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Divide and Conquer: The Spectacular New Viticultural Areas of Paso Robles

By Rand Caporoso
The SOMM Jounral 

In October 2014, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Tax and Trade Bureau (aka TTB) approved 11 new American Viticultural Areas (or AVAs) located entirely within the boundaries of the 614,000-acre Paso Robles Viticultural Area (an AVA since 1983; amended once, in 1996).

59 winery owners and vineyard growers submitted the original petition for 11 new Paso Robles AVAs in 2007. According to Wines & Vines (Oct. 2014), this was the longest approval process on record—understandable, according to Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance spokesman Christopher Taranto, because “this was also the most complex and . . . largest single request” ever considered by the TTB. Internal re-evaluation of the petition/review process as well as cutbacks in TTB staffing occurring between 2007 and 2014 also factored into the delay.
TTB evaluation of AVA proposals routinely entails consideration of objections, and there were a number of them logged on the TTB website in opposition to the Paso Robles petition. One Paso Robles vintner commented, “There are enough microclimates and varying soil profiles within each area to make these designations meaningless and arbitrary . . . these requests were based on politics and bullying by a few large interests.” There was even an objection filed by a Las Vegas sommelier, who wrote, “This proposal sounds great for those in Paso thinking that their sub-appellation will be the next big thing, but at the consumer level it seeks to confuse and nothing more.”

Nonetheless, the evidence for geographical, environmental and historical distinctions submitted by the petitioners proved more than sufficient enough for the TTB to confirm all 11 proposed appellations, under these official names:

Adelaida District
Paso Robles Willow Creek District
Templeton Gap District
San Miguel District
Paso Robles Estrella District
Paso Robles Geneseo District
El Pomar District
Creston District
San Juan Creek
Paso Robles Highlands District
Santa Margarita Ranch
As we learn more about individual Paso Robles Viticultural Areas, we also come to a better understanding of their impact on structural and aromatic qualities in resulting wines. This, after all, is where the rubber meets the road, or Highway 101. A few remarks gleaned from recent tastings and conversations with winegrowers:

Paso Robles Estrella District 

While located east of the San Miguel District, average growing season temperatures in the AVA defined by the Estrella River Basin see slightly cooler maritime influence—classified as Region II—from both the Templeton Gap and air flowing all the way in from Salinas Valley to the north. Rolling plains and terraces between 800 and 1,800 feet are primarily alluvial and sandy loam, with rocky veins of alkaline calcareous base that surface in shallow topsoil at higher elevations. Growing season temperatures swing as much as 35° to 40° between night and day, giving excellent phenolic content to reds.

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines has successfully staked its entire Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon program in this terroir. Says J. Lohr Winemaker Steve Peck, “low organic matter in these soils is the key to reducing vigor and keeping berry size small, giving us dense, soft flavors, lower in pyrazine (green) flavors.” Potential for flavorful yet softer mouth-feel is also why newer plantings of Petit Verdot—which can be excessive in tannin and acidity in most regions— are also showing great promise in the Paso Robles Estrella District, whereas Merlot can be on the softer, looser side.

El Pomar District
Sandwiched between the south end of the Paso Robles Geneseo District and the eastern edge of the Templeton Gap District, the El Pomar District is quickly emerging as an ideal terroir for red Bordeaux varieties; particularly Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which seem to retain deep color, bright fruit and acidity in the region’s rolling hillsides (740 to 1,600 feet), although recent plantings of earlier ripening Cabernet Sauvignon clones are also showing great promise.

Air flowing directly from the Templeton Gap furnishes a moderated Region II climate, and alluvial clay loams are significantly influenced by alkaline calcareous sandstone and siltstone. J. Lohr’s Steve Peck tells us, “We began planting Merlot and Cabernet Franc for our blending programs over a decade ago because El Pomar is typically a few degrees cooler than our home ranch in the Estrella District.” Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery co-owner Matt Merrill puts it this way: “The climate in El Pomar is not so cool that we get excess pyrazine, but not too hot where flavors are baked out . . . with our well drained Linne-Calodo soils, we achieve an ideal mouth-feel and lush fruit-forward character in our Bordeaux varietals and blends.”

Read the full article here

Good Libations: 2013 vintage could be the toast of Paso Robles

By Paul Hodgins
The Orange County Register


I recently returned from my favorite California wine region, Paso Robles. It was my third visit in a month, this time to cover the CABS of Distinction trade and media get-together.

It was a fantastic month of winery visits and interviews. I got to tour the spectacular new cave at Saxum with its legendary owner-winemaker, Justin Smith. I had a long lunch with Jerry Lohr and his red wine guru, Steve Peck. I poked around Epoch with owner Bill Armstrong, who is meticulously restoring the 19th-century York Mountain winery, stone by careful stone. I toured Niner’s state-of-the-art facilities with Andy Niner (the son of owner-founder Dick Niner, one of the first deep-pockets outsiders to swoop into Paso), who has assembled a great team of vintners and vastly improved his winery’s formerly so-so product.

