Today, founder Dennis Patton's Hidden Cellars Winery makes 90% red wines.
Dennis' Mendocino whites were not exactly a disaster. Listen to...
Decanter Magazine—The '89 Hidden Cellars Chardonnay is stunning, as is the '90.
So why on earth switch?
Let's go back to Dennis's very first vintage in 1981. His friend, Larry Pacini, had a wonderful old Zinfandel vineyard...no irrigation, no trellises, average vine age over 50 years. Along with the whites, Dennis made several hundred cases of Pacini Zin. It was so good, he continued it in spite of the phenominal success of the whites. But, as time passed, he found that the Pacini Vineyard was not unique. He concluded that hidden away in the Mendocino mountains was "the largest body of unexplored old-vine red vineyards in California capable of making world-class wine."...(see Stephen Brook's The Wines of California).
The Search by the Wirlwind
This "whirlwind of a man" (Brook's phrase) was RIGHT! He found 'em. Examples:
- 13 are over FIFTY years old.
- Another five are 25 to 50 years old.
- He also has some newer sites, but grafted onto the new rootstock are vines from 85 to 100 years old.
In addition to Zinfandel, Hidden Cellars also is working hard with Syrah and Petite Sirah. Dennis has U.C.-Davis chasing clones for him, as he continues to upgrade the vineyards. Here's a note on each.
Zinfandel - Pacini Vineyard Hidden Cellars '97 Mendocino Heritage Zin garnered a HIGHLY RECONMENDED in the California Grapevine, with the author giving it a personal "first place."...rich and briary. $30
Syrah - Syrah is one of man's oldest wine grapes, but not in Mendocino. There was no Syrah when Dennis crushed his first grapes in 1981. But he sees a strong similarity between the varietal's Rhone home (came there from ancient Persia) and Mendocino's inland vineyards. He's encouraging his growers to plant the best clones on the best sites. So far, the young Syrah vines are producing wines with much greater character than expected at that age. Dennis says Syrah is providing one of the most exciting developments in Mendocino viticulture. You can try it for $16.
Petite Sirah— There's plenty of very old Petite in Mendocino. with U.C.-Davis, they've found nine different strains. Probably Dennis' greatest passion is bringing the Petite up to its Mendocino potential. Here's what Robert Parker thought of the last Patton Petite he tasted. "Petite lovers should seek out the Hidden Cellars Eaglepoint Ranch...copious amounts of black currant fruit
intertwined with spice...impeccably pure...should keep for 15+ years." Parker and Patton are on the same wavelength. Try a bottle to see if you are, too. $30
Contact—Jill Beaverson, (707) 463-5386, FAX (707) 581-1860
My panel is just starting on these. Stay tuned.
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.
This page created October 2000