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  • Crafting Quality: Defining Three Tiers of Offerings from the Lohr Cabernet Portfolio

    Somm Journal Article

    by Michelle Ball for The Somm Journal

    View the full arti­cle here

    By the ear­ly 1980s, J. Lohr’s cool-cli­mate vine­yards in Monterey’s Arroyo Seco dis­trict were firm­ly estab­lished. Jer­ry Lohr was anx­ious to add topflight Caber­net Sauvi­gnon to his grow­ing port­fo­lio and knew he need­ed to look to warmer climes for more Bor­deaux-like con­di­tions. In his quest for a new loca­tion, he and his wine­mak­ing team tast­ed hun­dreds of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon sam­ples from through­out California.

    Lohr pre­ferred the dom­i­nant fruit char­ac­ter and soft­er tan­nins found in the Caber­nets from Paso Rob­les, so a decade after he first enter­tained expand­ing beyond Arroyo Seco, he plant­ed his first vine­yard there in 1986 — direct­ly next door to one of the prop­er­ties whose wines he most enjoyed. Fast-for­ward to 2018, with J. Lohr Vine­yards & Wines now farm­ing more than 2,300 acres through­out Paso Rob­les with Caber­net Sauvi­gnon as its pri­ma­ry focus. The company’s prop­er­ties span six sub-appel­la­tions in the region, enabling it to inte­grate fla­vors from a broad palette of fruit pro­files while tak­ing advan­tage of its exten­sive port­fo­lio of estate grown vine­yards and his­to­ry of long-term grow­er relationships.

    J. Lohr pro­duces three tiers of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon: the Estates Sev­en Oaks, its entry-lev­el wine that makes up the major­i­ty of its pro­duc­tion; Hill­top, from its Vine­yard Series, which orig­i­nal­ly began as a sin­gle-prop­er­ty offer­ing and has since expand­ed to include a selec­tion of mul­ti­ple sites; and Sig­na­ture, a very-lim­it­ed release per­son­al­ly over­seen by Jer­ry Lohr which focus­es on the best lots in any giv­en vintage.

    Plush Fruit and Sup­ple Tan­nins

    Craft­ed to be drink­able upon release, all three tiers of J. Lohr Caber­net share a pro­file of lush fruit and sup­ple tan­nins thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of farm­ing tech­niques, fer­men­ta­tion man­age­ment, and indi­vid­ual oak programs.

    In the vine­yard, con­trol­ling irri­ga­tion is key. Win­ter rains make up the foun­da­tion of the vines’ water needs, with addi­tion­al hydra­tion pro­vid­ed as need­ed through June. By then, the canopies are healthy and there’s a rea­son­able amount of mois­ture in the soil.

    The win­ery then allows the vines to dry down,” avoid­ing irri­ga­tion as long as pos­si­ble and close­ly mon­i­tor­ing the vines’ stress lev­els all the while. By doing that, we’re pre­vent­ing the pro­duc­tion of pos­si­ble veg­e­tal pyrazines by restrict­ing their for­ma­tion in June and July so that we’re not rely­ing sole­ly on hang time in Octo­ber to burn them off,” explains Steve Peck, Red Wines Wine­mak­er for J. Lohr. This method encour­ages fresh­er fruit char­ac­ter with a low­er alco­hol con­tent. It’s very inten­tion­al and part of the house style and fla­vor pro­file we’re tar­get­ing,” Peck adds.

    In the win­ery, soft­er tan­nins are achieved in part through fer­men­ta­tion tech­niques. Peck says the aim is to get the tem­per­a­ture to 90 degrees Fahren­heit ear­ly” before Brix drops below 20. This dri­ves the extrac­tion of antho­cyanins from the skins, and once that’s done, the wine­mak­ing team decreas­es the tem­per­a­ture and reduces the num­ber of punch-down­s/pump-overs. In doing so, they lim­it the extrac­tion of tan­nins lat­er in the fer­men­ta­tion process when alco­hols are present.

    With each year, they’re con­scious of tai­lor­ing the oak pro­file to suit the vin­tage. In 2015, for exam­ple, the region expe­ri­enced a cool­er May with a large amount of shat­ter and an uneven bloom. This led to berry vari­a­tion and more savory tones, so to accent those char­ac­ter­is­tics, Peck select­ed a low­er toast to bet­ter match the wines.

