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  • J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines featured in Gentry

    Steve Peck Gentry Magazine

    Gen­try
    May 2020

    On April 6, J. Lohr earned the 2020 Sus­tain­able Wine­grow­ing Lead­er­ship Green Medal Award for being an indus­try stan­dard bear­er in terms of envi­ron­ment, eco­nom­ics, and social equi­ty. The award says a lot about J. Lohr’s past, present, and future. We touched base with the Lohr fam­i­ly to under­stand their pas­sion for wine.

    The sto­ry real­ly begins with our dad, Jer­ry,” notes Steve Lohr, CEO of J. Lohr. Dad, the son of Irish immi­grants, grew up on a farm in East­ern South Dako­ta grow­ing grain, wheat, corn, sorghum, and mil­let. The land — and under­stand­ing it — was a part of his very being from day one.” Jer­ry Lohr went on to study civ­il engi­neer­ing at South Dako­ta State and lat­er attend­ed Stan­ford in the mid-1950s for grad­u­ate school. A fel­low grad stu­dent from Lake Coun­ty brought a bot­tle of wine to his class­mates one day and Jer­ry found a new pas­sion. It was real­ly good,” he recalls with a smile. We didn’t have a lot of wine in South Dako­ta. I was fas­ci­nat­ed and spent the next two decades look­ing for the right prop­er­ty.” In the mean­time, he mar­ried his col­lege sweet­heart — a beau­ti­ful grad stu­dent at Stan­ford named Car­ol who was there to study French and Russ­ian. Jer­ry par­layed his civ­il engi­neer­ing degree into a build­ing com­pa­ny cre­at­ing homes for fam­i­lies through­out the San­ta Clara Val­ley. While the busi­ness grew, the Lohr fam­i­ly grew too with three chil­dren: Steve, Cyn­thia, and Lawrence.

    By the ear­ly 70s, Jerry’s dream of a vine­yard became a real­i­ty. He found the piece of land he’d been search­ing for — 280 acres blessed with rocky soil, cool Pacif­ic evening breezes, and warm sun­ny days in the sleepy town of Green­field on the Mon­terey Penin­su­la. Jer­ry hired pro­fes­sors from UC Davis to help with the process. It was always meant to be a busi­ness,” recalls Steve. Dad loved wine, but he want­ed the vine­yards to grow and pro­duce.” Over the past 46 years, J. Lohr has grown into one of the most suc­cess­ful wine brands in the busi­ness with over 4,000 acres of vine­yards stretch­ing from Paso Rob­les to Napa Valley.

    The Lohr sib­lings recall week­ends in Green­field as kids. We loved it,” relates Cyn­thia, who is now co-own­er and Chief Brand Offi­cer of J. Lohr. As achild, I just recall it being fun — run­ning around the vine­yards with my broth­ers. But for our father this was seri­ous; he was real­ly cul­ti­vat­ing more than just his own wine, he was pio­neer­ing Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia Coast wines, too.” Indeed, many experts have likened Jerry’s lead­er­ship and con­tri­bu­tions to Paso Rob­les and Monterey’s Arroyo Seco dis­trict to Robert Mondavi’s efforts in Napa Valley.

    Lawrence, also a co-own­er and Chief of Brand Edu­ca­tion, notes that Jer­ry want­ed his chil­dren to find their own path before join­ing the fam­i­ly busi­ness. All of us went in dif­fer­ent direc­tions and acquired dif­fer­ent skill sets.” Steve attend­ed Stan­ford, earn­ing degrees in eco­nom­ics and civ­il engi­neer­ing before embark­ing on a suc­cess­ful career build­ing high-end cus­tom homes in Sil­i­con Val­ley. Cyn­thia fol­lowed in her mother’s foot­steps, major­ing in French and psy­chol­o­gy at UC Davis. Then I jumped into high tech,” she notes, work­ing in mar­ket­ing and brand devel­op­ment for a num­ber of pre-IPO com­pa­nies, includ­ing Yahoo!, and lat­er becom­ing a vice pres­i­dent at Alexan­der Ogilvy Pub­lic Rela­tions World­wide. In 2002, she piv­ot­ed and brought her pas­sion for brands and mar­ket­ing to the fam­i­ly busi­ness. Lawrence, who had majored in polit­i­cal eco­nom­ics when he attend­ed under­grad at UC Berke­ley, joined the fam­i­ly busi­ness two years after Cyn­thia. Dad want­ed to make sure that we under­stood the busi­ness from the ground up,” he says. When I was a teen in the 80s, I worked in the bar­rel­house. He want­ed me to under­stand the full scope of pro­duc­tion. Lat­er, I start­ed in the sales office work­ing with our dis­trib­u­tors and work­ing out in the field sell­ing. It was an incred­i­ble edu­ca­tion. I think our real­ly com­mon thread and why we work well togeth­er is that we all have a pas­sion for dif­fer­ent aspects of the wine business.”