But the most exciting news out of Paso is the 2013 vintage. For reds, and Bordeaux varietals in particular, this could be a year to remember – the Central Coast’s version of 1982 for Bordeaux.

For those of you who geek out on the science side, the phenolic numbers are considered phenomenal. (Phenolics are the hundreds of chemical compounds found in grape seeds, stems and skins that affect the taste, color and mouthfeel of wine.) At a seminar on phenolics that week, all phenolic measurements showed that 2013 was a standout compared with other recent years.

But this is what really got my attention: Even the veteran winemakers are using superlatives.

“I’ve never seen a year like 2013,” said Michael Mooney, who founded Chateau Margene and has been producing high-quality, Bordeaux-style wines since the ’97 vintage. “The weather was as perfect as you could hope for – no freezes in the spring, no late temperature spikes in the fall, no unexpected rain but just enough precipitation.”

I remember winemakers were thanking their lucky stars two years ago that they weren’t getting a repeat of 2011, a horrible year for Central Coast wineries that was cursed with all manner of nastiness, including a disastrous April freeze.

My tasting experiences confirmed the winemakers’ rosy reports. Mooney’s 2013 reds were beautifully balanced and structured, and his intelligent use of new technologies and practices with oak barrels has added intriguing subtlety to his wines. Lohr’s extensive cabernet sauvignon lineup is similarly strong for the ’13 vintage. There’s a huge amount of punch to the 2013s, and I predict they’ll age well.

Paso, which produces a lot more Bordeaux than Rhone grapes, is ideal cab country. Among its best, the flavor profile is superior, with less assertive tannins, more luscious fruit and greater complexity than many Napa cabs with bigger price tags. In terms of soil, climate, meteorological consistency, hang time and diurnal swing, parts of Paso are perfect for cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, merlot and other Bordeaux varietals. That’s what got Dr. Stanley Hoffman and other pioneers interested in the place back in the 1960s and ’70s, long before the zinfandel and Rhone crazes swept through.

Read the article online here

It’s Hip to be Cool (Climate): J. Lohr is Committed to Monterey County Pinot Noir

