Interview with Jesse Katz, Founder of Aperture Cellars
Aperture Estate is minutes from downtown Healdsburg. The story of Aperture Cellars began over two decades ago when founder Jesse Katz was growing up.
His dad, renowned photographer Andy Katz, brought him along on his travels to some of the most famous vineyards around the world for work – from the heart of Burgundy to the hills of Tuscany and beyond. After accruing years of global wine experience, Jesse set his eyes on Sonoma because he believed it offered the best of both worlds: new-world fruit and old-world elegance.
That’s when he founded Aperture Cellars back in 2009, with the sole goal of replicating wines on par with the quality and refinement that are so integral to the Bordeauxs that inspired him all those years ago.
The last few years brought him some pretty big milestones at Aperture, too. They opened their hospitality center, which marked an especially exciting moment as they spent years perfecting the design and architecture behind Aperture Estate.
The hospitality center is meant to give voice to Jesse’s winemaking vision. We interview Jesse Katz, Founder of Aperture Cellars to learn more.
What type of wine do you specialize in?
Jesse Katz: At Aperture, we are focused on executing a range of Bordeaux-style wines from unique, cool-climate vineyards for Bordeaux varietals throughout Sonoma.
What I’m personally very proud of at Aperture is that we’ve identified unique vineyard sites that some people may have overlooked (we refer to these as “diamonds in the rough).” And what excites me is that there are many more opportunities to locate these unique and undiscovered vineyard sites throughout Sonoma.
We were very fortunate to work with world-class sites like Farrow Ranch, Del Rio Vineyard, and Oliver Ranch. Through these sites, we’ve been able to change the viticulture practices in order to make some of the world’s most critically acclaimed wines for Aperture and Devil Proof and the first 100-point wines from the region ever.
Four of Aperture’s most popular wines are our Old-Vine Chenin Blanc, our Barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, our Bordeaux Red Blend and our Cabernet Sauvignon.
Beyond these primary wines, though, I also have a number of single-vineyard wines (some of which are within the Devil Proof Portfolio), including Oliver Ranch Cabernet, SJ Ranch Cabernet, Del Rio Vineyard Cabernet, Rockpile Ridge Malbec (Devil Proof), and Farrow Ranch Malbec (Devil Proof).
My ultimate goal is to show that Aperture Cellars is one of the great Bordeaux houses in the world and that Sonoma has sites that are world-class for Bordeaux varietals.
I’m very proud of the last decade of wines we’ve produced and now with a state-of-the-art facility to make the wines at, our best wines are yet to come. The vineyards and terroirs that we are working with now are proving that we can continue to raise the bar for the quality of the wines at Aperture moving forward.
What are your popular tasting experiences?
Jesse Katz: While all three of our tasting options are beloved, the most popular by far is the Site Series Experience, where guests can enjoy a side-by-side exploration of our expressions of single-vineyard, site-specific cabernet sauvignons.
The experience allows our guests to taste through our offering of aromatic white wines but is really focused on highlighting how with our unique vineyard sites, the wines are similarly produced, and the terroir makes all the difference in their distinctive tasting profiles.
● Soil Series (5 wines) $50—The Soil Series experience at Aperture Estate is a stunning introduction to the breadth of the Aperture portfolio.
Their Soil Series collection consists of Bordeaux inspired blends from exquisite vineyards in Alexander Valley and greater Sonoma County with unique soil profiles perfectly suited for these varietals. A perfect starting point for guests new to Aperture Cellars.
● Site Series (6 wines) $75—A rare opportunity to dive deep into the vineyards of Aperture Cellars. Their Site Series experience focuses on unique cool-climate vineyards in Alexander Valley, showcasing the site driven wines from these single-vineyard locations.
A truly memorable experience for anyone who loves Cabernet Sauvignon and an exploration of terroir.
● Private Gallery Experience (7 wines) $125—Our Gallery Series experience is a comprehensive and fully private in-depth showcase of the most sought-after Aperture Cellars wines.
This experience takes place in our private Gallery rooms, in a lounge setting with stunning floor-to-ceiling views of their estate vineyard. Here you will be guided through an educational and sensory journey, led by one of Aperture Cellars’ Estate Ambassadors.
Wines are served with accompanying locally crafted food pairings.
What makes your wine unique?
Jesse Katz: At Aperture, we are all about terroir-driven wines and seamless soil-specific blends.
We have started to have warmer and dryer seasons and earlier bud break than ever before, which has continued to drive our focus into Bordeaux varietal-styled wines in cooler areas. We now have Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the Russian River Valley which has allowed us to double down on our vision and plant what we think will have great success, both now and for future generations.
