In my 25-year career in technology marketing, I spent a ton of time in Silicon Valley. Yet, I had no idea that less than 30 minutes away lies a hidden AVA that boasts grapes from the 1800s and, at one time, had more acres of vineyards than any other county in California. The Santa Clara Valley AVA was named in 1989, and today there are 35 wineries in the area. The region stretches over the towns of Morgan Hill, Saratoga, San Martin and Gilroy.
Several writers gathered for a Twitter tasting to try the wines from a husband and wife winemaking duo with the goal of talking about the region as well. We started with Janu Goelz the Winemaker and Owner of Alara Cellars. Alara means the “ruler of all” in German, and in Turkish it means “she who brings color and power to your soul.”
Janu’s background and love of fashion is immediately reflected on the wine bottles. She partners with Fashion Designer Malene Grotrian to come up with a label of a woman pictured in a dress that is inspired by the aromas and flavors of the wines. The dress changes every vintage. Janu said,” Fashion illustration can vary from whimsical and flirty to bold and provocative. This is often the case for wine.”
She grew up in the area and has quite the fascinating background before she began making wine. She moved to San Francisco for college and stayed there for 13 years. She then traveled to India to play the leading role in two commercial films, worked in the corporate world, was a Weather Anchor and started a clothing line. But when she met Jason in 2012, she took an interest in wine and plunged right in. She completed a Sommelier Certification at the Wine Executive program at U.C. Davis, and also became a Certified Specialist of Wine before starting Alara in 2017.
Jason found his calling for wine early as he was one of the first to graduate with a minor degree in the newly-launched “Wine and Viticulture” minor program in 1999 from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. But he pursued a business career first with dot.com startups, investor groups and even at Apple, and was a home wine maker second. He was buying grapes from a 45-acre property in Gilroy and when the property needed a winemaker, Jason decided to go for the opportunity. This evolved into Jason-Stephens Cellars in 2008.
Jason is focused on Bordeaux varieties and is laser focused on quality control from vineyard to bottle. Janu is very involved as the assistant winemaker as well as branding and marketing for Jason-Stephens Cellars.
He laughingly said, ”When it comes to Alara, I have two roles. I drive the truck and the forklift.”
Jason-Stephens produces 12,000 cases of wine per year, focuses on Bordeaux varieties and has a wider distribution. He sources fruit from Santa Clara Valley and San Benito. Alara Cellars makes 1,200 cases a year and works with Grenache, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Negrette and Trousseau. She only sources from San Benito.
We tried four wines that showed the difference in the winemaking styles. The Alara wines were much more delicate in nature. The Jason Stephens wines had much more power. Both offerings were delicious.
2017 Alara Cellars Pinot Noir – notes of strawberries, raspberries, violets, cranberry, spice and a nice earthiness.
2017 Alara Cellars Tempranillo – notes of pepper, cocoa, dried flowers and tobacco along with black fruit.
2014 Jason Stephens Merlot – notes of chocolate, berry, tea leaf, orange rind and spice. Lots of fruit and elegance.
2014 Jason Stephens Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of plum, black fruit, chocolate, oak and mocha.
The banter between the two was fun to watch. It is clear that there is some competition, but a mutual respect by two winemakers. Jason taught Janu the art of making wine, but she maintains her own style and way of doing things.