Steve Lohr on Building a Sustainable Wine Business
Progressive Grocer, April 2022
Wine shoppers searching shelves are looking for options that are not only better for them, but better for the planet. Seventy-one percent of U.S. wine drinkers say they would consider buying sustainably produced wines in the future, according to the Certified California Sustainable Growing Annual Report. They are also willing to pay more — over 70% of respondents in a survey indicated they would pay, on average, 35% more for eco-friendly brands.
That doesn’t surprise Steve Lohr, co-owner and CEO of the family-owned J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, which adhered to sustainable practices long before the term became part of today’s lexicon. J. Lohr was even tapped to help write the first chapters of the certification process for sustainable winegrowing in California more than a decade ago.
Progressive Grocer talked to Steve Lohr about why it has always been part of the brand’s ethos to be environmentally focused and how the company can help retailers grow a sustainable wine business.
Progressive Grocer: Tell us about J. Lohr’s commitment to sustainability.
Steve Lohr: Sustainability has always been a big part of what we’ve been doing at J. Lohr, tracing back to my father, Jerry. We were one of the first vineyards in California to use drip irrigation 50 years ago to save water. Sustainability started to gain attention in the early 2000s, but we always knew it was the right thing to do.
We think of it as the three E’s. There is the environment, protecting our natural resources, which is what most people think of when they think of sustainability. Another one is social equity—how do you take care of your people, your community. And the third is economics. The economics is the part some forget about, but it is very important because if you can’t make a buck at what you are doing, you aren’t going to be around very long and that’s not sustainable.
We were among the first 17 California vineyards and wineries to earn the original Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) designation. And we were recently awarded the Green Medal Leader Award, the industry’s highest recognition for leadership in sustainability
PG: What does it take to be Certified California Sustainable?
SL: To be certified, a third-party auditor looks at your practices to avoid greenwashing. Certification comes in two different areas — you can get your vineyard, winery, or both certified for your sustainable business practices. The next step up is to get the individual product certification; on the bottle you have a seal which verifies that 85% of the grapes are certified sustainable, 100% of the wine was made in a certified California sustainable winery, and 100% of the fruit is from California.
Fewer than 5% of wines on the market today qualify for this certification. You know that if you are picking J. Lohr, you are going with a leader in the industry for sustainability.
PG: Why is this important to supermarket operators and consumers?
SL: Having the certification is a stamp that someone has verified the brand is doing what it says. This helps retailers serve consumers who are looking to support a wine that complements their desire to take care of people and the environment.
For consumers, it is becoming ever more important; people are looking to support products that are better for you, and at the same time doing the right thing for the environment.
PG: How can you help retailers build a department to help consumers find sustainable wines?
SL: Having a dedicated sustainable section is a good step to show that this is something you care about. Most grocery stores don’t have one yet but some are starting to do so. Those grocers who are showing that support will get more traffic in their stores.
Education — we have 45 fulltime salespeople around the country who can provide training to grocery store wine stewards or management as to why sustainability is important and how that knowledge can lead to higher basket rings.
We’d also love to come into your stores and do tastings of our wines for your customers to help educate them directly.
There are so many great wines available to the consumer. It helps to have something to narrow the focus — having great tasting wines, at a reasonable price that are doing good for the community and planet — well, if you get all three aligned — you are golden
For more information on J. Lohr’s sustainability efforts, click here.