Steve Noel

Steve Noel

About Steve Noel

Steve spends his days living in the software world of Silicon Valley, dreaming of a day when he can live as a wino hobo riding a wine train from wine region to wine region.

Jason Stephens Winery

Gilroy is for Garlic. It starts with a G and has a Garlic festival after all…

However, Gilroy California is for wine too. If you haven’t found this region, you should. One of the wineries that really showcases and promotes this region is Jason Stephens Winery.

Jason and Janu Goelz are the husband and wife team behind Jason Stephens, bring a fun approach to their limited releases of traditional Bordeaux varietals and their Silicon Valley Wine Company “Tech Series” labels. You may have seen their catchy “tech nerd label”, my term, for their Ones and Zeros wine. This wine has some commercial distribution in at least a few states and is available via theirs and other websites.

Jason Stephens Winery, founded in 2008, has the feel of an urban winery, which I love. They moved their tasting room from a vineyard into an area they are calling the “Stomping Ground”. The Stomping Ground, located at 6500 Brem Lane in Gilroy California, is a wine production, cellaring, storage, tasting and fulfillment facility. Plans also call for, food vendors and entertainment and there are already a couple of additional winery tasting rooms located here. While you won’t find yourself in a vineyard setting, you will find the vineyard in your glass.

Jason Stephens Winery provides several relaxing courtyards and a cool tasting room for your wine tasting enjoyment. One of their courtyards allows dogs and children, leashes required. They didn’t specify if that was a requirement for both, but if you aren’t sure if your children need one or not, they might. They are open daily from 11am-6pm. Closed major holidays (New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas).

The tasting menu changes as their wines are released. Wine tastings are $10 and include at least one white wine a several of their reds. The Tasting flight I had included a 2015 Pixelated Rosé ($18), a 2014 Persing Cabernet Franc ($36), 2014 Persing Meritage ($38), 2014 DeWitt Petit Verdot ($36), and a 2014 Malbec ($30).

Jason Stephens Winery offers 2 wine club programs. The Sipper’s Tasting program provides 3 wines 2 times a year. Additional benefits include 15% off all purchases and up to 2 complimentary tastings per month. The Connoisseur’s Tasting Program (limited to 1000 members) provides 3 wines 4 times a year. Additional benefits include 20% off all purchases and up to 4 complimentary tastings per month plus invitations to exclusive member events.

Chateau St. Jean Winery Review

There are wine tasting experiences available at Chateau St. Jean to fit anyone’s style. Chateau St. Jean is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is closed for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Late opening on Easter Sunday, and closes early for New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eves. Appointments appreciated, but not required for groups of less than 10

Doing a nice casual tasting? You can taste 4 Chateau St. Jean wines in the main tasting room. This classic tasting gives a good introduction to their wines. Tastings take about 45 minutes. $15 fee per person.

Feel like relaxing in Chateau St. Jean’s 1920s chateau and experiencing the Sonoma wine lifestyle? If so, then the seated Chateau Reserve Tasting is for you. Pick any 4 of the 8 wines offered, 4 reds and 4 whites. Available daily at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on the Chateau Patio, weather permitting, or in the Chateau Dining Room. $30 per person and the tasting is accompanied by an artisan cheese plate. Tastings take about an hour.

Looking for a custom one of a kind tasting? Chateau St. Jean offers a private tailored wine experience Friday- Monday. Reservations Required. You can enjoy Chateau St. Jean wines customized to your preferences. Options include Library Wines (including Magnums), White Wines, Red Wines, Bordeaux Varieties & Burgundy Varieties. $50 per person. Tastings take about an hour.

If you want to bring the whole gang, you can do a private group tasting experience. These tasting options are available to parties of 10 or more. Check Chateau St. Jean’s website for more information on the private tastings, tailored wine experiences, wine and cheese pairings, and even bottle service for your group.

Chateau St. Jean does offer a wine club, which I am a member. One of its perks is free tasting for Wine Club members and 3 guests, and wine club members even have their “members only” Chateau Reserve Room and a Wine Club Patio.

