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Astros Owner Opens a New Winery With One of the Best Young Winemakers in America

Posh Tasting Shows Jim Crane's Eye for Talent

BY // 02.16.19
photography Michelle Watson/CatchlightGroup.com

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, head of Crane Worldwide Logistics, titleholder of the Floridan National Golf Club and squire of two downtown restaurants has been busy this week introducing friends to another facet of his multi-dimensional portfolio — a winery.

No, Crane is not going to wax ecstatic on the nuances of the nose of his Malbec or his Sonoma Valley Cab or the subtle distinction of his barrel-fermented whites from lesser collections.

“I like wine,” he tells PaperCity during a tasting at Balthazar Cellars. “I mean I’m not an expert. But I know what I like.”

And he knows business. He recognizes talent. And he has a generous spirit that more than once has distinguished him from the typical uber successful businessman. All three of those characteristics went into the making of Crane’s partnership with 34-year-old winemaker Jesse Katz, heralded as “one of the most influential young winemakers in the U.S.”

Among those attending the posh tasting of Katz’s Aperture and Devil Proof wines was Jared Crane, son of the Astros owner and best friend of Katz. The two grew up together in Boulder, Colorado.

“I’ve known Jesse and watched Jesse since he was a young man. He went to school and learned how to make wine and then he worked all over the world,” Crane says.

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In fact, Katz honed his craft working at such acclaimed wineries as Screaming Eagle, Petrus, and Paul Hobbs before becoming head winemaker at Lancaster at the tender age of 25. He launched his own labels five years ago, outsourcing his grapes. But he needed his own vineyards.

“He has some very high ranked wines,” Crane says.”He really had this thing going. He just needed a little wind at his back.”

Crane stepped in with investment partners, his close friends Sara and Bill Morgan and Michelle and Frank Hevrdejs. (All have homes in Pebble Beach, California.) As a former investor in California wines and a serious wine connoisseur, Hevrdejs was tapped by Crane to study the possibilities.

“I’m really pleased to be involved with it,” Hevrdejs says. “He grabbed me off the golf course (Pebble Beach) and said, ‘We have to fly up there to Sonoma. I want you to check this out for me’.”

Four months later, the partnership was formed. The group purchased 40 acres and leased another 50. The investment allowed Katz to build a facility to make the wine and a tasting center.

“He’s got a great location. It’s got a nice vineyard there and it’s a beautiful piece of property,” Crane says. “So it all came together. He threw in his brand and we got a deal. And it’s already making money. That’s the key.”

While guests sampled Katz’s wines, beautiful images of the vineyard were displayed on Balthazar’s programmable 9k video wall, which frames a dramatic 35-foot fireplace. The images were taken by Katz’s father, photographer Andy Katz.

The evening also served to introduce Houstonians to chic Balthazar Cellars. Owner Windi Grimes and president Teague Burrell welcomed the clutch of tony guests that included Nicole and Evan Katz, Mindy Hildebrand, Jessica and Tom Roupe, Krystal Crane Thompson and Garrett Thompson, Ned Holmes, Tina and Joe Pyne, Caroline Kenney, and Monsterville Horton.

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