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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for October 6, 2000


Winery of the Week  
An Act of Faith


Dennis Patton 
A decade ago founder Dennis Patton's Hidden Cellars Winery made 80% white wines.

Today, founder Dennis Patton's Hidden Cellars Winery makes 90% red wines.

Abandoning the Best

Dennis' Mendocino whites were not exactly a disaster. Listen to...

  • Gerald Asher in Gourmet Magazine—Hidden Cellars has succeeded particularly well with its Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Robert Parker, Jr.'s The Wine Advocate—Hidden Cellars superb Alchemy [white Meritage] could easily pass for a white Graves..It has a gorgeous inner core of ripe fruit.
  • Decanter Magazine—The '89 Hidden Cellars Chardonnay is stunning, as is the '90.

    So why on earth switch?

    The Answer

    Let's go back to Dennis's very first vintage in 1981. His friend, Larry Pacini, had a wonderful old Zinfandel 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.

    The Varietals

    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." 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