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  • Tasting Panel Magazine article: Five Decades on the Eco-Frontier

    Why Sustainability is a Core Value of California's J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines

    Tasting Panel Eco Frontier

    The Tast­ing Pan­el Mag­a­zine
    November/​December 2019
    By Court­ney Schiessl

    Beloved by enophiles of all stripes for its wide range of approach­able wines, J. Lohr Vine­yards & Wines encom­pass­es var­i­ous prop­er­ties with­in the new-bustling grow­ing region that is Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Cen­tral Coast. But near­ly 50 years ago, when founder and pro­pri­etor Jer­ry Lohr found just the right spot in Mon­terey Coun­ty in which to plant his first grapes, few had real­ized the poten­tial for wine­mak­ing there. 

    This pio­neer­ing pro­duc­er now has facil­i­ties in Green­field, Paso Rob­les, and San Jose, with 1,400 acres of estate vine­yard land in cool, windy Mon­terey Coun­ty and 2,700 more in warm Paso Rob­les. Yet the secret to its decades-long suc­cess goes far beyond being in the right place at the right time. Sus­tain­abil­i­ty, farm­ing, and respect for peo­ple have always been core to our whole phi­los­o­phy,” Jer­ry says. As one of the first winer­ies to earn the Cer­ti­fied Cal­i­for­nia Sus­tain­able Wine­grow­ing des­ig­na­tion, J. Lohr has shown a ded­i­ca­tion to envi­ron­men­tal, social, and eco­nom­ic prin­ci­ples that’s set­ting the win­ery up for its next 50 years of success. 


    Sus­tain­abil­i­ty isn’t a new con­cept for J. Lohr: It’s been a core tenet of the win­ery since Jer­ry, who grew up on a farm in South Dako­ta, first bought land in Mon­terey Coun­ty in 1971 and launched the win­ery in 1974. CEO Steve Lohr helped his father plant these vine­yards when he was 10 years old. We didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly use the word sus­tain­abil­i­ty’ back then,” he says, but we were always look­ing to improve the way we pre­pare and take care of our soils as well as all [oth­er] process­es in the vine­yards and winery.” 

    Jerry’s farm­ing back­ground paved the way for his sus­tain­abil­i­ty efforts. In South Dako­ta, farm­ers didn’t have her­bi­cides or pes­ti­cides and instead used organ­ic prac­tices large­ly by default. Fol­low­ing their lead rather than that of the cor­po­rate agri­cul­tur­al indus­try, with its increas­ing reliance on chem­i­cals, he pre­ferred to pri­or­i­tize healthy soil practices. 

    Sus­tain­abil­i­ty advo­cates take a holis­tic look at vine­yard and win­ery prac­tices,” says Steve. For exam­ple, when you have a lot of trac­tor pass­es in the vine­yard, you’re increas­ing green­house gas emis­sions. So we’re look­ing at ways we can take care of our soil while also tak­ing care of the air around us.” 

    While J. Lohr’s envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty efforts are numer­ous, water con­ser­va­tion has been par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to the com­pa­ny over the past 16 years. In 2003, the stan­dard indus­try prac­tice was to use 6 – 7 gal­lons of water to make just 1 gal­lon of wine. J. Lohr began track­ing its water usage and found that it was already using water more effi­cient­ly than the aver­age win­ery, mea­sur­ing around 3.5 gal­lons of water for per gal­lon of wine. But the team thought they could do bet­ter. By using low-flow, high-pres­sure noz­zles on hoses and tim­ing how long it takes to prop­er­ly clean bar­rels, they were able to cut their water use event fur­ther; today, J. Lohr aver­ages about 1.5 gal­lons of water for every gall on of wine. 

    Now, it’s going on step fur­ther by tack­ling effi­cient water us in the vine­yard. Work­ing with a vine­yard water-use spe­cial­ist from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bor­deaux over the past decade, the com­pa­ny found that the vine itself – via the uti­liza­tion of stem-water poten­tial mea­sure­ment – is the best soil mois­ture meter through­out the grow­ing sea­son, even in warmer regions like Paso Rob­les. Depend­ing on soil type and sea­son, we can go up to three months in the sum­mer with­out irri­gat­ing, with no detri­ment to yield or vine health,” says Jeff Meier, Pres­i­dent and COO of J. Lohr. In fact, we’ve seen an improve­ment in wine qual­i­ty.” In July, the win­ery began work­ing with some of its grow­ers to decrease irri­ga­tion and pro­mote effi­cient water use through­out the region. 


