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  • Steve Peck, Winemaker of the Month

    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. 

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