Living out his dream

Jason-Stephens tour vehicle

Jason Goelz always hoped to own a winery but, in his version of the dream, it happened after making millions in another career and then settling down to a winery life with lots of money in the bank.
“My whole plan in college was to make a lot of money in the dot com, but I graduated too late,” Goelz said. He studied accounting and finance at California Polytechnic State University but took so many wine courses as electives that he was able to be one of the first students to ever receive a minor in viticulture from the school. After college he worked as a statistician but the wine industry came calling sooner than he planned.
In 2004, Goelz teamed up with Stephen Dorcich to help sell bulk grapes from the Dorcich Vineyard and offer consulting, but by 2006, the idea for a partnership was born and Goelz’s dream of having a winery became a reality. Only, instead of being rich and established at the time, “I was young and broke with $5,000 in my pocket.” Goelz became head winemaker and created a home for the grapes that Dorcich was struggling to sell.
Fifty acres of vines are planted on the Dorcich estate with nine different varietals growing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Petite Verdot, Mourvedre, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
“It all starts in the vineyard,” Goelz said. “If you don’t have good grapes, it’s really hard to make good wine.”
Without a lot of money in the bank, he had to build Jason-Stephens Winery, located at 11775 Watsonville Road, Gilroy, the old-fashioned way—with lots of hard work. In 2009, the winery opened to the public and Goelz had a total of nine days off that first year.
“There’s not a weekend in this job,” Goelz said. “The first year was a steep learning curve. Getting all the equipment set up and figuring out how it works—it was fun.”
Yet the long days and endless work only inspired him to continue growing his wine business. He’s constantly focusing on the future and the idea of change only seems to excite and inspire him.
“Every step is about how to improve and make it better,” Goelz said.
With help from an investor, Goelz was recently able to purchase Lions Oaks Ranch, a 378-acre estate he plans to one day hold a fine dining restaurant—headed by Odeum Chef Salvatore Calisi—and an event center. Last year they planted 16 acres on the new estate and this year they are planning on 15 acres of vines—but in the future he hopes to have as many as 60 acres of vines growing at Lion Oaks.
“I’m excited about these new vineyards because it’s really going to elevate our wine quality,” he said.
With a business background and an entrepreneurial spirit, Goelz is not afraid to try new techniques and incorporate technology in the vineyard.
“It’s getting more and more efficient to do things,” he said. “Technology is really changing things in the vineyard.”
On the new property, he’ll use a mechanical sorting machine where all the grapes and stems are sorted right in the vineyard—and it will only require two people to manage the entire process. With the machine, Goelz said, “You can do this stuff at night, when it’s cold, which is the best time to pick the fruit.”
If you need incentive to join the Jason-Stephens wine club, there will soon be guided vineyard tasting tours available only to wine club members. During tours, up to eight people will sit in an off-road vehicle—equipped with a sound system, two coolers and plenty of drink holders—and be driven around the vineyard. As you’re tasting Chardonnay, you will see the vines where that wine came from.
And, when you visit the tasting room, be sure to try their Merlot.
“The wine that stands out here the most compared to what others do is our Merlot,” Goelz said. “And that’s saying a lot because there are a lot of great Merlots around here. It’s big and bold. It’s not flabby or watered down. A lot of times it has more structure than Cabernets I drink.”
During your visit, sample five wines for $5.
“They’re all different, unique and all have a time or a place or a food,” Goelz said. “Wine and food take you to a different place. It’s a luxury. That’s the way I like to look at it.”

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