Atmosphere

If you love the idea of spending time in a 3,550-square-foot historic 1920’s Northern California summer home and wandering around its Mediterranean-styled formal gardens, stop here. Chateau St. Jean oozes elegance. Fun fact, Chateau St. Jean is named for Jean Sheffield Merzoian, sister, sister-in-law, and wife to owners. Chateau St. Jean truly provides breath taking beauty, without being pretentious. I love Sonoma for its down to earth people and places, Chateau St. Jean is no exception. The Chateau is designed for adult humans so this is one where Fido and the kids might want to take a pass.

Chateau St. Jean offer wines by the glass or bottle along with a selection of cheese and charcuterie in our Visitor’s Center. You are welcome to picnic in select areas on property and enjoy our Bocce Ball Court. No outside alcohol is permitted.

Wine Tasting

As a wine club member, I’m obviously a fan of Chateau St. Jean’s wines. So these will be positive reviews. I fell in love with the wines produced at Chateau St. Jean years before I became a wine club member, because of their elegance. I remember tasting their wines for the first time and thinking how feminine they seemed to me. Please understand my use of this word that is sometimes perceived as having a negative connotation. To me, feminine wines have elegance, sophistication, understated strength, and a je ne sais quoi. I said this before knowing that Wine Enthusiasts Magazine’s 2008 “Winemaker of the Year” Margo Van Staaveren was Chateau St. Jean’s winemaker.

Chateau St. Jean sources from 9 vineyards across several different AVAs giving Margo some of the “best of the best” fruit to work her magic with and is one of the reasons Chateau St. Jean is a pioneer in the Sonoma Valley, producing exceptional single vineyard wines since 1975.

Chateau St. Jean has 4 distinct wine collections with both red and white wines. The Reserve Collection includes blends of a particular varietal from each sub-appellation, from Sonoma Valley to Alexander Valley to the Sonoma Coast. The Single Vineyard Collection that highlights the unique expression of exceptional vineyards in each vintage. The Appellation Collection that are single varietal wines that thrive in distinct Sonoma County AVAs including Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Coast. And last but not least, the Cinq Cépages. Cinq Cépages is the flagship wine of Chateau St. Jean created from select fruit from the finest Bordeaux varietal vineyards. Fun fact, Cinq Cépages means 5 grape varieties.

2012 Reserve Merlot

I don’t drink a lot of Merlots, and no, not because of the movie Sideways. I like big reds and lighter reds, and those wines in the middle get overlooked, shame on me. If you are looking for a Merlot to grab your interest, here it is. 2012 was the start of the latest California drought and the fruit was amazing. Smooth, balanced, with a nose that I best describe as a perfume more than a smell. Black fruits, gentle baking spices, and mouth feel where I got some slight cocoa powder. For pairing I would love to see a scallop dish or other sea food with some brininess. $90 at the tasting room.

2015 Le Seul Pinot Noir

This is Chateau St. Jean’s third vintage of Le Seul Pinot Noir from the Gap’s Crown and Sun Chase vineyards, both located in the Petaluma Gap area of Sonoma County. Fun fact, Le Seul means “the only”. This may not be the only Pinot for me, but it certainly is a Pinot for me. Pinots are so expressive. They are a little delicate and won’t grow everywhere. But wherever they grow, they make that area a part of themselves. The two vineyards these grapes come from have one thing in common, they allow for slow ripening. That really shows when you taste this wine. Fresh fruits like Bing cherries balanced with good acidity that doesn’t cover up the mid palate flavors that include cinnamon that has been sprinkled on a baked apple and a soft hint of smoke. This Pinot would pair well with deep flavored foods, like a chicken that was in the crock pot all day. $75 at the tasting room and on their website.

2014 Cinq Cépages

2014 Cinq Cépages is a blend of classic Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon (77%), Cabernet Franc (9%), Merlot (8%), Malbec (3%), Petit Verdot (3%), and 100% yum. If you care about points, Wine Advocate gave this one 92 of them. Have you ever jumped into a deep lake where every second you sank deeper and deeper you feel something different? Warm, cold, the bubbles, and what you hope was a fish? When you taste this wine your mouth is going to take a deep plunge, but I promise no fish. Deep rich inky color, a nose that oscillated between woodsy rich black fruits and flowers growing on a bank of a stream. On the taste I got a dark chocolate covered cooked down black raspberries. In the next millisecond the wine delivered a fresh fruit that moved out of the way for some great minerality. Yes I loved it, thanks for asking. This is a wine that can be aged, but I don’t see it surviving long in my cellar. I would pair this with a grilled pork chop with some rosemary. There is a chance some other foods will make this wine taste better, but why risk it? $85 in the tasting room and on their website.