By Christie Dufault 
January 2015
SOMM Journal 
A timeline of recent history in California wine reveals astonishing numbers. Today there are over 3,700 bonded wineries in the Golden State; 20 years ago in 1994 there were roughly 900. What about 40 years ago? There were approximately 250 wineries in California in 1974, when South Dakota–born former Air Force captain and research scientist Jerry Lohr launched his wine business. Wisely, he had begun planting his vineyards in Monterey County years before.
Measured by the statistics above, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines is positively an ‘old’ family winery. Today, the brand maintains a diverse portfolio of wines with vineyards planted across multiple appellations. One of the most exciting of these categories is the work that J. Lohr is doing with Pinot Noir in Monterey County.
California wine producers have learned that Pinot Noir only makes compelling wines in cooler sites; yet it is not as simple as that. Clonal selection, soil types, aspect, vinification and élevage are some of the additional factors that affect the finished wines. Finding the ideal sites to grow Pinot Noir, and combining that with Pinot Noir–specific production methods, is crucial.
In Monterey County, Steve Peck, the red winemaker for J. Lohr, knows precisely how to achieve this. His Pinot Noirs are exemplary—site-specific bottlings with individual characteristics and sublime balance—and they represent the potential for world-class Pinot Noirs from this region.
The reasons that J. Lohr has been so successful with Monterey County Pinot Noir are two-fold. First of all, like Jerry Lohr himself, Steve Peck is no rookie. He made his first wine over 30 years ago. Peck is a U.C. Davis graduate and was mentored by the great Professor Roger Bolton. He worked harvest at Joseph Phelps Vineyards from 1983 to 1985—a period he describes as formative because of the connections and long-lasting friendships that he made with working winemakers and other ‘cellar rats’ who have gone on to formidable careers in the industry.
The second reason that J. Lohr is at the vanguard for Pinot Noir in Monterey County originates from the ability and willingness to learn. The old adage remains: With the passage of time comes experience. Peck readily admits that Lohr’s original plantings of Pinot Noir in Monterey County were not ideal. Although Peck was not with the company in 1972, when the first vineyards were planted, he knows the history and acknowledges that they were the wrong clones for the sites. Jerry Lohr also learned from the error and persevered; in the late 1990s, he began planting more appropriate Dijon and Pommard clones for the sites in Monterey County. J. Lohr has been patient and diligent with its Monterey County Pinot Noir, and the commitment has paid off.”
“A Deeper Understanding”
“Although J. Lohr has been around for 40 years, they have continuously made a range of wines and are at times considered the ‘new kids on the block’ for Pinot Noir in Monterey County, Peck explains. But their commitment to the variety and the appellation is long-standing. ‘We are a diligent group at J. Lohr,’ Peck says; ‘we do our work: We research and we focus.’ The path of that work has meant a deeper understanding of the terroirs of Monterey County. To a layman’s ear, ‘Blue Grand Canyon’ and ‘Thermal Rainbow’ may sound like terms from some subculture lexicon—and in a sense they are: They are authentic geo-climatic terms that help
define Monterey County terroir, just as limestone is a keystone of Burgundy’s characteristic profile.
Monterey County is a cool place, especially in the northern part, close to where the Salinas Valley opens to the celebrated Monterey Bay and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. The Blue Grand Canyon is an enormous submarine canyon 60 miles long and two miles deep nearing the mouth of Monterey Bay. The combined cooling effects of the Pacific and the Salinas Valley create ideal conditions for Pinot Noir. Thermal Rainbow is a term used to illustrate the effects of the Blue Grand Canyon on Monterey County vineyards. Essentially, there is a large diurnal shift in the region, from the northern part through the central Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco AVAs.
When I ask Peck what his biggest challenge is in growing Pinot Noir in Monterey County, he mentions that cool springtime temperatures can affect the bloom-to-set cycle of the vines. He explains that they prune the vines in March (considerably later than most), which delays the entire growing cycle by approximately two weeks. ‘This is a good thing,’ Peck explains, and results in the right amount of physiological ripeness. He adds, ‘We are blessed with extremely pleasant October weather in this region,’ which is typically when J. Lohr harvests their Pinot Noir vineyards at optimal Brix.
The interesting fact remains that Monterey County is not a large wine-growing region by California standards, yet the diversity of its AVAs and the range of its grape varieties—more than 40 are planted throughout the county—are remarkable. For those seeking wines that represent the varietal and the terroirs that they are grown in, Monterey County and the sub-AVAs of Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco make an endlessly fascinating case study.
There are dozens of brands making respectable Pinot Noir throughout Monterey County. I am delighted to continue to taste and discover them, and I remain intrigued by the potential of this great California coastal appellation. If J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines continues on its quest for terroir as expressed in ultra-high-quality Pinot Noir from this promising region, this is indeed great news for Pinot Noir lovers.”
2013 J. Lohr Estates Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir
“Visually, a bright hue of cherry red gives way to aromas of pomegranate and cranberry with hints of nutmeg spice and subtle vanilla. On the palate the wine is fresh and vibrant. The elevated acidity carries the red fruit flavors that are integrated with the restrained use of French oak. The texture of the wine is classic Pinot Noir silkiness. At 13.5% ABV, the wine is balanced and delicious. (For the record, at $17 I remain unconvinced that there exists a better value in AVA Pinot Noir.)”
2012 J. Lohr Highlands Bench Pinot Noir
“This impressive bottling from Santa Lucia Highlands symbolizes the magnitude for great Pinot Noir in this small AVA. Robust in color and aromatics, the nose is full of red and blue fruits from raspberry to plum, yet it has an equally earthy quality. There is a gravelly, rocky aroma and a wonderful smoky and charred smell. On the palate the wine is full-bodied and full-flavored for Pinot Noir. It is consistent with the aromatics and delivers layers of complexity followed by a long and very flavorful finish.”
2012 J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir
“Concentrated color and hue give way to an intensely aromatic Pinot Noir. The nose is full of complex savory notes: sagebrush, mineral, spent wood coals, an ashy characteristic. Delicious flavors abound on the palate, with grilled plum, mushroom and umami. Integrated high-quality French oak shows its seasoning signatures, and the wine finishes with incredible depth of flavor and a long, elegant finish.

32nd Annual Best of The Best: California Cabs/Red Blends

By the Quarterly Review of Wines Tasting Team

Quarterly Review of Wines
December 2014 

Five-Star Wines
Wines of extraordinary character and quality — 
in a class by themselves.

2011 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), $135. Big, deep, rich, mouth-filling, utterly prepossessing, black fruit and smoky oak flavors—a real blockbuster. BEST OF SHOW

2012 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), $62. Big, rich, powerful, black fruit and smoky oak flavors; long, resonant finish.

2012 Caymus Vineyards 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $60. Blackberry, cassis notes, firm texture, medium tannins, softly sweet in Caymus manner, with rich finish.

2011 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $150. Blackberry, cassis, soft, hint of sweetness, richly textured, velvety finish. Exceptional.

2011 Corley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $85. Deeply dark color, rich blackberry aromas, soft spice, richly textured, and long, rich finish.

