photo by by Ken Forrester

Jesse Katz is one of the wine industry’s most influential young winemakers. Not only has Katz been named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers, he was also the first winemaker on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. From the winemaking team of Screaming Eagle Winery to becoming the youngest-hired head winemaker in the United States at Lancaster Estate to the creation of his own wines under the labels of Aperture and Devil Proof, Katz continues to forge a path that is fearlessly focused and dedicated to his craft. We were fortunate enough to speak with him recently about his impressive history in the industry as well as what excites him most about the future. 

What do you consider to be the defining moment in terms of your decision to commit to a career in winemaking? What prompted you to invest in your own vineyards and create your own wines?

I have had a vast amount of exposure to the world of winemaking since a young age. My father, Andy, has had a long and successful career as a photographer and I spent much of my childhood traveling with him to vineyards and wineries around the world. That gave me a profound respect at an early age for the creative art of winemaking and ultimately inspired me to make it my career. 

Probably the most pivotal moment that inspired me to focus solely on Aperture and Devil Proof occurred when I had the true honor of being included on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list as the list’s first winemaker. This got my name out on a different platform that I hadn’t been exposed to yet and really put my head into a driven entrepreneurial mindset. This was also around the time that Aperture and Devil Proof started to take off, so I ultimately made the decision to leave my job two years after that and pursue Aperture and Devil Proof fulltime. 

Which harvest would you say has been the most memorable or meaningful for you
and why?

This upcoming harvest that we are just getting into. This will be the first vintage made at the state-of-the-art and custom-built Aperture winery. I have gotten to design my dream winery that will bring another level of detail to our winemaking and be one of the most innovative wineries in the world with tools like optical sorting, automotive pump-overs on each tank, full temperature control (hot and cold) on every tank and four different barrel rooms, etc… It is truly a dream come true for me. 

What is the story you are hoping your labels will convey to consumers?

Travel, adventure, family and the beautiful interlink between art and wine. 

What is the best part about working with your father Andy?

Being able to share this journey with my father is a true gift. He has always been someone I have looked up to in terms of his pure creativity and talent. Being able to combine his passion for photography with my passion for winemaking is, I believe, a driving force behind what Aperture has amounted to thus far. Both of our backgrounds are interwoven throughout the entire brand and the result is a cohesive, beautifully told story. And, still getting to travel together. 

What excites you most about the opening of Aperture Cellars Winery and hospitality center in Healdsburg next year?

The opening of the hospitality center is going to be the true mark of Aperture entering into its next phase. Having a tangible space for guests to not only taste the wines but also be fully immersed in the unparalleled level of artistry and luxury that has become synonymous with the Aperture brand is something I am unbelievably proud of and excited to share with the world.

What inspired you to make single-vineyard Malbecs in California and were you at all surprised at the success of your Devil
Proof wines?

My time making wine in Argentina working with two rock stars of the wine world, Paul Hobbs and Hans Vinding-Diers, was fundamental to helping me understand the Malbec grape early on in my career. I knew the potential of world-class wines that a single vineyard Malbec was capable of producing and had used it in Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends throughout my tenure of making wine throughout California, but wanted to showcase what we could do from the best sites in Sonoma for this amazing varietal. Setting the record for highest rated Malbec in the history of California from all top critics six years in a row and having Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate just say it was “hands down the finest Malbec I’ve ever had. And it happens to be from Sonoma!” was a very special moment.

What key factors do you attribute to your overall success and what advice do you have for young winemakers today?

I think what it comes down to is my pure love for winemaking and the fearlessness that I have maintained throughout growing both Aperture and Devil Proof. My strategy has always been to slowly grow the brands, doing so tactfully, and I have never let fear of failure keep me from moving forward. I feel like that’s evident in the opening of the Aperture hospitality space. It’s a huge step, but I never once questioned, “Is this the right move?” I just went for it. I would advise any young professional in any field to approach achieving their goal in the same way.

If you had to choose one grape varietal that best compares to your personality, which would it be and why?

Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s adaptable to many different situations and needs some time to open up.