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Sonoma County winemaker opens high-tech winery and upscale hospitality center in Healdsburg

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The winemaker who crafted the world’s most expensive wine in a 750 ml bottle just happens to live in Sonoma County. And this boy genius –– Jesse Katz –– has big plans for opening a high tech winery next month and an upscale hospitality center in the spring of 2020.

“Production is such a focus of ours, we want to do it with all of the bells and whistles,” Katz said. “The hospitality area will be by appointment only, and we want it to be an experience, not a bar.”

There’s plenty of construction going on off Old Redwood Highway right now as the 23,000-square-foot winery and 6,500-square-foot hospitality center and patio are being built.

Katz, 35, lives on the 40 acre property and jokes: “I have a 34 step commute to work.”

The winemaker gave a tour of the grounds and said, with a laugh, that his blue-eyed Australian shepherd is a winery dog in training.

Katz said the patio of the tasting room will offer a glimpse of the winery, as well as look out over expansive rows of vines. There are 32 acres of them on the property.

“People want to see where the wine is made and where the grapes are grown,” Katz said. “People will be engulfed in vineyards while drinking wine.”

The goal, Katz said, is to make guests feel as pampered as they would be at high end restaurant.

“I worked with top chefs, including Dustin Valette, to help us plan the tasting room,” Katz said. “We’re treating it as a high-end wine experience. It will be comparable to a fine-dining experience.”

The signature label Katz produces is Aperture, a range of Bordeaux-style wines. Founded in 2009, Katz said his goal is to craft wines on par with the quality of Bordeaux. He opted for Sonoma because he believes it marries “the best of new world fruit with old world elegance.”

Pouring rare bottlings of the Aperture brand in the tasting room will be a draw, Katz said. This hospitality center has three private rooms for food and wine pairings and intimate, small groups. These rooms can also open to a larger space.

Aperture refers to the opening of a camera lens and the amount of light passing through it. It’s a nod to the winemaker’s father –– Andy Katz –– who’s a well-known photographer in Wine Country. His photographs grace the label of every bottle of Aperture.

The theme of photography is carried through in the tasting room with the centerpiece design of an Aperture lens in 3D. Natural light streams in from above, and when the Aperture is “open” there’s magic in play. Some of the walls fold in and the glass opens up, creating a large indoor/outdoor space for larger events.

Katz said the design will pique the interest of those who are fond of his brand and his line-up of wines. He’s convinced his property is uniquely suited for his specialty –– Bordeaux varietals.

“A strip of blue clay runs through the middle of the property,” he said. “Blue clay is famously found through Pomerol, (the esteemed wine region in Bordeaux, France) It encompasses the entire property of Petrus.”

In addition, Katz said, there’s a lot of volcanic soils and “it’s beautiful for cabernet sauvignon.”

While the property in the Russian River Valley is best known for chardonnay and pinot noir, Katz said he knows Bordeaux varietals will thrive in this micro climate of his.

“We consider this the Banana Belt of the Russian River Valley,” the winemaker said. “It’s getting quite warm for this AVA (American Viticultural Area). As the seasons get warmer and shorter, we’re looking to the future, planting Bordeaux varietals in slightly cooler places to lengthen the growing season. It will offer rich, layered but a bright fresh style of the Bordeaux. It will allow our fresher style of wine to continue to push the limits each season.”

Katz has an impressive resume when it comes to Bordeaux varietals. He has made wine at prestigious wineries from Screaming Eagle in Napa Valley to Petrus in Pomerol.

As assistant winemaker at Screaming Eagle from 2008 to 2010, he was accustomed to producing wines in auction lots that commanded six digits. The wines Katz worked on –– vintages 2007, 2008 and 2009 –– sold to members on Screaming Eagle’s list for $850 a bottle, while the secondary market charged $2,000 to $3,000.

The world’s priciest 750 ml Katz produced was called “The Setting” and it sold for $350,000 at the Carnivale du Vin’s charity auction in New Orleans in 2017.

Katz has been developing Aperture as his sole focus since 2015.

“We continue to push the level of quality and precision,” he said.

One good example is that the winery has optical sorting, with 100 cameras taking 1000 photos a second.

“A hundred air guns shoot at the green berries, leaves and anything that’s not perfection,” Katz said.

Another high tech advance is that pump-overs can be scheduled on an iPad.

Katz said he looks forward to hosting people on the property, giving them a taste of a working winery and a hospitality center amid acres of vineyards.

“This is my life,” he said. “It’ not just a job. It’s an obsession, a passion, a hobby and I love it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I love creating experiences for people.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

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