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Jason-Stephens Winery

Santa Clara Valley AVA

One of the best kept secrets in the region

When someone mentions Gilroy, California, the subject isn’t usually related to wine. Gilroy is the garlic capital of the world and proudly proclaims the fact on huge highway signs. Anyone who has driven through the Gilroy area on US Highway 101 can also attest to the specific smell that accompanies the area.

Gilroy, and most of the small towns that make up the Santa Clara Valley, also happens to be a particularly good environment for growing grapes (which have been thriving there for over 300 years). That fact was one of the main reasons that first attracted Jason Goelz (pronounced Gels) to build his new winery on Watsonville Road, between Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

Goelz was born in the Midwest, but moved with his family to California for his senior year in high school. He matriculated to nearby Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and began studying marketing. Along the way, he took a wine appreciation course, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Additional wine courses provided the impetus for a long term love affair with the grape and allowed him to have a wine/viticulture minor upon graduation.

“I guess it was just a case of enjoying wine, and later winemaking. I learned to make wine and produced a couple of barrels each year, mostly for my own enjoyment and for my friends. It’s amazing how many friends you have when there is wine involved.” But Goelz’s attention was diverted to marketing, where he enjoyed success in several businesses and his extensive business background proved invaluable.

“It was always in my mind to make a career in business, then retire early and enter the wine business, the way many people do today. After several years in the outside business world, I began to realize that my true calling was in the wine business, so I decided to take the necessary steps in that direction.” A unique relationship with Santa Clara grower Stephen Dorcich proved instrumental in that process. Dorcich had grown high quality grapes for many years and sold his production to other wineries. Goelz started assisting Dorcich in the selling of grapes and bulk wine and eventually showed an ability to get higher prices for both the grapes and wine.

In mid-2006, Goelz approached Dorcich about his idea of building a winery on Dorcich’s vineyard land. He would lease the vineyards and produce the wines using Dorcich’s grapes as estate-grown fruit, a plus for the grower. The two agreed and construction on Jason-Stephens Winery was begun in 2008. The arrangement has worked marvelously for both parties. Jason-Stephens Winery’s first release came in 2008, a total of nearly 8,000 cases. The wines were well received from inception and have continually garnered a high number of awards and media features. Production has risen to the 30,000-case level, depending on the annual yield of the vineyards.

The winery itself is some 10,000 square feet, and completely state of-the-art. It is uniquely designed so that the wines can be made by only two people, a rarity in the wine world. Jason-Stephens Winery also has storage room for more than 1,200 aging barrels, necessary for the production of its high quality wines. Jason-Stephens Winery is also in the midst of an incredible growth spurt that has seen it open distribution in many states over the past few years.

“The reception our wines have received is amazing,” explained Goelz. “If we continue as we have so far this year, we might have to go into some sort of allocation. That wouldn’t be too hard to take.”

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Jason Goelz - Marketer & CEO of Operations

Picture of Jason Goelz - Marketer & CEO of Operations

Jason Goelz is not your ordinary 37-year-old businessman, particularly in the highly competitive California wine industry business. While many others his age might be running similar businesses, many are descendants of families in the wine establishment who have taken over the reins of proven entities. Not so with Jason Goelz, who has accomplished everything in the wine business on his own. Goelz, if anything, is completely self-assured.

“I have learned a great deal from what I have already experienced,” he stated. “After school, I did a lot of work as an analyst and as a consultant, not necessarily in the wine arena. I feel that marketing is marketing, and is applicable to just about every type of endeavor. That said, I have tried to make use of what I know.”

“I have learned a great deal from what I have already experienced,” he stated. “After school, I did a lot of work as an analyst and as a consultant, not necessarily in the wine arena. I feel that marketing is marketing, and is applicable to just about every type of endeavor. That said, I have tried to make use of what I know.” Jason went on to describe some of the little things that have made a difference.

“Take our labels, for instance,” he added. “A lot of wineries choose accepted forms of labeling to fit in with other wineries. I felt that our labels should stand on their own merits. I contracted with a wonderful agency in Santa Monica to produce a unique design, one that would not be soon forgotten. It should stand the test of time and was something that wouldn’t need changing every few years if the direction of the winery happened to vary. I wanted our labels to be ingrained in our customer’s brain, and recognized as something they had seen before.”

Jason-Stephens Winery’s striking labels certainly fit that bill to the proverbial ‘t’, one of the elements that Goelz feels has helped his initial success in stores and restaurants. “I want people to forget just how young I am,” he insisted. “I want everyone to judge my wines on their merits and how they taste in their mouths. I am quite appreciative of the initial reception my wines have received, but the winery has been through some really tough times so far.”

Goelz points to the recent recessionary period during which the American economy slowed to a crawl. “This was the time my wines first came on the market,” he explained. “A lot of people stopped drinking wine altogether and others cut back drastically. A number of wineries were forced out of the business and others were compelled to cut back on their operations. Luckily, I had designed the winery so that it required almost no manpower to operate, so I was able to ride out the really tough periods.” Jason serves as winemaker, marketer and CEO of the operation. The only aspect he is not involved with is the grape growing, a task he leaves to his friend and partner Stephen Dorcich.

“I couldn’t have done all this without Stephen’s help,” Goelz finalized. “He is a great grower and a really good guy. We have helped each other in various aspects of our businesses and we are really good friends to boot.” Jason Goelz is a prime example of a young man with exceptional talent that has found his niche in life at a relatively young age. He had utilized his training and become successful in a short period of time. He also says he is really enjoying his life right now, something more of us wish we could say.

Jason Goelz - Winemaker

Picture of Jason Goelz - Winemaker

Jason Goelz does have an assistant, Kelley Hamilton, a young lady that he hired recently. Jason knows what he wants from his winemaking and has designed his winery so that it only takes two people to make wine, a rarity in today’s California wine industry. He is after clean taste on the palate, and insures that all Jason-Stephens Winery estate fruit is picked when it is perfectly ready.

His many wine classes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo provided him the needed education and expertise to be able to accomplish this most important aspect for his fledgling winery. While not the youngest winemaker in California, Jason surely ranks among the most innovative and adventuresome in his field.