2011 HALL “Diamond Mountain District” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), $135. Big, rich, meaty, yet elegantly knit, black fruit and nutty oak flavors; smooth, plush finish.

2011 HALL “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), $125. Blended with 4% Petit Verdot. Rich, plush, black fruit, spicy vanillin and mocha flavors—a palate-coating beauty.

2011 HALL “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), $80. 
91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Merlot. Deep, rich, plump, black fruit and toasty oak flavors; lush, “longer than always” finish.

2011 J. Lohr “Cuvée St. E” Paso Robles Red Wine (Paso Robles), $50. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Big, rich, ripe, well-concentrated, black fruit flavors; smooth, well-integrated tannins.

2011 Ridge Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains), $165. 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc. Big, deep, rich, power-packed, black fruit and smoky oak flavors—definitely for the long haul.

2012 St. Supéry “Dollarhide Estate Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), $100. Rich, round, elegant, deliciously long, black fruit and cocoa bean flavors.


You can read the orginal article here.


Districts Recognize Diversity While Still Preserving the Greater Paso Robles Brand
(Paso Robles, CA) October 9, 2014 - The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, in conjunction with the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) Committee, applauds the United States Department of the Treasury’s published final ruling today, establishing 11 new viticultural areas within the greater Paso Robles AVA. This historic announcement concludes a seven-year process by a dedicated group of Paso Robles vintners and winegrape growers who created a unified approach to develop a comprehensive master plan for the greater Paso Robles American Viticultural Area.
These new AVAs are based on meso-climactic, geological, and historical information which highlight each individual district to be unique as a winegrape growing area. The 11 AVAs are as follows: Adelaida District, Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Santa Margarita Ranch, and the Templeton Gap District.
“These new AVAs will be a powerful tool for wineries to explain why certain grapes are particularly well suited to certain parts of the appellation, and why some wines show the characteristics they do while other wines, from the same or similar grapes, show differently,” said Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard and Paso Robles AVA Committee member. “Ultimately, the new AVAs will allow these newly created sub-regions to develop identities for themselves with a clarity impossible in a single large AVA.”
AVA labeling provides information to consumers and trade about what is in the bottle, helping them make a better informed buying decision based on expectations of the region. Thanks to a conjunctive labeling law spearheaded by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance in 2007, the Paso Robles AVA retains top billing on a wine label with the individual districts serving as a way to fine-tune location and potential character of wines. While Paso Robles wineries are not required to use the sub-region on the label, when they do, Paso Robles will be printed with equal or more significance.
"Our AVA is an incredibly diverse region that has taken its rightful place on the world wine stage,” said Steve Lohr, chairman and CEO of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, and former chairman of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “These sub appellations will allow growers and vintners to tell their stories more clearly, which in turn will give consumers and the trade a much greater understanding of Paso’s diversity and complexity. Prior to this, Paso Robles was the largest non-county California AVA not currently subdivided. It is also an area with more diversity of rainfall, soils and climate than almost any other comparably sized region. We have been a great believer in this initiative since the beginning, and are proud that it has been accomplished in a way that will strengthen the Paso Robles brand with conjunctive labeling."
The petition for the 11 new AVAs was filed in the spring of 2007 by the specially formed Paso Robles AVA Committee. A group of 59 vintners and growers, with the assistance of experts in a variety of fields, methodically crafted the submission with science as its standard. The petition proved to be the single largest AVA proposal ever filed with the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) due to the scale and scientific data assembled to substantiate the request.
The TTB published the final ruling Thursday, October 9 on The official map of the 11 Viticultural Areas, as well as a comparison grid detailing climate, rainfall, topography, etc., is available on Media is encouraged to contact Christopher Taranto, communications director with the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance for a roster of spokespeople with background on the new viticultural areas.
The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance represents wineries, growers and businesses in Paso Robles Wine Country. Centrally located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, along California’s Central Coast, Paso Robles Wine Country is California’s third largest wine region. It encompasses more than 32,000 vineyard acres and 200 wineries. For more information, visit Social - #pasowine, @pasorobleswine (Twitter and Facebook)

J. Lohr celebrates its 40th anniversary

by Laurie Daniel

Harvest is under way at J. Lohr's vineyards in Arroyo Seco, Paso Robles and the Napa Valley. But this year holds special significance: The winery is celebrating its 40th anniversary.


The winery, then known as Turgeon & Lohr, was founded in 1974 in San Jose. Jerry Lohr -- who had grown up on a grain and cattle farm in South Dakota and then worked as a developer and homebuilder in the Saratoga area -- and business partner Bernie Turgeon had bought nearly 300 acres in 1972 in Monterey County's Greenfield and planted grapes.