With these warmer and dryer growing seasons and slightly cooler sites for working, we have seen real success in showcasing Bordeaux varietals with a little more nuance and elegance but still with the richness and depth of character found in California fruit.
Additionally, we are harnessing a wide range of elite technologies within our state-of-the-art production facility to ensure we have far more control over the outcome of our wine production.
With high-tech support via optical sorters, automatic pump-overs, temperature-controlled rooms, and more, we are uniquely positioned to be more time-efficient and precise with our production process. This, in turn, gives us the ability to purely and fully express each variety and vineyard site, which is in my opinion, the ultimate goal for any winemaker.
Favorite Food and Wine Pairing?
Jesse Katz: I can’t pick just one.
I’m very proud of every wine we make here and will put any of our wines on the table next to any wine in the world in its category. I love how all of them pair with food as well, because from our aromatic whites to single-vineyard reds they all have incredible texture, natural acidity, and balance – it gives you a lot of diversity in pairings.
For me, oysters and seafood are beautiful pairings with our whites and I love Duck Brest and Lamb for our reds, but there are a lot of other wonderful pairings I’ve had as well.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Jesse Katz: The first time I really fell in love with wine and was even more fascinated by it was when we were living in Burgundy while my dad was doing his book, “The Heart of Burgundy.”
I was in my early teens at the time. At that age, I almost always poured a little glass of wine at the dinner table when we went out. It was easy for me to understand that the red wine was almost always Pinot Noir and the white was Chardonnay, but I found it absolutely fascinating how different the same grape from the same vintage could be from one village to the next.
The entire premise of how the exact place where the grapes were grown had such a specific impact on the final wine immediately intrigued me. Even at that age, I could taste the unique differences and the essence of terroir. Even though I hadn’t learned the word yet, it would end up being a lifelong discovery for me.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned as a winemaker?
Jesse Katz: Throughout my 20+ harvests around the world in a lot of different climates and terroirs, I have learned how to best adapt our winemaking to the site and to the vintage. We do not have a recipe here at Aperture, and every site we farm is thought about in a unique way, from our aggressive approach to farming and viticulture to our focused and softer hand in the winery.
Each year we try and make the best wine showcasing the sites and the vintage and not trying to replicate what has been done in the past. There is an art to this, and each wine is unique in that way. That has been critical to how we look at winemaking as a philosophy.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Jesse Katz: We pop a bottle of Krug every year for the first day of harvest. Everyone has a glass, and we pour some onto the grapes to bless the season.
Describe your winemaking approach.
Jesse Katz: I had some amazing opportunities working with some of the greatest and most well-known winemakers and wineries throughout the world before starting with Aperture Cellars.
Through these experiences, I learned firsthand about the differences between vastly different terroirs and got to see a lot of different winemaker styles.
These experiences have all contributed to the way I create wines now.
With these experiences in mind, I was quite intentional in choosing Sonoma as my canvas for crafting Bordeaux-varietal wines because of the exquisite balance and restraint that its cooler-climate regions are able to provide wines from those grapes.
I selected some of my favorite clones of Cabernet Sauvignon that I’ve worked with throughout my career and Merlot from Petrus clones, along with Semillon from d’Yquem, to plant on the Aperture Estate to continue to drive the freshness and balance in the new world. Rising temperatures have continued to shift the climate and ripeness of grapes in Northern California, and today I believe more than ever that parts of Sonoma have the opportunity to make some of the best Bordeaux-style wines in the world.
It’s my mission to seek out the cooler-climate sites for these varietals in Northern California and sites that hold this potential.
Within the hills of Alexander Valley is one of the greatest regions for Bordeaux varietals in the world. We have also been looking at Rockpile AVA, Russian River Valley AVA, Chalk Hill AVA, and Fountain Growth AVA when producing our wines. These areas within Sonoma will be key players for the wines at Aperture moving forward.
I am constantly aiming to push the boundaries of the grape in order to execute Bordeaux-style wines in their highest, most luxurious form, and I think Sonoma is the place to do that.
Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery?
There are many, but one of my favorite ones was during my studies in Bordeaux we had a 2-hour harvest lunch every day with wine.
Everyone, from the owners to the pickers, would all sit down, break bread, and have a glass of wine. It was very civilized. For one of the harvest lunches at Petrus, we served Aperture and Devil Proof to the entire team.
It was such an amazing experience having this world-class team taste our wines from California, comment on how special they were, and highlight the balance and nuance of the wines. Many of them had a preconceived notion of California Bordeaux Reds as being jammy and over-ripe, so the compliments of these wines being “fresh” and “so well balanced” was very gratifying.
I keep pinching myself for that entire experience.