    In 2008, the Lohr fam­i­ly expe­ri­enced the pain of the sud­den and unex­pect­ed loss of matri­arch Car­ol to metasta­t­ic breast can­cer. The loss gal­va­nized the fam­i­ly to hon­or Car­ol and give back. We part­nered with the Nation­al Breast Can­cer Foun­da­tion,” says Cyn­thia, and des­ig­nat­ed the J. Lohr Carol’s Vine­yard Caber­net Sauvi­gnon as a com­mem­o­ra­tive release. Since the pro­gram start­ed, sales from the Carol’s Cab releas­es have sup­port­ed ear­ly breast can­cer detec­tion, access to mam­mo­grams, and patient nav­i­ga­tion services.”

    A com­mit­ment to com­mu­ni­ty has been a through line for the Lohrs. Steve notes, Real­ly, sus­tain­abil­i­ty is all about tak­ing care of the Earth and your com­mu­ni­ty.” Jer­ry under­scores, We’ve had a phi­los­o­phy of sus­tain­abil­i­ty since I start­ed.” Now in his eighth decade, Jer­ry is very much involved in the day- to-day oper­a­tions of the vine­yards. He says, Grow­ing up in the Mid­west you learn what types of crops work well in which cli­mate and soil each year. Grapes are dif­fer­ent. The cli­mate and soil are key, but when you plant grapes you plant for the long term — 25 years.”

    That long-term focus and com­mit­ment to the land has tru­ly shaped every­thing about the busi­ness for the Lohrs. Want­i­ng to cre­ate an excel­lent prod­uct has meant major invest­ments in time, tal­ent, and inno­va­tion. The team is laser focused on sus­tain­able water reten­tion and irri­ga­tion and solar pow­er that pro­vides 75% of the ener­gy con­sumed by the vine­yards, facil­i­ties, and tast­ing rooms.

    In terms of tal­ent, we are so for­tu­nate,” adds Cyn­thia, to have longevi­ty of lead­er­ship.” The extend­ed fam­i­ly at J. Lohr includes Pres­i­dent and COO Jeff Meier, who joined as a mem­ber of the har­vest staff back in 1984, and Direc­tor of Wine­mak­ing Steve Peck, who joined in 2007. Jer­ry has always been sup­port­ive of the needs of wine­mak­ing,” relates Meier. Peck con­tin­ues, There is just so much focus on the details — we’re in search of that per­fect wine in every wine we make. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s in the Cuvée Series or in the Vine­yard Series or the Estate Series — there is just an amaz­ing com­mit­ment to quality.”

    That qual­i­ty has res­onat­ed with con­sumers over the decades. We put the qual­i­ty of the wines first and I think that’s what sep­a­rates us from a lot of our com­pe­ti­tion,” Steve Lohr proud­ly notes. Turn over that back label — you’ll see it says, pro­duced and bot­tled.’ Oth­ers say, cel­lared and bot­tled.’ We care for the wine from begin­ning to end and our cus­tomers can count on that atten­tion to detail. Dur­ing tough times like the cur­rent pan­dem­ic, those details count. Our tast­ing rooms may be closed, but we’re reach­ing out to our cus­tomers with online expe­ri­ences and look for­ward to the days ahead where that high-touch, inti­mate engage­ment we’re known for can be cel­e­brat­ed again. We take enor­mous pride in all that our team does — we’re in it for the long haul.”

    Read the full arti­cle here.

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