It was a somewhat risky move, because commercial viticulture in the county was only about 10 years old, and the results hadn't always been promising. Many growers were planting what was selling rather than matching grape varieties to a suitable site. In Monterey, that meant a lot of vegetal cabernet sauvignon from areas that were too cool and windy.


"We hedged a couple of ways," Lohr says now. "We didn't build a winery. And I planted 11 varieties to begin with."


By 1979, they had settled on four, including chardonnay, riesling, pinot blanc and valdiguié, previously known as Napa gamay. (Pinot blanc is gone now, Lohr says, because "it didn't really catch on.") Lohr bought out Turgeon in 1984, and the winery's name was changed to J. Lohr.


Lohr went on to purchase land in Paso Robles, starting in 1986, for cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other warmer-climate varieties, and increased the company's vineyard holdings in Greenfield, in what became the Arroyo Seco American Viticultural Area in 1983. He also owns a vineyard in Napa Valley called Carol's Vineyard, named for his late wife, and planted a vineyard in 2008 in the Santa Lucia Highlands. J. Lohr currently owns more than 4,000 acres in California, all of it certified sustainable, leases about 1,000 more and has wineries in San Jose, Paso Robles and Greenfield. Production stands at about 1.5 million cases a year.


But it all started with Lohr's belief that the area around Greenfield was a good place for grapes. He had looked at viticultural areas around the state and found that Greenfield had the gravelly, well-drained soils he wanted. There was water for irrigation for the existing row crops. And Lohr lived in Saratoga, so the Salinas Valley wasn't too far away.


Finding the right grapes was another matter. His early plantings, like those of many other would-be grape growers, were heavy on cabernet sauvignon. It didn't take long before Lohr realized his mistake, and cab and varieties like merlot and zinfandel were grafted over to chardonnay and other whites. Interestingly, pinot noir was also a disappointment -- Lohr once told me it had a "rubber boot character" -- probably because of the available clones and prevailing viticultural practices. He tried pinot again in 2003 and has had much more success.

Lohr knew that if he wanted to produce reds like cabernet and merlot, he needed a warmer, less-windy site.

But his discovery of Paso Robles was something of a fortuitous accident. Lohr was contacted by the Hyatt hotel chain about providing cabernet and chardonnay for the hotels. He knew that Arroyo Seco would be a good source for the chardonnay, but what about the cab? He and his then-winemaker tasted cab samples from all over California, and they liked the flavors from Paso Robles. Even though Paso Robles was farther from his home, he purchased 480 acres on the east side in 1986-1987. He planted cabernet and other red Bordeaux varieties, as well as some syrah and petite sirah. (J. Lohr now farms 2,300 acres in Paso Robles.)

At 77, Lohr is still very involved in the winery, but he has turned over much of the day-to-day work to his children: Steve, who is CEO and chairman; Cynthia, who is vice president of marketing; and Lawrence, associate director of operations. Jeff Meier, who has been making wine for J. Lohr for more than 30 years, is president and director of winemaking.

The winery's success wasn't something that Lohr ever would have predicted in those early days. "I did the first plan for 120,000 cases," he says. "A 1 million case winery? Absolutely not."

Contact Laurie Daniel at



The J. Lohr wines come in several price tiers, and they generally represent good values, even when they're a little pricey. For example, the 2011 J. Lohr Carol's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is a relatively good deal in a big but well-balanced Napa Valley cab. The wine is dense and powerful, with black cherry, a hint of dark chocolate and firm tannins. The other Napa Valley offering is the 2013 Carol's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($25), which is fresh and citrusy with a hint of honeydew melon and some creaminess.There's an excellent, well-priced sauvignon blanc from Arroyo Seco, too, the 2013 "Flume Crossing" Sauvignon Blanc ($14), which is fresh and citrusy, with pink grapefruit and honeydew melon. There are a couple of Arroyo Seco chardonnays; I prefer the racy, fresh 2012 Arroyo Vista Chardonnay ($25), with its lemon, green apple and judicious use of oak. The "October Night" ($25) bottling is a more opulent style.
As for pinot noirs, highlights include the 2012 "Fog's Reach" Pinot Noir ($35) from Arroyo Seco, which displays lively raspberry, a rhubarb note and supple texture, and the 2012 "Highlands Bench" Pinot Noir ($35) from Santa Lucia Highlands, which is spicy, ripe and dark, with lush cherry, hard spices and a supple texture.
Paso Robles production focuses on reds, like the 2011 "Hilltop" Cabernet Sauvignon ($35), a dark, dense cab with flavors of black cherry and plum, hints of anise and cedar and drying tannins. The so-called cuvee series includes the 2010 Cuvee Pau ($50), with its ripe black fruit and spice, finishing with firm but approachable tannins. There's also a lower-priced line from Paso Robles that includes the "South Ridge" Syrah ($15), a wine that's perennially a good value.

