Monthly Archives: December 2019

Aperture Cellars opens new Estate near Healdsburg

Young veteran winemaker Jesse Katz, producer of Sonoma County Bordeaux-style wines under his Aperture Cellars brand since 2009, is about to take a huge step into his future.  He recently acquired the old Ponzo vineyard site on Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg and is molding it into the new Aperture Estate.

Winemaker/owner Jesse Katz

The seeds for Jesse’s passion for wine were planted at an early age as he traveled through eighty countries with his father, photographer Andy Katz, including many wine regions in France and Italy.  Over the past 17 harvests, he has honed his skills in Bordeaux, Argentina and at noted Napa Valley wineries like Screaming Eagle and Robert Foley.

Nearly a decade ago, Jesse’s appointment as head winemaker at Lancaster Estate made him the country’s youngest.  Maturity came quickly as one of his releases was included among the Wine Spectator magazine Top 100 Wines of 2013.

Known as a winemaker to the stars, Katz has consulted with celebrities like Justin Timberlake, professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and NFL star Von Miller.  Of note, he and film agent Shep Gordon collaborated to create 2015 The Setting Wines Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that sold for $350,000 at a charity auction.

Architectural rendering of new hospitality center

The new forty acre Aperture Estate consists of a new state-of-the-art production facility, thirty-two acres under vine and, in May 2020, it will add a modern and well-appointed hospitality center designed to enhance the experience that culminates in the glass. With 3,500 square feet of indoor space that expands to 6,500 square feet when opened up to the patio, guests will be exposed to the surrounding vineyards and choose between several appointment-only options such as private group tastings or a VIP experience with food pairings.

The new buildings were designed by Signum Architecture who, among others, created the designs for Odette, Cade and Hall wineries.  The production facility has an impressive contemporary exterior design that compliments the landscape.  The interior, with rusted galvanized steel paneling is equally imposing, but, for Jesse, it’s about form following function.

New vineyards at Aperture

There, he has all the best toys for success including a crush pad, a Weco optimal sorter, a cold room, four barrel rooms and  27 fully automated fermentation tanks. Future lab work will be done in-house and, beginning with the 2019 harvest, all Aperture wine production will happen under this roof.

The new estate came with ten acres of old-vine zinfandel and, on the remaining property, Jesse has planted merlot clones from Château Pétrus and semillon clones from d’Yquem, noted producer of “botrytized” wines from Sauternes.  Clearly, Bordeaux has a presence in nearly all Aperture releases.

Outside of the estate property, Aperture controls 140 acres, spread over seven separate vineyards in Sonoma, Napa and Yolo counties.  The three single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon as well as the Bordeaux blend are sourced from the Alexander Valley, a region where rich soils, in Jesse’s opinion, produce “new world fruit and old world elegance.”

The root of all this activity and excitement is the wine and we began a tasting with the 2018 Aperture Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc ($30), sourced from old vines in Clarksburg, near the Delta, fifteen miles south of Sacramento.  Declared “America’s best dry chenin blanc” by Wilfred Wong (wine.com), it is non-filtered with no new oak and has a distinctively rich mouthfeel with flavors of ripe pear and the stone fruits.

2018 Aperture Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc

From Sonoma County’s newest appellation (AVA), the 2018 Aperture Barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc $40, with two-percent semillon, is sourced from the Dry Stack Vineyard in Bennett Valley near Santa Rosa.  Jesse admitted that he returned from Bordeaux with a greater appreciation of the whites and this release deserves ours.

From the clay loam soils in the Alexander Valley, the 2016 Aperture Bordeaux Red Blend ($55), a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc, is aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak.  Although cabernet sauvignon dominates the flavor, the floral and spice hints come from the cabernet franc.

2015 Devil Proof Rockpile Ridge Malbec

There are three single vineyard releases from the Oliver Ranch, SJ and Del Rio vineyards, each representing unique terroir within the Alexander Valley.  However, I was most intrigued by the 2017 Devil Proof Rockpile Ridge Malbec ($150) from south facing vines above Lake Sonoma. Heat spikes during 2017 created challenges, but the result was the  highly concentrated flavors that led Robert Parker, Jr, the Wine Advocate to state, “This may be the finest Malbec I have ever tasted from California.”

