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Jesse Katz during the winemaking process at Aperture Cellars in Sonoma County.

A Distinct Devotion to Terroir at Aperture Cellars

By Published On: May 19th, 2022

Sleek and modern, Aperture shares a fresh, unfiltered view of Sonoma County

Aperture Cellars champions a range of expressive Bordeaux style wines from Sonoma County’s premier cool-climate Bordeaux varietal vineyard sites.

In the Golden State, grapes thrive in 49 of its 58 counties, but the diversity of the terroirs from region to region cannot be overstated. Peak heat in San Francisco averages 67 during August, with temperatures as high as 134 in the Death Valley. California is, after all, massive—at 163,696 square miles, larger than Germany, England and Japan. 

The vast majority—more than 80%—of the wine produced in the United States is made in California, and that means that vintners can choose from 139 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) to grow grapes, officially recognized regions with distinct climates, soils, elevations and geological histories. 

Jesse Katz, founder and winemaker at Aperture Cellars, is making it his life’s mission to
explore the diversity and distinction of one pocket of California: the Sonoma Valley.

The Aperture Cellars tasting room, which is minutes from downtown Healdsburg on the same site as the modern, state-of-the-art winery surrounded by century-old vines, first planted in 1912.
The Aperture Cellars tasting room, which is minutes from downtown Healdsburg on the same site as the modern, state-of-the-art winery surrounded by century-old vines, first planted in 1912.

He narrows the exploration by focusing on Bordeaux-style blends and single variety
expressions crafted with their specific soil type in mind, from the 140+ acres of vineyards
his team farms.

Terroir + Technology Make Great Wine  

Katz, who cut his teeth in the cellars of some of the most iconic wineries in the world, including Pétrus in Bordeaux, Vina Cobos in Argentina and Screaming Eagle Winery in Napa, believes that technology, used in tandem with terroir, can create more precise, layered and complex evocations of the land. 

“The capabilities of the new facility add a layer of precision and focus to our wines,” Katz says. “We are able to push the extraction and level of concentration, with fewer green tannins and MOG [material other than grape] in the tank to worry about.”

Jesse Katz, Founder & Winemaker, and Hillary Sjolund, Associate Winemaker with Aperture's optical sorting machine.
Jesse Katz, Founder & Winemaker, and Hillary Sjolund, Associate Winemaker with Aperture’s optical sorting machine.

He founded Aperture in 2009, but it wasn’t until July of 2021 that his vision for a world-class winery and hospitality space was realized. In the cellar, Katz ages wine in custom-built tanks to accommodate pump-overs and three different glycol jackets for precision heating and cooling, which can be controlled remotely from Katz’s phone. The tanks include the ability to inject air into berries to perfect fermentation, and he has a gentle de-stemming machine that separates berries from stems without tearing the skin or stem. 

Steel fermentation tanks at Aperture's state-of-the-art production facility located on the estate property.
Steel fermentation tanks at Aperture’s state-of-the-art production facility located on the estate property.

Aperture’s 24,000 square-foot production facility was also outfitted with temperature-controlled rooms and optical sorting machines with 100 cameras taking 1,000 photos per second to ensure that no less-than-spectacular grape ends up in tank. He tried, he explains, to control quality on every front. 

“This is the third winery I’ve designed, and the fifth winery I’ve been a part of with regard to construction,” Katz says. “I took pieces from all of those wineries, and experience throughout the world of winemaking to create this state-of-the art facility. I was especially concerned about sorting, extraction, barrel fermentation and the handling of the fruit.”

All of this means wines that mirror the time and place they were grown.  

“The wines are incredibly pure and balanced, showcasing the amazing vineyard sites,” Katz says. “They also have very silky tannins and rich structure even in their youth, making them delicious young but with the ability to age given the natural acidity and level of decadence these wines have.”

This year, Katz released his first Site Series made and produced on the Aperture estate. 

“The 2019 single vineyards were the first wines made berry to bottle at the new facility, and they are some of the best wines I’ve made in my entire career,” Katz says. 

Jesse Katz, Founder & Winemaker, participating in the barrel tasting process and in the midst of the punch down process.
Jesse Katz, Founder & Winemaker, participating in the barrel tasting process (left) and in the midst of the punch down process. (right) 

Indeed, I recently tried the 2019 Aperture Bordeaux Red Blend, and can speak to its majesty. Composed primarily of Malbec and Merlot, with judicious additions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The grapes were grown in the Alexander Valley, in hillside vineyards with clay loam soils. The south and southeast facing slopes bring plenty of ripe red fruit to the mix, while the hills keep berry size down, and tease out concentrated flavors. Deeply ruby red, with ripe red cherries, smoked meat, flint and violets, this is a joy to drink, a sippable symphony of Alexander Valley’s elegant power. (And it punches well above its weight class at $55).

But to truly get a sense of Katz’s vision, a visit to Aperture beckons. The estate is a short drive from downtown Healdsburg. Designed by Signum Architecture, with H. Palmer Design, the darkened metal exterior features stunning artwork with signature work from Katz’s father, the noted photographer Andy Katz. (His work is also featured on Aperture labels.)

The 4,000 square foot hospitality space includes a seated tasting bar, flanked by private rooms for individual tasting experiences and an outdoor terrace that looks out on Aperture’s estate vineyards. 

What’s next for the restless, questing Katz?

He’s excited to see the “first fruit coming off our young vines at the 40-acre estate, where we planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. We have also just acquired 76 acres of a world class vineyard, Farrow Ranch, in the hills of Alexander Valley. In this vintage—2022—we will be able to take over the entire vineyard and make everything in-house.”

In the cellar, he is experimenting with aging in larger format oak vessels, and fermenting and aging reds in cement. 

It is all, Katz said, part of his bid to “push freshness and add textural layers.”

Sounds, in a word, delicious. 

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