Original article posted here

Bold and Brave: Cynthia Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines

by Jacquelyn Quinonez


"If I could capture the spirit of Paso Robles wine country in just one word, I might choose the word 'brazen.'  I apply this to the visionaries including Gary Eberle, my father Jerry Lohr, and others,who early on,held steadfast to the potential of the region's terroir to produce vibrant, flavorful reds,to the vines themselves,which defy often exceedingly harsh growing conditions only to reward us with ripe, intense berries," said Cynthia Lohr.

In 2002, after years spent working outside of the family business, Lohr joined J. Lohr Vineyards & Winery as the director of communications. It was seven years later that she was named vice president of marketing,where she and her dynamic marketing team are in charge of all things communications. Her experience and leadership allowed her to enhance the J.Lohr brand using her knowledge of traditional and new media strategies in multiple marketplaces - making her father's dream that much more of a successful reality.

When Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently named Paso Robles the 2013 Wine Region of the Year, it came as no surprise to Lohr, as her role as VP of Marketing has often positioned her to promote the J. Lohr brand as well as the Paso Robles AVA. Lohr is incredibly proud of this recognition, referring to it often as "an entree" to discussion about what makes Paso Robles so unique, and how this distinction underscores new opportunities for area evangelism.

One such opportunity for Lohr arose in mid-2012 when Daniel Daou, proprietor and winemaker of DAOU Vineyards & Winery, observed that Paso Robles' exceptional and age-worthy Cabernet and Bordeaux varietals were often overlooked by media and consumers in favor of like-varietals from more traditional appellations. A few producers in the area joined together to explore how they might shed a spotlight on these wines grown and produced in Paso Robles; thus, the Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective (PRCC) was born. Lohr represents her family's winery as a founding member of the PRCC and is active on the Board of Directors.

Cynthia is as excited to share the discovery of Paso Robles as a top destination for food and wine to the uninitiated as she is to the aficionado, as she anticipates celebrating the concentrated, big, and yes, brazen flavors of Paso Robles, with many.

Original article posted here

Central Coast Wines Made Easy

by Anthony Head

There are rumors swirling on the Internet about a couple of spots to the north of San Francisco that are supposedly making some very good cabernet sauvignon. Let me stress that, at this time, they are only rumors, but a crack squad from the Oenophile Army will be dispatched soon to try and investigate the claims.

What we do know now is that Central Coast cabernets are world-class wines that are being produced much closer to home. J. Lohr turns out several cabs from primarily Paso Robles vineyards and each wine is a distinct example of its home terroir. The 2010 Hilltop, for example, is aromatic with dark fruit and mocha; there are big flavors of black plum, ripe raspberry, and chocolate. But it’s really a bit softy. Despite 14 percent alcohol, Hilltop remains balanced with tannins that provide structure without aggression. The finish is lush and rich with desirable vanilla and oak. In other works: world-class.

So until these rumors of a “northern California wine country” can be confirmed or denies, I’d stick with the Central Coast.

Article available here.

Spotlight on a Winemaker: Steve Peck

by Keith Hoffman

I sat down for three great hours with Steve Peck, red winemaker, on the J. Lohr Vineyards deck all the way through a setting Paso sun. We tasted some of the whites, which he does not oversee, and the reds, which he does. What a likeable gent. I stole a whole evening from him, and he was perfectly gracious, engaging, and simply a great guy to hang out with.

Steve brings a biotechnology background to his wine crafting and I bring the same to my wine drinking. Needleless to say, we hit it off. A lot of our discussion centered on the unique challenges of producing wines in the style I prefer, acid-driven and “Old World,” in what is a very warm and decidedly New World growing region.

Mr. Peck, being keen on keeping pesky pyrazines compounds (which impart a “green” flavor I find particularly disagreeable) from developing in his cabernet sauvignon employs interns whose sole job is to run around taking exact water measurements from 2,000 acres of vines. Their tireless data collection feeds into a complex irrigation program designed to keep pyrazines from accumulating.

We tasted a quiver of fine wines, and a few of the highlights included: the 2011 “Fogs Reach” pinot which had a solid acid pop, nice black tea notes, and an extended finish, I’m sure she’d be a great “food wine” ($35); the 2010 merlot which showed nice, lightly smoked, dark plum skin and red apple aromas with nice balance and a cranberry bite on her close ($15); Quality to Price Ratio (QPR) stalwarts, the 2004 and 2010 Hilltop cabernets with deep cassis and blackcherry flavors, multiple wood layers, and firm, but approachable tannins ($35 each); and finally, a simply amazing QPR, the 2008 Hilltop cabernet with plum skins, forest floor, crushed leaves, and big blackcherry and boysenberry flavors with a long mineral and tobacco close for just $35.