    When describ­ing J. Lohr’s approach to each tier, Peck explains that the winery’s goals are the same, but the tools [it uses] to exe­cute on them are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.” And while all three wines share sim­i­lar traits, they’re each char­ac­ter­ized by grape sourc­ing and cel­lar tech­niques. Read on for a full break­down of each of J. Lohr’s Caber­net Sauvi­gnon – based tiers:


    J. Lohr intro­duced Sig­na­ture, its first lux­u­ry-class Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, just last year to hon­or Jer­ry Lohr’s 80th birth­day. The wine­mak­ing and viti­cul­ture teams col­lab­o­rat­ed to cre­ate this bot­tling, iden­ti­fy­ing three pre­mier blocks as pos­si­ble con­tenders and ulti­mate­ly decid­ing on Caber­net from Beck Vineyard’s Block 2.

    Locat­ed in the Cre­ston sub-appel­la­tion, the 115-acre vine­yard is, accord­ing to Peck, best described as a west­side ranch on the east­side” due to its high lev­el of lime­stone and cal­care­ous soils resem­bling crushed white chalk. Block 2 sits at an ele­va­tion of 1,700 feet above sea lev­el and is plant­ed to clone 337 on 110R root­stock, a com­bi­na­tion Peck calls amaz­ing,” as it epit­o­mizes the tor­tured vine” to pro­duce extreme­ly low yields, tiny clus­ters, and excep­tion­al qual­i­ty. The high ele­va­tion, mean­while, allows for ear­ly ripen­ing, which results in crisper fruit fla­vors with improved acid retention. 

    The grapes are har­vest­ed by hand and berry-sort­ed before crush; at this stage, Peck uses the Pel­lenc Extrac­tiv’, an inno­v­a­tive piece of equip­ment that sling­shots the tiny berries and essen­tial­ly bursts them. To ensure the juice can ben­e­fit from the full poten­tial of antho­cyanins and tan­nins, Peck then per­forms a series of délestage, or rack and returns, ear­ly in the fer­men­ta­tion process to extract every drop of juice from the pulp. These tech­niques allow for bet­ter extrac­tion over­all but would be near­ly impos­si­ble to imple­ment on a large scale.

    To ensure it’s drink­able upon release, the wine is aged in 100 per­cent new French oak for 17 months and bot­tleaged for near­ly two years. In a way, it’s a Hill­top Reserve’ in that it’s a superla­tive expe­ri­ence in the cur­rent release,” Peck says. It’s also a wine that would cer­tain­ly hold with age, but it’s not a wine you have to cel­lar long-term to get the most out of it.”

    J. Lohr 2014 Sig­na­ture Caber­net Sauvi­gnon ($100)
    Con­cen­trat­ed and juicy black fruit with notes of car­away and anise. The lux­u­ri­ous, sup­ple mouth­feel builds into plush tan­nins for a rich­er attack on the fin­ish. —Michelle Ball


    The uplift­ed ter­races and grav­el­ly soils of the Hill­top Vine­yard, which orig­i­nal­ly pro­vid­ed fruit for the Hill­top Caber­net, made for an excep­tion­al wine. Yet with J. Lohr’s vine­yard acreage expand­ing through­out the region, Peck says the Hill­top Vine­yard — locat­ed on J. Lohr’s home ranch in the Estrel­la Dis­trict AVA of Paso Rob­les— is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the winery’s best of the best” each vin­tage. We began to see that we could make a bet­ter wine from some of the oth­er sites that we had, includ­ing Beck,” he adds.

    Begin­ning with the 2007 vin­tage, Hill­top now fea­tures a blend of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon from mul­ti­ple hill­top” vine­yards grown at high­er ele­va­tions. The 2015 Hill­top pri­mar­i­ly con­sists of fruit from Beck Vine­yard in the Cre­ston Dis­trict and Shotwell Vine­yard in the El Pomar Dis­trict AVA, although the Ade­laide District’s Gean Ranch has also been used in the past.

    Spe­cif­ic vine­yard blocks are slat­ed as pos­si­ble com­po­nents for Hill­top, yet Peck says J. Lohr doesn’t want to pass up new oppor­tu­ni­ties, either. After fer­men­ta­tion, Peck bar­rels down” rough­ly 75,000 cas­es — near­ly five times more than he needs — into French oak bar­rels, and over the next few months, the wine­mak­ing team tastes through each of the bar­rel lots to whit­tle it down to rough­ly 15,000 cas­es. You already have to meet a real­ly high thresh­old to be a part of those 75,000 cas­es, then we pull the best of the best to make the Hill­top blend,” Peck says. The remain­ing wine is then added to the Sev­en Oaks Caber­net, there­by ele­vat­ing the final blend of J. Lohr’s pop­u­lar, entry-lev­el wine.