    The J. Lohr team believes that sus­tain­abil­i­ty must also extend beyond their winer­ies, estate vine­yards, and grow­ers, and Jerry’s decades of expe­ri­ence put him in the posi­tion to lead. Some­times the research gets done and gets pub­lished with­out get­ting used,” he says. We’re going to try to engage more peo­ple at a prac­ti­cal lev­el.” Whether that’s through financ­ing uni­ver­si­ties that lack the funds to trav­el and share research with the wine com­mu­ni­ty or hold­ing lead­er­ship posi­tions at indus­try orga­ni­za­tions across the state, J. Lohr doesn’t just want to enact change – it wants to dri­ve change. 

    Part of the ethos of our com­pa­ny is that any­thing worth doing is worth doing well,” says Lawrence Lohr, co-own­er of
    J. Lohr, and indus­try lead­er­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion are para­mount to what we all hold so dear here.” Jer­ry is now push­ing for leg­isla­tive change when it comes to water-man­age­ment prac­tices; cur­rent Cal­i­for­nia laws require that farm­ers con­tin­ue to irri­gate land event when it is fal­low in order to pre­serve their water rights, which can be unnec­es­sar­i­ly wasteful. 

    Not only was J. Lohr one of the first 17 vine­yards and winer­ies to earn the afore­men­tioned Cer­ti­fied Cal­i­for­nia Sus­tain­able Wine­grow­ing (CCSW) dis­tinc­tion, it aid­ed in pio­neer­ing the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion itself. Jer­ry helped form the Cal­i­for­nia Sus­tain­able Wine­grow­ing Alliance (CSWA) in 2001 as an out­growth of the Wine Insti­tute and the Cal­i­for­nia Asso­ci­a­tion of Wine­grape Grow­ers. In 2008, Steve formed the J. Lohr Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Team, which meets quar­ter­ly to ana­lyze ways to improve prac­tices in the company’s vine­yards and winer­ies; the same year, J. Lohr was part of the CSWA group that decid­ed a sus­tain­abil­i­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion could bring clar­i­ty and guid­ance to the industry. 

    At the time, there was some green­wash­ing in the indus­try – peo­ple say­ing they were sus­tain­able, but there was no way to prove it,” says Steve, who has been on the board of CSWA for nine years and served as chair­man in 2017 and 2018. So the CSWA decid­ed to cre­ate a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram ver­i­fied by a third-par­ty audi­tor, using the code of sus­tain­able wine­grow­ing prac­tices that is part of the orga­ni­za­tion.” In Jan­u­ary 2010, the first CCSW cer­ti­fi­ca­tions were awarded. 


    Sus­tain­abil­i­ty, in addi­tion to look­ing at the envi­ron­ment, also focus­es on social equi­ty and eco­nom­ics,” says Steve. It’s impor­tant for employ­ees to know that they are val­ued, the team agrees, so J. Lohr looks to prop­er­ly com­pen­sate asso­ciates and has imple­ment­ed an incen­tive-based prof­it-shar­ing plan. We think of it as tak­ing care of our employ­ees,” he adds, and by tak­ing care of our employ­ees, we cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where peo­ple enjoy com­ing to work and have a major stake in our success.” 

    Social equi­ty is also about giv­ing back to the com­mu­ni­ty. After Jerry’s wife, Car­ol, dies of breast can­cer in 2008, the win­ery began part­ner­ing with the Nation­al Breast Can­cer Foun­da­tion. Today, J. Lohr makes a dona­tion from every bot­tle sold of Carol’s Vine­yard Caber­net Sauvi­gnon to help women around the coun­try get mam­mo­grams who would not oth­er­wise be able to afford them. J. Lohr also hires peo­ple with devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties to work on projects like bot­tle label­ing. It’s a chance for them to feel good about doing work and get­ting paid for it,” says Steve. We’re real­ly hap­py to have them with us.” 

    Whether their projects per­tain to the envi­ron­ment, social equi­ty, or eco­nom­ics, the J. Lohr team is think­ing ahead not just months or years but decades. Sus­tain­abil­i­ty has a short-term effect as well as a long-term focus to it,” says Steve. The aver­age life of a grapevine is 25 to 30 years – the same time frame as many of our sus­tain­abil­i­ty prac­tices. The things we do are not nec­es­sar­i­ly for short-term prof­its. They are for the long-term health of the soil, the water, the air, and the peo­ple around us.” 

    Read the full arti­cle here

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