“The Devil Proof vineyard sites need to be world-class and rival the best of the best..
and, up until this point—and I've been searching for well over a decade—I've only been able to find two.”
Call it fate. Or just call it luck. Jesse Katz was always meant to make Malbec from Farrow Ranch in the Alexander Valley.
In 2021, Katz purchased the 75-acre site from Carol Farrow. But it was more than a decade earlier that he first laid eyes on the vineyard.
In 2009, Jesse and his dad, Andy, were invited to the ranch for dinner. As their car lurched forward along the one-lane dirt road leading to the estate, all at once, the views opened up. They were staring at a big beautiful bowl of vines—plots oriented in every direction at the base of the bowl with others clinging to hillsides, rising to an almost imperceptible end where thick forests of conifers tower straight into endless blue skies. They could feel a palpable energy.
Before sitting down to dinner, Carol took Jesse and Andy on a vineyard walk.
That’s when they stumbled upon a block of unusual-looking vines. Jesse looked at their leaves, and harkening back to his time working harvest at Viña Cobos in Argentina, he knew immediately that they were Malbec vines.
Farrow Ranch had developed a reputation for producing some of Sonoma’s best Bordeaux varieties. The vines are on an open trellis system, which allows for precision viticulture that perfectly controls sun exposure for each and every cluster
But Malbec? Jesse could hardly believe what he was seeing.
That chance sunset stroll—through what is now the source of Devil Proof’s Farrow Ranch Malbec—resulted in the accidental discovery of everything he’d ever hoped for in a Malbec site: the perfect vine clones, the perfect hillside slope of volcanic soil, the perfect diurnal temperature swings, and breezy, sun-drenched days.
Standing in Farrow Ranch that day, Jesse had just come off two back-to-back vintages in Argentina. So Malbec was close to his heart and very fresh in his mind. The Malbec vines were rooted in rich, colorful, lush soils and were quite vigorous—they would need to be reined in.
Jesse plucked off a few dark, large clusters, finding them overflowing with flavor. By the night's end, Jesse had struck a deal to purchase the older vine Malbec fruit from that coveted plot.
And he set about reining them in—transitioning to dry-farming, reducing yields, and obsessing over the canopy management, all with the aim of layering in even more intensity, structure, and depth to those already outstanding grapes.
The wine produced from Farrow Ranch is incredibly rich, with limitless depth and layers of flavors that are floral and fragrant, with supreme elegance; it’s a wine that is always light on its feet with impressive length.
We could say much the same about the Cabernet Sauvignon from Farrow Ranch. Grown on some of the steepest, highest, south-facing hills of the site, the aromas and flavors are explosive, the structure seamless, the energy raw, powerful, and never lacking tension. In short, qualities that are the hallmarks of world-class wines.
The blend of that powerful Malbec and expressive Cabernet Sauvignon that is showcased with the one Farrow Ranch block split fifty-fifty of each varietal, creates the truly unique identity that is Cima Ladera.
In the northwestern hills above Dry Creek Valley and Lake Sonoma, the land comprising the Rockpile AVA is among California’s most rugged terroir.
The Rockpile Ridge vineyard sits on a rocky, gravelly series of bluffs overlooking the lake, with vine roots clinging to 25-degree slopes at 1,480 feet above sea level. It’s easy to understand why no one really planted grapes up there—until they had to.
And they did have to, eventually. Swedish immigrant S.P. Hallengren planted the first vines in the Rockpile Ridge vineyard in 1884. But those vines are long gone. In 1982, the US Army Corps of Engineers flooded the original Rockpile site under a few hundred feet of water when they completed the Warm Springs Dam, creating the Lake Sonoma reservoir in the process. Hallengren’s descendants, the Mauritson family, were forced to start planting higher up on land that they had felt was too drastic, too steep and imposing, and even downright impossible to farm.
The extremeness of the site perched up above the fog, and the unique power of this mountain fruit takes us back to a simpler, yet more hands on way to make wine. Our constant objective is to capture this site’s rugged elegance and maintain the dramatic power.
From the top of the present-date Rockpile Ridge site, looking out over lake Sonoma, it’s easy to see why the Mauritsons had reservations. Massive boulders would have to be cleared and plots smoothed over for vines, and the steepness of it all was dizzying. On the other hand, there’s a serene calm up there and total seclusion—most of the time, the only visitors among the vines are hawks and turkey vultures.
And beneath those large-winged birds, a melange of vines are struggling to survive and in their struggle, turn out prized clusters of intense berries capable of producing world-class wines
Among them sits a block of Malbec vines, battered by constant winds but strong and healthy.
The high elevation is one factor that sets Rockpile apart from surrounding appellations, but the man-made lake brings a unique microclimate all its own, holding down the fog layer, drawing it in, so that the vines atop the ridge, battered by constant breezes and heavy winds, are always above the fog line. Because of the extremeness, the wind creates thicker skins.
When Katz began working with the vines in 2015, he discovered that the Malbec had roots snaking twelve feet deep in some areas, more in others, and he reasoned they could be dry farmed.
It was a bet that paid off, which had led to a greater depth of concentration from the smaller berries that the vine produces, given the water stress.
But to coax out the beauty, elegance, and perfumed qualities of these exquisite grapes, Katz realized he needed to shift his winemaking protocol for the site—light punch-downs throughout fermentation, pressing before primary is complete. Though it is labor-intensive, he can achieve the extraction level he wants. But it all begins with softening the tannins while aching perfect oak integration at an early stage. The result is a seamlines balance between fruit, florals, texture, energy, and drive.
“The Devil Proof sites have to be, in my opinion, world-class and rival the best of the best, and have to sit on any great wine table in the world. And, up until this point—and I’ve been searching for well over a decade—I’ve only been able to find two."