wine Spectator

Exclusive: Patz & Hall Co-Founder James Hall Buys His Winery Back

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Exclusive: Patz & Hall Co-Founder James Hall Buys His Winery Back
James Hall sold his stake in Patz & Hall in 2016, but has remained in charge of winemaking since. Now, he will be co-owner again. (Meg Smith)

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is selling the Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer as it shifts away from California.

While the wine world is full of news of mergers and acquisitions, the latest transaction in California is more of a homecoming. Patz & Hall co-founder James Hall and a small group of investors are buying the winery back eight years after it was sold to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. The sale is the latest move by Ste. Michelle to sell its California wineries and focus on its Washington brands. Hall will become the largest shareholder. A purchase price was not disclosed.

“It’s a dream come true,” Hall told Wine Spectator. “I love being a winemaker and having an opportunity to come back in. Emotionally I didn’t have a choice. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a compulsion. I don’t want to retire.”

Patz & Hall Was a Pinot Pioneer

Donald Patz and James Hall met in the 1980s, when they were both working for Napa’s Flora Springs Winery. With partners Anne Moses and Heather Patz, they launched Patz & Hall beginning with the 1988 vintage. They were an early powerhouse for both vineyard-designated and regional blends of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, consistently scoring 90+ on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale.

In 2016 the founders sold to Ste. Michelle, one of the largest wine companies in the United States. Patz left the winery and founded a new wine firm, while Hall remained. At its height, the Ste. Michelle portfolio included Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest in Washington, Erath Winery in Oregon, and Conn Creek and Villa Mt. Eden in California. The company also partnered with Italy’s Antinori family in Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Col Solare.

Ste. Michelle ranked as the eighth-largest U.S. wine marketer in 2020. But the pandemic hit the company hard, with volume declining by more than a million cases. In 2021, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was sold by its parent company, Altria, to a New York–based private equity firm named Sycamore Partners in a reported $1.2 billion deal. Since then, the company appears to be refocusing on its brands in the Pacific Northwest and trimming production. Ste. Michelle sold its share of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 2023 to its partner, Antinori.

Hall’s Plans for the Future

Hall is gracious about working with Ste. Michelle. “It was a very satisfying relationship with very few challenges,” he said. “I don’t think we would have survived COVID without them.” He said not much has changed at the winery between the 2016 purchase and now. Annual production is about 40,000 cases. There are about two dozen bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in any vintage, plus a trio of sparkling wines. Hall remains in charge of winemaking, but he promoted James McCeney, formerly of Lewis Cellars in Napa, to senior winemaker last year.

Because Patz & Hall doesn’t own any vineyards (Hall and his wife planted a 14-acre vineyard on leased land in Green Valley), the brand relies heavily on Hall and the long-term arrangements he has to purchase grapes from some of the most prestigious vineyards in the state, including Hyde, Dutton and Zio Tony.

The Patz & Hall winery and tasting room is located on the outskirts of the town of Sonoma

The Patz & Hall winery and tasting room is located on the outskirts of the town of Sonoma.

When asked about the path he’s taken, Hall brought up the joke about the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life: the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it. “I turned 65 last year,” said Hall. “I don’t want to play golf and sail.” He adds that, with a 20-year-old daughter, it’s premature to make plans about the business staying in the family. “I spent over 40 years building the chops to be the winemaker I am. Right now the plan is to continue running Patz & Hall and build on our Chardonnay program.”