Unique Winery Experiences

When you step through the vine covered portal into Chateau St. Jean’s garden, you will feel transported to a Mediterranean villa. I always feel compelled to wear my fancy wine tasting clothes when I visit so I won’t be the eyesore in the garden. I suggest you pack a picnic, do a tasting of your choice, and buy a bottle of wine to go with your basket of goodies. You may even want to beat your friends in a game of Bocce ball.

Wine club benefits include free tastings and a 20% discount on wine, winery merchandise, and deli items . Invitations to exclusive “members-only” programs and events throughout the year. There are 2 wine club options. The Reserve Club, 3-4 bottles of Red and White reserve wines 4 times a year, and Club St. Jean, 3-4 bottles of red, white, or a mix of wines from the entire breadth of the Chateau St. Jean portfolio. Wines can be picked up or shipped with a $15 flat rate shipping on all club shipments. Oh, and we get our own members only tasting and picnic area.

Kunde Family Winery Review

There are several different wine tasting experiences available at Kunde, so there is something that will appeal to everyone in your group. Kunde Family winery is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except for New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Appointments appreciated, but not required for groups of less than 10.

Just you and a couple of friend doing a quick tasting? Belly up to the main tasting room bar where you will enjoy Kunde’s Estate grown wines and Destination Series wines, which are only available at the Tasting Room. $15 fee per person.

Feel like kicking back in a nice leather chair and sipping some Destination series and Reserve tier wines? Sounds like the Kinneybrook room is for you. $30 per person will get you these wines plus a complimentary gourmet cheese plate to pair with your wines.

If it is nice outside, and honestly when isn’t it in Sonoma? You may want to sit outside in the 202 lounge, open April through October. Fun Fact, Kunde is California bonded winery number 202. The 202 lounge is a lovely outdoor tasting area, where guests can enjoy the garden while tasting their estate grown wines. $15 fee per person.

Feeling adventurous? Kunde offers a one-of-a-kind wine tasting experience for the adventure seeker. This tasting is set 1,400 feet above the valley floor in the Moon Mountain AVA surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the Kunde Estate. After tasting some wine in a private room off the main tasting room, you will be loaded into a luxury van and will be driven through the estate up to the top of the mountain passing more than a few sites you may have seen in more than one movie. Fun Fact, Kunde was used in the movie Bottle Shock, can you say boxing ring? If you are lucky enough to do this at the right time of year, you may get to taste their Century Vine Zinfandel while standing in the vineyard with the more than a hundred year old zin vines growing around you, pick a grape and wonder at the magic that turns that grape into the wine you are drinking. $60 fee per person.

Want to Hike and wine taste? Kunde has you covered. A couple times a year (check their website) Kunde offers a moderately strenuous hike that lasts approximately four hours, where you can taste the wines in the vineyards where the grapes are grown. The tour fee is $30/guest and $15/wine club member. Reservations are required, and space is limited to 50 people.

Kunde does offer a wine club, which I am a member. One of the its perks is free tasting for Wine Club members, up to 4 people, in all the tasting experiences except the Mountain top tasting where members receive a discounted rate of $40.

Atmosphere

Sonoma tends to be laid back, and Kunde is no exception. Super friendly knowledgeable staff, and don’t be surprised to see family members there working as well. Well behaved dogs on leash are welcome and spoiled. Based on the tasting choices listed above, you can find a quiet spot, or enjoy the hustle and bustle of the main tasting room. Kunde is an 1,850 acre estate with less than 40% of the estate planted with vineyards. The rest of the acres remain as native habitat that is integral to the health and vitality of the entire property. Their sustainable winegrowing practices work in concert with five distinct ecosystems within the estate: riparian, aquatic, oak woodlands, native grasslands and chaparral.

