The brand Devil Proof has a captivating photograph on its label — a Cuban woman, wildly content, as she smokes a cigar.
Jesse Katz knew that image was perfect for his edgy malbec because it captures the Cuban adage, “Live well, drink well and the devil can’t get ya! You’re devil proof.”
Katz, 33, continues to turn heads with his malbec, and a tweet set it in motion.
Robert Parker Jr. of The Wine Advocate, arguably the most powerful wine critic in the world, tasted a barrel sample of his 2012 vintage and tweeted “This may be the finest malbec I’ve ever had in California, and it rivals the best in the world.”
Within 24 hours there was a clamor for the wine, with Devil Proof attracting a cult following. The prized picture on the label was shot by Katz’ dad — Andy Katz — the famous photographer who has had a monumental influence on his son’s life, image by image.
By the time Katz graduated high school, he had traveled to more than 60 countries, traipsing through cities, towns and villages with his dad, who framed their exploits. Today Katz, who lives in Healdsburg, is nearly as famous as his father in wine circles. Katz made the 2014 list of Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30;” he was included in a pool of 30 game changers in the food and drink category, the first winemaker to make the cut.
Forbes was impressed with Katz’s business prowess with his work on several brands, most notably Roth Estate Winery in Healdsburg. “I was able to grow the Roth brand over 800 percent in five years while also getting the highest rated wines during the scale up,” Katz said. “We had to show (Forbes) financials …”
Of course, this game changer had already made an impression in some Hollywood circles. When Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake decided to tie the knot in 2012, Biel, who knew Katz from childhood, asked him to craft the wine for their wedding. The bottling was called “Blue Ocean Floor,” the same name as a song Timberlake wrote about Biel on his album, “The 20/20 Experience.”
“Katz is one of our favorite winemakers,” Timberlake said. “His wine has been a part of our cellar and enjoyed on countless occasions.”
Katz was born in Boulder, Colorado, and he said he’ll never forget that embarrassing moment when he realized, at 5 years old, his life was vastly different than his classmates. It was 1989 and his teacher asked what’s your favorite food? Pizza and pasta were the norm, until he surprised everyone with sushi.
“Half the kids were disgusted and half of the kids didn’t know what it was,” Katz said, with a laugh. “I was teased about it for a week.”
The precocious traveler went to Japan four times before he was 5 years old. “My mom (Kathy Mackin) would make sure I was up-to-date with my school work and often we’d be ahead,” Katz said.
Of course later in life Katz would realize his nomadic lifestyle was anything but embarrassing. When he was 31 he realized just how lucky he was to parachute into different countries on the heels of his father. The winemaker said he convinced his father to do a book on the First Growths of Bordeaux, so he could work at the top chateaux. The book, now on the market, is titled “The Club of Nine,” and offers a glimpse into these top estates: Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Yquem, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, and Ausone.