J. Lohr stats: 1,300,000 cases annually, owners of 2,000 acres of vines in Paso, and another 1,100 in Monterey.  Big, yes. Do their wines taste like mass production? No.

Let’s get to know more about Steve, below…


1. What were you before you were a winemaker?
I was only 19 years old on my initial foray into professional winemaking. Prior to that I guess I was just a teenage punk. Today, I wonder why I spent 15 years in biotech research before returning to my winemaking career 12 years ago. I have a tendency to do things the hard way.

2.  If you weren't a winemaker you'd most likely be a?
Biotech researcher making wine in my garage.

3.  Happiest moment(s) during the wine crafting process (besides “finishing”)?
When I taste my first sip of Seven Oaks after bottling.

4.  Worst moment(s)?
Making grape harvest decisions when the weather is bad... Whether it's rain, a heat wave, or frost, it can be seriously stressful.

5. For the rest of your wine-crafting days, if you could only make wine from one red grape variety what would it be?
I have a thing for malbec.

6. For the rest of your wine-crafting days, if you could only make wine from one white grape variety what would it be?
Give me a life sentence of Chardonnay and I would be a happy man.

7.  First wine-related thing you think about when you wake up, monthly, during the year.
January = Christmas break was great, but why haven't these wines all finished fermentation? Maybe I should have played it safe and picked sooner?
February = Under pressure, gotta get Seven Oaks out of barrels and headed toward the bottling line.
March = Hilltop cab is coming along nicely. Glad I let everything get super ripe.
April = Please no frost in the vineyard this year!
May = How am I supposed to make wine when I'm traveling to events and hosting visitors daily at the winery?
June = How are the Cuvee's coming along? Maybe we should give 'em a rack before bottling next month...
July = Why are all these yeast salesmen calling me? Harvest is a long ways off.
August = Better get out in the vineyard to taste fruit before it gets too hot out.
September = Son of a gun! Syrah is ripe and we don't even have any yeast on hand.
October = Hmm... If I slept with my work cloths under my pajamas, I bet I could get out of my bed and into the vineyard to taste the blocks 6 minutes earlier.
November = Complex anthocyanin, total phenolics, parts per million, tannin, temperature, punch down, pump over, free run, light press…. multiplex of thoughts.
December = Nothing like the smell of malo in the morning!

8.  Of all the winemaking tasks you currently perform, what one do you wish you had a capable intern doing instead of you?
Nursing sluggish fermentations.

9.  What, if any, liquor do you enjoy neat?
Cognac XO, grande champagne hillside.

10.  If you had to pair a wine with a mild cigar, what grape or style would you suggest?
A big, lush petite sirah.

11. What is your biggest gripe about the wine, and/or adult beverage, industry in general?
I don't lose sleep over this, but I find it interesting that our labeling requirements for wine are so strict, that many producers actually print all the required "front" label information on the "back" and then place the bottle backwards on the shelf to display their artwork or brand image forward. Tricky marketers.

12. What did you drink to ring in the last new year?
Champagne with oysters.

13.  If you somehow knew fate, and that you only had one more bottle to enjoy before you died, what wine would you pick?
I would pull out the 1983 carignan I made with my uncle in Santa Cruz.

14.  If you could no longer work in the AVAs you currently do, where would be your top AVA relocation choice?
I think the SF Bay has a lot of potential. Areas like San Benito county.

15.  How long do you let your purchased wines rest after they have been delivered?
Usually a month or so.

16. Please list a few words to describe Mega Purple / Mega Red.
Red grape concentrate used in an attempt to elevate hot climate wine to coastal quality.

17. What is your favorite beer(s), and why?
Belgian white beers are nice. Creamy, with lower carbonation

18. Your favorite cocktail(s), and why?
Campari with soda or tonic. I like a drink that bites back.

19.  Choose one or more of the following to describe vacuum aerators and similar apparatus.A. Gimmicks.B. Useful, have a positive effect on the wine above and beyond what decanting can accomplish. C. Same effect as decanting, just quicker.
Answer: C

20.  Choose one or more of the following to describe metal dipping devices and similar apparatus advertised to almost instantly “age” wine. A. Gimmicks. B. Useful, have a positive effect on the wine above and beyond what decanting can accomplish. C. Same effect as decanting, just quicker.
Answer: A

21.  Have any wine / food pairing(s) that seem odd, but really work?
I love our Pinot Noir with Lindt Chili infused chocolate. Sounds weird, I know, but really nice.

