Steve Peck, Winemaker of the Month
Wine Business Monthly, May 2021
“Winemaker of the Month”
Steve Peck, director of winemaking, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Paso Robles, CA
NAME AND TITLE: Steve Peck, director of winemaking
WINERY NAME AND LOCATION: J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines is a family owned winery with CSWA Certified Sustainable locations in San Jose, Greenfield and Paso Robles, California. The original winery in San Jose is home to our corporate offices and the production space is entirely dedicated to bottling and case goods storage. Our Greenfield winery in the Arroyo Seco AVA houses 40,000 barrels with, the focus on barrel fermented Chardonnay. The Paso Robles winery produces more than 1 million cases of barrel-aged Cabernet Sauvignon each year along with a range of other interesting red wines.
ANNUAL CASE PRODUCTION: We are currently at 1.76 million cases, which is over double what we were producing when I joined the winery in 2007. It’s been amazing to actually see our quality increase as we have grown over the years.
PLANTED ACRES: 2,600 acres in Paso Robles, 1,300 acres in Arroyo Seco and 34 acres in St. Helena.
CAREER BACKGROUND: By good fortune, I got a call from Gary Brookman at Joseph Phelps in August 1983 after one of the cellar guys had broken his arm in a water skiing accident at Lake Berryessa (not fortunate for him). That led to me working three harvests at Phelps while going to school at Davis as an undergrad. As a fermentation science major, I fell under the spell of Professor Roger Boulton and ultimately graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and a minor in winemaking. My first jobs after graduation were in biotech at Merck and later Genencor, where the pilot plant I worked in looked exactly like a winery. The difference was that the stainless steel tanks were filled with fermenting Bacillus, Trichoderma and a range of other organisms tuned to produce enzymes for a wide range of applications. After 15 years of that, the stars aligned, and I was able to return to winemaking under the tutelage of Dennis Martin at the Fetzer Five Rivers winery in Paso Robles and six years later joined the J. Lohr team, where I am today.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGE? I really enjoyed the innovation and technical challenges of the biotech industry when I was part of that world but missed the people and the culture of the winemaking community. My greatest career challenge was convincing a winery that my 15-year hiatus from winemaking spent in biotech R&D could be viewed as a positive (that I could actually use that experience to their advantage), and that I could be a quick study of the advances in winemaking the industry had seen since my graduation from Davis. Once I made the switch, I really invested myself toward a better understanding of red wine phenolic extraction and its effect on the mouthfeel and texture of wines. I was lucky to join J. Lohr where research is a priority. They were early adopters of phenolic analysis, having become founding clients of Enologix back in 1996. This was a good fit for me and translated into an early competitive advantage for the winery, when you compare to the methods that were available in those days.
VARIETALS THAT YOUR WINERY IS KNOWN FOR: J. Lohr established its reputation early as a Chardonnay house in the ‘80s and ‘90s based on Arroyo Seco fruit. That limelight is now shared with a successful Bordeaux program where our Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon serves as a benchmark for the Paso Robles region.