    J. Lohr 2015 Hill­top Caber­net Sauvi­gnon ($35)

    Savory, bram­bly fruit with minty under­tones that speak to the vin­tage. Dense mid­palate con­cen­tra­tion with sub­tle, well-inte­grat­ed oak char­ac­ter­is­tics. Aged in 75% new French oak for 18 months. —M.B.


    Named for the orig­i­nal Sev­en Oaks Vine­yard locat­ed near the win­ery, this wine is pri­mar­i­ly com­posed of fruit from J. Lohr home ranch estate vine­yards and satel­lite vine­yards in the Paso Rob­les AVA. Rough­ly 60 per­cent of its grapes come from these sites, yet that amount con­tin­ues to increase as J. Lohr expands its acreage.

    Peck adds that the acces­si­ble, dense, and soft Sev­en Oaks Caber­net is a deli­cious every­day wine that’s all about enjoy­ment. I take an enor­mous amount of pride in Sev­en Oaks. This cur­rent vin­tage received 90 points and it’s under $20,” he says excitedly.

    Aug­ment­ed by Peck’s atten­tion to detail in the cel­lar, J. Lohr’s advan­ta­geous farm­ing prac­tices are fur­ther enhanced by its elab­o­rate bar­rel pro­gram. The win­ery orders near­ly 10,000 new Amer­i­can oak bar­rels annu­al­ly for Sev­en Oaks — some from its bread-and-but­ter” coop­ers and oth­ers from test lots.

    In a way, Sev­en Oaks could be likened to a dish with lay­ers of fla­vors craft­ed by an expe­ri­enced chef. In this case, there’s more than one cook in the kitchen: President/​Director of Wine­mak­ing Jeff Meier and Assis­tant Wine­mak­er Bren­den Wood have worked along­side Peck for more a decade, tast­ing through innu­mer­able bar­rel lots to per­fect their oak pro­gram and cre­ate the final blend.

    In part, this is exact­ly what sets J. Lohr apart: the expe­ri­ence and longevi­ty of its team. I’ve worked for many dif­fer­ent winer­ies over the years — this one is real­ly unique,” says Senior Mar­ket­ing Direc­tor Dave Muret. Jer­ry is a true indus­try icon, but he con­stant­ly talks about his team. Every­one you meet here shares his and the family’s long-term vision: a decades-long, vin­tage-to-vin­tage pur­suit of quality.”

    J. Lohr Sev­en Oaks Caber­net Sauvi­gnon ($17)

    Crisp, plum­my red fruit with sub­tle bak­ing spice and soft tan­nins framed by fresh acid­i­ty. —M.B.

    J. Lohr’s Lone Napa Val­ley Prop­er­ty Hon­ors Jer­ry Lohr’s Late Wife 

    J. Lohr’s Carol’s Vine­yard in Napa Valley’s St. Hele­na AVA is named for Jer­ry Lohr’s late wife, who died sev­er­al years ago after a bat­tle with breast can­cer. To hon­or her lega­cy, the Lohr fam­i­ly has part­nered with the Nation­al Breast Can­cer Foun­da­tion for the past ten years, donat­ing a por­tion of every bot­tle sold of Carol’s Vine­yard wines. This cam­paign, called Touch­ing Lives, has to date helped fund more than 6,500 mam­mo­grams for women who couldn’t oth­er­wise afford them.

    The Napa Val­ley loca­tion of Carol’s Vine­yard tends to pro­duce a more robust expres­sion of Caber­net with firmer tan­nins and a more angu­lar struc­ture than the winery’s Paso Rob­les sites. Although Hill­top and Sev­en Oaks see small amounts of Petit Ver­dot and oth­er Bor­deaux blenders, Carol’s Vine­yard instead fea­tures a sig­nif­i­cant amount of Petit Ver­dot (21% for the 2014 vintage).

    J. Lohr Red Wines Wine­mak­er Steve Peck says he enjoys mar­ry­ing Petit Ver­dot with Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, as it allows for bet­ter oak inte­gra­tion while increas­ing the wine’s blue-fruit char­ac­ter and acid­i­ty. Petit Ver­dot opens up a win­dow into that savory blend and real­ly helps show­case the oak,” Peck explains.

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