11775 Watsonville Road, Gilroy, California 95020 (map link)
Phone: (408) 846-8463
Jason-Stephens Winery is located on the floor of the Uvas Valley, and because it is on a more major road than some of the other tasting rooms we visited on this trip it is not subject to the same restrictions with regard to hours of operation. Jason-Stephens is open Thursday through Monday from 12-5pm (get there by 4:45 at the latest if you want to taste).
Jason-Stephens is the brainchild (vine-child?) of winemaker Jason Goelz and grower Stephen Dorcich. The two men are committed to creating premium wines that are complex, with the goal of pleasing a broad range of palates.
The winery has a large outdoor area for events and is undergoing improvements to make it even more amenable to outdoor gatherings.
The tasting room is a work-in-progress. The natural fabrics draping over partially exposed framing felt like a pretty decent design choice rather than an attempt to hide anything, and the stained-concrete bar with lights embedded under frosted glass was very nice. Nikki wanted to make sure I mentioned that they had hooks for purses under the overhang of the bar top, an amenity she would like to see all tasting rooms adopt immediately!
Nikki adds: If you’re male this may not be something you think about, but as a woman I appreciate any bar or tasting room that has a handbag hook. It saves me from putting my purse in a puddle of wine on the tasting room counter, from leaving it on the floor to get stepped on, or from keeping it on my shoulder the whole time, and generally makes for a more pleasant experience. It also shows me that the tasting room has given thought to the clientele that might visit. Tasting room counters that have a section that’s lower for those who use wheelchairs also always get a little extra notch of respect in my book.
Bill poured for us and was an excellent host. He was most enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Jason-Stephens wines and was an engaging conversationalist.
In the interest of full disclosure, Nikki and I had both started getting palate fatigue by the time we got to Jason Stephens. If you don’t know what that is, there’s a point you hit after tasting a fair number of wines where the tannins and acidity of the wines makes it quite difficult to clear your palate. Your tongue becomes much more sensitive to tannins which makes them seem much more prominent and also makes it difficult (if not impossible) to discern the presence of multiple subtle flavors in the wines you taste.
It’s early days yet for The Appellation Trail, but clearly we’re going to have to figure out how to time our tastings so we can give the wines the sensitivity they deserve. We’re thinking of tasting at a maximum of two or three wineries in a row before taking a substantial break – probably involving lunch or some other meal – in order to let our palates recover before continuing.
We both agreed we’d like to taste at Jason-Stephens again when our palates are fresher. We tasted their offerings, paid attention and took notes, but we know we didn’t get everything the wines here had to offer. We looked for crackers at Jason-Stephens but didn’t spot any. We would have welcomed some – we think we might have been able to get more out of the wines if we could have had some non-wine flavors calming our taste buds a little.
Tip #2 to Winemakers: Have crackers or some other palate-cleansing edible on hand so weary wine tasters can refresh their tastebuds!
2009 Estate Chardonnay (Santa Clara Valley): This wine was fermented in stainless steel and then bottled. Tom’s quote: “This is spanky!” Nikki remarked that it was delicious, like a Chardonnay candy. I liked the clean taste and feeling of warmth I got from it.
2009 Estate Select Chardonnay (Santa Clara Valley): This is the same wine as above, except this batch was fermented in oak. It was interesting to taste the two Chardonnays back-to-back. Many of the flavor attributes were consistent with the un-oaked version, but then the oak flavor gradually came in and provided a nice finish. Nikki noted less citrus in the oaked version and found it to be softer.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Clara Valley): Bill called this their “entry-level” Cabernet, made from fruit grown on newer vines than their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. I detected welcome notes of cherry. Nikki found it fruity. We both found the finish to be a bit astringent, but I think we’re really seeing the results of palate fatigue here. Everything starts tasting astringent after a while – I don’t think this would have hit us this way if we were tasting on fresher palates.
2007 Merlot (Santa Clara Valley): There were cherry notes in ths one too, but more subtle than in the ’06 Cab. The flavor had some complexity to it, but again my tongue was oversensitized to astringency and i couldn’t really taste my way through it. I’d really like to give this one another try.
2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Clara Valley): I liked the ashy/mineral front end on this Cab which was followed by a swell of fruit.
2007 Estate Meritage (Santa Clara Valley): Plum and caramel welcomed me into this wine, but the astringency thing again made me wish I were tasting this earlier in the day when I could appreciate it more.
2007 Blend – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Syrah (Santa Clara Valley): Bill said this was his favorite. Nikki liked the hints of chocolate she was detecting in the nose. I liked the presence of warm fruit.
We feel like Jason-Stephens got the short end of the stick due to our overworked tastebuds, but the good news is that we’ll gladly go back to Gilroy and taste there again. There’s a whole handful of wineries we didn’t get to this time. We’ll make sure to get to Jason-Stephens earlier in the trip.