Close your eyes. Just for a moment. Where does your mind go? What are you imagining? And what do you see? That question is what The Setting Wines’ partners, winemaker Jesse Katz, and co-founders Noah McMahon and Jeff Cova ask themselves daily as they guide The Setting Wines toward heights that continue to captivate oenophiles worldwide.
Established in 2014, The Setting Wines is a collection of luxury wines that have taken the industry by storm. Each is crafted with exquisite care and no small degree of passion by its winemaker, Jesse Katz, whose reputation, built during his formative years as such famous names as Petrus and Screaming Eagle, is one that most veterans of the industry would envy. At the tender age of 25, he became the youngest head winemaker with Lancaster Estate, and subsequently, his approach has remained consistent with his ultimate purpose and focus; stretch the boundaries of what is possible and deliver in producing superlative wines. Equal part inspiration and aspiration, his story is one of uncompromising vision, strengthened by an equally dedicated partnership and an eye toward the future.
Additionally, The Setting Wines is a partnership that goes beyond what is in the bottle, (as good as the juice is.) At the risk of hyperbole, it is a passion play between three individuals committed to creating unique experiences and fantastic wines. The three friends, now partners, met more than a decade ago at Charlie Palmer’s Annual Pigs and Pinot event, where the renowned chef brings culinary and wine elites worldwide to participate in this celebratory weekend. Noah and Jeff had been going to Napa and Sonoma for many years, some for pleasure, but some to grow their philanthropic initiatives. Of all the wines (yes, Pinot) competing for the grand prize, Jesse, his youthful appearance notwithstanding (Jeff referred to him as looking like a twelve-year-old), won with a magnificent Pinot from Roth Estate Winery.
This early encounter made it clear that all three exhibited a passion for food and wine and how it brought people together. As much as it is a worthy endeavor, The Setting Wines team also wants to help those who need it. With an extensive background in charitable work (founders of Winspire, a philanthropic organization dedicated to fulfilling the largest selection of unique experiences for use in charity auctions or raffles), both Noah and Jeff quickly realized that in addition to being a superior winemaker, Jesse also was committed to helping his fellow man. A commitment to community and charity was born at the heart of who the trio is.
Since that encounter in Healdsburg, the three partners continue to define a very particular model of winemaking, where the very best of several premium vineyards’ yield is at the core of what The Setting Wines are and will continue to be. During our discussion, it is clear to see Jesse’s commitment to his craft. He talks at length about his process and determination to refine it until it produces the wine he has become well-known for. Winemaking is a fascinating process combining science, art, and tradition; Katz follows a path that has been carved for thousands of years yet discovers new things. His fascination for the details is also noteworthy. We spent several minutes discussing soil, microclimates, terroir, equipment, etc. He also explained his commitment to farmers and their representation in the winemaking community.
He fell in love with the winemaking process in his early teens traveling throughout Europe with his father, photographer Andy Katz, whose vivid and compelling images chronicling the majesty of magnificent vineyard properties have been a constant inspiration.
While the methods have changed over time—equipment and technology have made considerable leaps in helping with efficiency and production—winemaking is essentially the same process; a winemaker trusts his instincts, combining ancient farming principles with artistic flair and—let’s be honest—an eye toward the weather. It’s also clear that Jesse loves all of it. I would describe Katz as equal parts scientist, artist, farmer, and protector of the earth.
In that regard, Katz is firmly aligned with his partners, who are perfectionists in their own way and an integral part of what The Setting Wines is all about. While a lot of the attention gets showered on the winemaker (not unlike most famous wine labels), everyone is quick to point out the collaborative nature of the relationship, where everyone has common goals, objectives, and interests that go beyond the actual winemaking process.
One can sense the high level of respect and camaraderie all three feel for one another, and this level of trust and friendship is essential in moving the label forward. McMahon mentions, “We’ve got a great team, and that has made it pretty simple from a business perspective.” It also guides interactions moving forward. He continues, “There is not a day I don’t hear the word ‘setting’ being mentioned in different… settings. It does set the table for what we will do in the future. It is magical when something we all have a hand in creating brings people together with a common purpose.”
Sometimes, it is also for a great cause. In 2021, The Emeril Lagasse Foundation celebrated its 19th annual fundraising event in New Orleans, supporting its mission to create opportunities to inspire, mentor, and enable youth to reach their full potential through the culinary arts. The highlight of the evening was a live auction featuring a six-liter bottle of The Setting Wines 2019 Glass Slipper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that sold for the incredible price of $1 Million, the most expensive single bottle of wine ever sold at auction.
While this is an impressive result, all three partners are quick to point out that the money wasn’t the most critical factor in the success of the evening. Jeff points out, “We all know that it’s not the liquid inside of the bottle that was worth $1 Million, but what it represented; a gathering of committed people who had a common goal in mind; help someone less fortunate than they.”
We would be remiss not to mention the wines themselves. They are a labor of love, and Jesse, alongside Noah and Jeff, are dedicated in offering the very best wines anyone can find. The Setting sources fruit from some of the most prestigious vineyard sites throughout Napa and Sonoma Valley to produce Bordeaux varietal wines with meticulous attention to details in every step. The Setting also recently expanded into Oregon. They just released their first ever Chardonnay from Chehalem Mountain Vineyard, and their first Pinot Noir will be released this fall.
The setting (no pun intended) matters. You can have a very inexpensive bottle of wine, yet being surrounded by people you love, its meaning is exponentially more significant. As they say, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Just in case that we’ve wetted your thirst, The Setting Wines has a lovely tasting room in Healdsburg (approximately a little over one hour from downtown San Francisco) located at Bacchus Landing, just one mile from the Healdsburg Plaza. They also have a new tasting room in the heart of Oregon wine country, located inside The Setting Inn Willamette Valley.
The Setting Wines connects a superlative brand, amazing people, and what happens when imagination, talent, friendship, and inspiration collide.
Learn more at thesettingwines.com
Words by Yves Le Sieur