Dignified wines from Jesse and extraordinary label photos from Andy, a world-class pairing that is about to enrich the Sonoma County wine experience.  Check them out.


Twenty Years of Le Serre Nuove dell 'Ornellaia, the little wine that could

Le Serre Nuove dell ‘Ornellaia 2017

Twenty years has passed since the famed Tenuta dell ‘Ornellaia introduced Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, the first true “second vin” of any major Italian estate.  Then and now, the term “second vin” refers to a wine made from grapes overlooked for the top flagship release.  Beginning as a product of their younger vines, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia was introduced as a more accessible and affordable alternative to the classic grand vin, simply known as Ornellaia and considered one of Italy’s leading Bordeaux-style or Super Tuscan red wines from the Bolgheri DOC.

Differing from other parts of Tuscany where sangiovese is used to produce Chianti Classico, the unique terroir of the Bolgheri region, near the coast, allows Bordeaux varietals like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and others to thrive.  Following years of obscurity with a reputation for ordinary white wines and rose’, Bolgheri gained international recognition in 1974 (two years before the 1976 Paris Tasting unleashed California wines to the world) when a six-year-old wine from Sassicaia, a sub-region of Bolgheri, was selected, in a blind tasting over several releases from Bordeaux.

Vineyards in Bolgheri

In 2018, fifty years from the first vintage, the Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2015 was named Wine Spectator magazine’s Wine of the Year and is now compared, vintage to vintage, with the top releases from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Napa Valley.  As a result, the sub-region is being upgraded to Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG), the highest designation of quality among all Italian wines.  All wines from Sassicaia now require a minimum of 26 months aging before release.

Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia 2015

Maturing vines, better technology with the use of equipment like optical sorters and, in the later years, the touch of a woman, has enabled Le Serre Nuove to flourish on its own merits and develop, in the words of current oenologist Olga Fusari, “The distinct flavor profile of its older sibling.”

Another industry transformation since the first Le Serre Nuove release is that women have received more respect and opportunities to assume a larger presence among winemakers, CEO’s and sommeliers.  One such person is Olga Fusari

Fusari is only thirty-six years old and has been with Tenuta dell’Ornellaia since an internship in 2005. She studied Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Florence and, through various experimental research projects, has helped to initiate a long-term collaboration between the university and the estate.

Olga is known as someone who enjoys experimentation which pairs well with the entire Bolgheri risk-reward wine making philosophy that originally embraced the Super Tuscan movement. Since 2012, she had been an official taster for the Chamber of Commerce, charged with evaluating regional wines for the Denominations of Origin(DOC) designation.

Oenologist Olga Fusari

Fusari joined the Ornellaia staff permanently in 2008 as Assistant Oenologist before assuming the position of Oenologist in 2016.  She doesn’t hesitate in boasting about the mature character of the 20th Anniversary Le Serre Nuove dell ‘Ornellaia 2017 [$82), a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot, noting that it “expresses itself with outstanding elegance, combining great ageing potential with immediate enjoyability.”

The results were gratifying, but the 2017 vintage was a challenge.  A recent study compiled by the World Meteorological Organization defined the years 2015-2019 as the planet’s hottest on record. The 2017 growing season in the Bolgheri region was the hottest and driest ever, causing the vines to bud weeks before the normal cycle.  Then, a late April frost caused damage throughout the Tuscany region, but proximity to the ocean kept temperatures above freezing in Bolgheri vineyards, granting a reprieve.  This resulted in a harvest that began with merlot in August and ended with the other varietals in late September, cooled by autumn rains.

Tenuta dell ‘Ornellaia Estate

The varietals used in Le Serre Nuove are vinified separately, then assembled after twelve months, reintroduced to the barrel for three months and finally aged another six months in the bottle.  I found an expressive spice element with fresh berries on the nose, well-integrated flavors and a notably luscious mouthfeel that was soft on the palate.  Finally, the finish, as purported, was long and lingering.