Last Friday at the weekly event we tasted the 2010 Jason-Stephens Estate Merlot and to my tastes it was one of the most impressive wines I have tasted this year. It was dark and rich yet smooth and soft on the palate with velvety tannins and flavors of blackberry, tea and coffee, tobacco, and vanilla; not jammy but rather structured with all of the above leading toward a long rich finish. The 15.2% alcohol was not even noticeable! The entire experience left me wanting to know more about the producers.
Jason is Jason Goelz and Stephens is Stephen Dorcich and the two of them seem to have painted their masterpiece as a team. Dorcich grows the grapes and Goelz does the rest. Depending on your wine industry philosphy, one of the two may be doing more of the heavy lifting in the partnership but without question, this team works!
Here's how it all came together: In 2006 Goelz approached Dorcich with the idea of doing a winery. Goelz was a recent graduate of Cal Poly Tech in San Luis Obispo with a degree in marketing and a minor in winemaking. In 1989 Dorcich had purchased a 79 acre pear farm in Santa Clara County (think Silicon Valley), planted grapes, and by 1993 was selling them to wineries and home winemakers. Jason Goelz started buying from him in 2001. In 2004, custom crush red blends made by Napa Valley wineries proved to account for a disproportionately large percentage of Dorsich's grape harvest. Goelz, noting both his esteem for the Dorsich estate grapes and their popularity with others, made the partnership proposal. A state-of-the-art winery was built in 2008.
From their website, www.jstephens.com, the Jason-Stephens mission is to produce wines that deliver consistent quality and value from their own select estate vineyards, wines that display unique attributes with the ultimate goal of exceeding the expectations of wine enthusiasts. Descriptors listed for Jason-Stephens wines include: flavorful, complex, balanced, elegant, and velvety, all of which apply to the Merlot currently in the store. Further, this winery website intrigues with statements like, "The ritualized consumption (of wine) and its ability to alter consciousness is what made wine such a powerful talisman, and the wine label a cultural artifact." Eh, a little pretentious perhaps. The bottle labels are paperless, by the way, using a very artful screen printed design instead.
As stated above, Jason Goelz graduated from a technical school with a marketing degree. His marketing of Jason-Stephens wines is very astute (just do a Google search) but he must have taken some engineering classes because that state-of-the-art winery is way cutting edge. Goelz uses a new automatic sorting system, improving grape quality by eliminating cross contamination while at the same time cutting labor costs. Goelz also developed an ozonated water rinse to dust off gapes, killing the natural yeasts that adhere to them in the vineyard. Kelley Hamilton is Goelz' one assistant and they alone do everything!
Jason-Stephens wine sales are soaring which doesn't seem possible when you consider the recessionary times of their existence. In 2013 they purchased a 378 acre ranch with twenty acres planted in Chardonnay and Syrah. All of their vineyards are sustainably kept with cover crops of grasses and wildflowers planted between the rows to nourish the soil.