Get your passport and sample local wines

Jason Goelz, left, and Stephen Dorcich are the owners of Jason-Stephens Winery.

 

It’s not too soon to mark your calendar for this year’s Santa Clara Valley Wine Passport weekends. Twenty plus wineries offer something unique, whether it’s live music, barrel tasting, barbecues, winery tours, new releases or antipasti. Check out our wineries, many of which received multiple medals at the recent 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – the largest competition for American wine in the world.

Passports are $30 per person and are good for both the Spring Passport weekend March 24-25 and the Fall Passport weekend Oct. 6-7. If you attend all four days of both weekends, that’s $7.50 per day for award-winning wine, food, music and a chance to talk to the owners and winemakers. Passport tickets can be purchased at any local winery. See www.santaclarawines.com for details and listing of participating wineries.

Local Winery Buzz

He wouldn’t remember me, being one of hundreds of shoppers at Costco that day, but two years ago I met Jason Goelz, the 30-something owner of Jason-Stephens Winery in Gilroy. Jason was promoting his new winery and signing bottles of Syrah. My husband and I were impressed with this handsome young man whose piercing, bright blue eyes match the intensity of his ambitions.

I got the chance to meet up with Jason a second time, soon after his wines won 15 medals at the recent San Francisco Chronicle wine competition, and to hear about his winery’s remarkable success story.

It was in Napa, when a teenage Jason and his mom traveled from their home in Chicago for a vacation, that he discovered the beauty of vineyards. With his newly earned driver’s license, Jason was the designated driver, chauffeuring his mom around the wineries. A seed was planted for his future business.

Jason moved West to attend college and in 1999, became the first of two people to graduate from the wine and viticulture program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Soon after, he joined a home winemaking group where he met Stephen Dorcich, a local farming legend, who sold grapes to the group.

Steve, as his friends call him, is a veritable grape “whisperer.” Farming on his family’s property since he was 19 years old, Steve developed an intuitive style of farming practices. An environmental steward, Steve believes that what is good for the environment is also great for the vineyard. He doesn’t need machines or gadgets to calculate the nutrients in the soil or the timing of harvest. His manicured vineyards and healthy vines produce the finest quality grapes.

Sharing the same passion for quality, Jason and Steve quickly realized a partnership was in order. In 2006, on the property that Steve had purchased in 1986, Jason and Steve built and opened their winery together.

Jason says what makes Jason-Stephen’s special is its high-tech, innovative and quality focused equipment. For example, the automated fermentation system uses gentle air pressure to turn grapes over without crushing the fruit. This allows for whole-berry fermentation which produces softer tannins and makes a huge difference in the flavor profile of the wine.

Jason-Stephen’s grapes are virtually 100 percent estate grown (grown on their property). The wines are a hybrid of California and European styles that are fruit-forward, structured and well balanced. They don’t use a lot of oak, preferring to “let the fruit shine.”

Of the 15 award-winning wines, Jason says he is most proud of the Syrah, which boasts black cherries, hints of tobacco and a smoky finish. However, all of the wines are world-class and recently Jason signed a deal with Epic Wines, a premium wine distributor which will sell Jason-Stephen’s wine to restaurants throughout California.

Jason-Stephen’s Winery, open year round, is easy to find – just travel down Gilroy’s local wine trail on Watsonville Road and look for the two long rows of swaying palm trees on either side of the entrance. A park-like setting with picnic tables and redwood trees welcomes visitors ahead of the tasting room – the perfect venue for their summer music series from May through September which attracts hundreds of wine, food and music lovers.

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