Wine Tasting

As a wine club member, I’m obviously a fan of Kunde’s wines. So these will be glowing, but fair, reviews. I fell in love with the wines produced at Kunde because of their complexity and balance. Having complete control of their 100% Estate grown grapes gives them a huge advantage in wine making. All the grapes are hand harvested, crushed and de-stemmed, then fermented with native yeasts. Most spend some time in American, French, or European oak.

Let me give you a few comments that I feel are true for all of their wines. You will taste the unique expression of terroir without feeling like you are eating dirt. There is enough acidity to add complexity and to stand up to food, without making your teeth hurt. The time the wine spends in the barrel adds another level of complexity without hitting you in the face with an oak stave.

I am going to describe 3 red wine blends from the Destination Series of Kunde’s wines. All of these wines are only available in the tasting room for non-wine club members. Kunde has three tiers of wine. The Estate Series, estate grown wines crafted for everyday enjoyment, you may find some of these in a wine shop near you. The Destination Series, estate grown wines solely for tasting room visitors and wine club members. And the Reserve Series made up of the best blocks and rows the vineyard has to offer. Some better wine shops near you may carry these as well.

2015 Red Dirt Red

This wine blend is named for the red volcanic soil the grapes at Kunde grow in. The 2015 blend is predominately Zinfandel and Syrah. An insider tip, it also has some Barbera and Petite Syrah blended in there. Very fruit forward easy drinker, this bottle can get empty quickly. You will most likely get some red and black fruits, cherry and blackberry. I get the volcanic minerality with this wine. The acidity is really understated in this wine, one of the reason it is so easy drinking, but it holds up to all the foods you would expect of a Zin/Syrah blend. Grilled meats, Italian red sauces, and I like it with spicy Mexican food too. This wine is $35 a bottle and is only available in the tasting room.

2014 Dunfillan Cuvee

This is another wine blend as you might have guessed from the name. This blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Syrah. The Cab in this blend adds more earthy spices to the nose and palate. You may get Cinnamon, mulling spices, and fruits like blueberries. This wine also carries a little more acid to me and this gives the wine a pleasant tart finish. This is another well balanced wine that is oh so easy to drink without food, but will enhance many dishes. This is a great pizza wine, pairs really well with pork, and any dish with some residual sweetness like sweet potatoes. This wine is $30 a bottle and is only available in the tasting room.

2014 Meritage 202

Fun fact, any winery that produces a wine that carries the Meritage name must be a member of the Meritage Alliance and be blended with at least two of the traditional “noble” Bordeaux varieties. The red “noble” Bordeaux varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and the rarer St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenère. Kunde’s Meritage 202 contains five of these grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot. Full bodied and rich. This wine is everything you would expect from a quality Bordeaux wine except for the price and the need to cellar it for years before drinking it. Dark berries on the nose and rich black cherries. This wine also gives me a nice minerality on the finish. When pairing this wine with food, think rich. Stews cooked in red wine, Red Italian sauces, anything with blue cheese. This wine is $35 a bottle and is only available in the tasting room.

Unique Winery Experiences

The Kunde property is amazing and is not to be missed on any visit to Sonoma. There are many tasting options as well as other events throughout the year.
Everyone, whether you taste or not can take a guided tours of their wine caves. These are available daily at no charge. These tours are done at 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00, subject to change based on the work that needs to be done in and around the caves, this is a working winery.
Remember I said they were dog friendly? A few times a year (check their website) you and your four-legged friends can join Fourth-Generation Winegrower Jeff Kunde and his Dogs Cooper and Marley in a hike through the breathtaking Kunde Family Winery vineyards followed by a wine tasting and country lunch. A portion of the fee for the Dog Hike will be donated to Dogwood Animal Rescue Project and Sonoma County Humane Society. The tour fee is $75/person.

Wine club benefits abound. Free tastings and a 20% discount on wine and other purchases at the winery. My wife loves using the discount on the gift items in the tasting room. Special events throughout the year are held for wine club members. There are 2 wine club options, 6 bottles 4 times a year, or a case of wine twice a year. Shipments may be customized and they will ship it right to your door.