22. What is your definition of terroir?
Soil, weather, people and their choices.

23. Your favorite single word relating to the wine making, not selling, business is

24.  What work do you suppose you will do after your final wine is made?
Unpaid beach activity coordinator.

25. If you could give any beginning wine drinkers one sentence of advice, what would it be?
Wine is part of the meal.

Original article posted here:

IntoWine Creating Pedigree: Cabernet and Paso Robles

by Michael Cervin

Napa lays claim to Cabernet Sauvignon like they invented it. Certainly they are dominant region where it’s grown in the U.S., but Paso Robles is positioning itself to give Napa a run for its money and this central California region is producing Cabernet and Bordeaux blends offering incredible value and diversity, something Napa has strayed from.

“There is something about the Napa Valley’s unique topography, climate and growing season that is perfectly suited to Cabernet,” says Ann Colgin of Napa’s highly regarded Colgin Estate, whose Cabernets sell for $300. “While Napa Valley wines can be expensive, there is no substitute for the pedigree of fruit this region is capable of producing,” she says. And that is the conventional wisdom of many Cabernet lovers – that the pedigree, the history and provenance are with Napa. But true wisdom dictates that conventional wisdom, of necessity, must evolve. And the times, as they say, are a’ changing.

“If you want to know how good Paso Robles Cabernet is,” suggests, Gary Eberle of the multiaward winning Eberle Winery, “have a blind tasting of Napa Cabernets and a Paso Robles Cabernet. We may not always come out on top, but we can compete against Bordeaux and Napa first growths,” he says. And this is the precise reason that the Paso Robles Cabernet Collective (PRCC) was born. You might equate the warm Paso climate with Zinfandel, more so than Cabernet. But consider this: The Paso Robles wine region is 614,000 acres with over 40 varietals in the ground. Plantings by percentage are Zinfandel at 9%, Syrah and Rhone varietals at 17%, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varieties at a whopping 55%. And with a shorter learning curve than Napa, Paso is exerting itself. The newly formed PRCC is now flexing its Cabernet muscle with a “CABs of Distinction” grand tasting, a consumer-focused event for Cabernet lovers.

But can Paso Cabernet compete in an already crowded field? “Consumers can expect wines that are approachable immediately but yet will age beautifully well for years,” says Daniel Daou of Daou Vineyards, one of the lead wineries. “An indication of a great terroir is where ripeness can be achieved most if not all the time. In Paso Robles we achieve ripeness consistently from year to year and our wines come from soils that are calcareous, so they don't have to be acidulated,” Daou says. “Napa and other great regions in the world cannot boast these incredible advantages,” he says. That’s a pretty bold claim but ultimately age-worthy Cabernet is about ripeness and balance. “It’s normal for Paso to see huge diurnal temperature swings of 40 to 50 degrees during the growing season and that’s great for the development of flavors and balanced acidity,” says Michael Mooney of Chateau Margene, adding that there are 45 different soil series and 13 different micro-climates allowing for a price-point diversity. Whereas Napa ain’t cheap anymore, Paso offers value.

A few examples to consider: Justin Winery is well-known for their high-end Isosceles, but they also produce a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) that reflects what’s best about inexpensive Cab from Paso: moderately bright fruit with a back note of earth and smoke, while the J. Lohr Cuvee Pom (a Merlot dominate blend at $50) reflects an earthy dust quality with mild tannins and black berry fruit. Vina Robles’ 2009 Suendero (a blend of Cab and Petit Verdot, $49) is deeply rustic with blackberry fruit. And you have the voluptuous Daou Vineyard Soul of a Lion, a high-end Bordeaux blend at $100 and the Chateau Margene 2009 Cabernet Reserve ($52) both of which prove that the tight refined structure of classic Cabernet is being made in Paso. Across the board these wines showcase a livelier fruit profile, much better with food while still being balanced with mild tannins.

“I can tell you that we have barely seen the top of the iceberg in terms of quality for what is coming out of this appellation,” says Mooney. Certainly the national wine press has been kind to Paso’s Cabernets but the question remains will Paso Robles ultimately define itself with Cabernet as a flagship wine? Chances are good that a kind of “Napa South” will emerge and that Paso will break free from the current attempts to link it to Napa as a Cabernet cousin. Daniel Daou sums it up best: “Let me be 100 percent clear - I believe that Paso is the ultimate appellation for growing Cabernet Sauvignon but we need a little time to reach our potential. Changes in the vineyards as well as willingness for many more wineries to push the envelope in creating a higher end product will show the potential of this terroir in the next few years.” Apparently Paso is planning on a new pedigree.

There’s one way to find out if Daou is correct. Head to the PRCC Cabs of Distinction event on Saturday, April 27. Winemakers will be on hand as well as music and artisanal food purveyors. There will be the obligatory winemaker dinners hosted in key Paso Robles restaurants on Friday, April 26, with a Who’s Who of the best Paso area restaurants including Thomas Hill Organics, Robert’s, Paso Terra, Il Cortile, Bistro Laurent, and McPhee's.

Original article posted here:

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