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  • The Somm Journal: Pure Innovation

    Pioneering J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Debuts its First Proprietary Red Wine

    Somm Journal Aug Sept2019

    The SOMM Jour­nal
    August/​September 2019
    Sto­ry by Michelle Ball 
    Pho­tos by Jere­my Ball

    It was the ear­ly 1970s when Jer­ry Lohr, a civ­il engi­neer in the Bay Area and a for­mer NASA research sci­en­tist, plant­ed the first grapes for J. Lohr Vine­yards & Wines in an unproven viti­cul­tur­al region on California’s Cen­tral Coast. Hav­ing grown up on a farm in South Dako­ta, Lohr was cap­ti­vat­ed by the wine indus­try, as it allowed for com­plete con­trol of all aspects of the busi­ness — from farm­ing the grapes to mak­ing the wine. 

    In con­trast to most ear­ly begin­nings, the Stan­ford grad­u­ate formed a busi­ness plan for a win­ery with an annu­al pro­duc­tion of 125,000 cas­es and an ini­tial goal of being 80% estate-grown. The rea­son I want­ed to be at a rea­son­able lev­el was so I could bring in the best bar­rels, the best wine­mak­ers, the best vine­yards, the best tech­nol­o­gy, the best mar­ket­ing, and so forth,” explains Lohr, who at 82 still res off dates and facts from his past as if they hap­pened yesterday. 

    When it came time to plant, Lohr want­ed to look beyond Napa and Sono­ma, which were already on the verge of tremen­dous growth. I thought, OK, what can I learn from those places, but more impor­tant­ly, where else can I go?” recalls Lohr. The desire to forge a new path and improve beyond the sta­tus quo led Lohr to cul­ti­vate vine­yards in Mon­terey Coun­ty, whose coastal prox­im­i­ty was ide­al for retain­ing nat­ur­al acid­i­ty. A lit­tle over a decade lat­er, Lohr expand­ed to Paso Rob­les to add Bor­deaux vari­eties to his portfolio. 

    This year marks the 45th anniver­sary of J. Lohr Vine­yards & Wines, and a con­stant dri­ve to improve, a com­mit­ment to being estate-grown and ‑bot­tled, and a ded­i­ca­tion to its peo­ple remain inte­gral to the winery’s suc­cess. The longevi­ty of the lat­ter mis­sion is evi­dent from the lengthy tenures of employ­ees through­out the com­pa­ny, among them Bren­den Wood, who was recent­ly pro­mot­ed to red wine­mak­er after 15 years with J. Lohr. 

    Always Will­ing to Invest” 

    After grad­u­at­ing from Cal­i­for­nia Poly­tech­nic State Uni­ver­si­ty, San Luis Obis­po, with a degree in bio­chem­istry, Wood trav­eled through France and Italy to glean valu­able wine­mak­ing expe­ri­ence. Join­ing J. Lohr in 2004, he began as a lab tech­ni­cian and worked his way up to enol­o­gist, then assis­tant wine­mak­er; now, in his new role, he’s over­see­ing the entire port­fo­lio of red wines at the company’s Paso Rob­les winery. 

    As a sci­en­tist, he says he val­ues J. Lohr’s com­mit­ment to con­tin­u­al­ly increas­ing qual­i­ty through research and test­ing. I could see ear­ly on that they were always will­ing to invest in improve­ments to make the wines bet­ter,” adds Wood, who explains that one of his ini­tial projects was focused on pro­mot­ing phe­no­lic devel­op­ment. J. Lohr was one of the first pro­duc­ers to close­ly exam­ine how pig­men­ta­tion is derived from tan­nins, a prac­tice that helps guide wine­mak­ing deci­sions to achieve Lohr’s styl­is­tic goals: plushy, soft tan­nic char­ac­ter and intense col­or. We’ve seen a steady growth [in phe­no­lics] over the last 15 vin­tages, so the wines keep get­ting dark­er each year. That’s easy to do — what’s hard to do is to keep tan­nins soft,” says Wood. We’ve actu­al­ly seen our wines get denser over time, but also soft­er. Soft­er in this case relates to that skin ratio of col­or and tannin.” 

    J. Lohr Pure Paso Debuts 

    That trade­mark fla­vor pro­file is evi­dent in the winery’s lat­est release, the J. Lohr Pure Paso Pro­pri­etary Red Wine, which Lohr describes as an oppor­tu­ni­ty for our wine­mak­ers to make an ulti­mate red blend.” 

    The very first J. Lohr wine was a 1974 Petite Sir­ah, which was also one of the first vari­eties plant­ed by Lohr and his team in Paso Rob­les. It flour­ished in the region’s warm, arid cli­mate, and the win­ery con­tin­ues to annu­al­ly pro­duce a pop­u­lar Tow­er Road Petite Sir­ah under its Vine­yard Series tier. What we always want to do is com­plete­ly con­trol our own grapes. It’s estate fruit made by us, bar­reled by us, blend­ed by us, and bot­tled by us,” Lohr explains. 

    With J. Lohr Pure Paso, Petite Sir­ah takes on a dif­fer­ent role, mak­ing up near­ly 30% of the final blend. Mild fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­tures and 

    a short­er mac­er­a­tion time give the vari­ety a fresh black­ber­ry pro le and a soft tan­nin struc­ture. Caber­net Sauvi­gnon serves as the back­bone (70%), see­ing the addi­tion of small amounts of Mer­lot, Petit Ver­dot, and Mal­bec for complexity. 

    For this par­tic­u­lar wine, Wood focus­es on Caber­net Sauvi­gnon from the Shotwell Vine­yard in the El Pomar Dis­trict. This site sits direct­ly in the path of the Tem­ple­ton Gap— a series of pass­es in the coastal moun­tains. This geo­log­i­cal fea­ture allows mar­itime air cur­rents to flow, mod­er­at­ing after­noon heat and height­en­ing the afore­men­tioned savory red fruit and herbal char­ac­ter­is­tics in the Caber­net grapes. On the nose, the Petite Sir­ah leads with opu­lent and fresh black­ber­ry while the Caber­net frames the palate with greater restraint, cas­sis, and sub­tle minty notes: an inter­play Wood describes as a yin-yang,” con­sid­er­ing how the two vari­eties both con­trast with and com­ple­ment each other. 

    A Fresh Look for the J. Lohr Vine­yard Series 

    In 1986, J. Lohr plant­ed its first vines in Paso Rob­les at the Home Ranch in what was to become the Paso Rob­les Estrel­la Dis­trict sub-appel­la­tion. Fast-for­ward to today, when the win­ery now farms over 2,600 acres of vines span­ning every of Paso Rob­les’ sub-AVAs. Around 20 years ago, J. Lohr launched its Vine­yard Series port­fo­lio, high­light­ing the char­ac­ter and pro­files of sin­gle-vine­yard estates through­out Mon­terey and Paso Rob­les; now the series includes the J. Lohr Hill­top Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, named for a vine­yard locat­ed on the Home Ranch. The J. Lohr Tow­er Road Petite Sir­ah com­pletes the tier’s Paso Rob­les offer­ings, while Mon­terey and the Arroyo Seco AVA’s cool­er cli­mate con­tribute the series’ J. Lohr Arroyo Vista and Octo­ber Night Chardon­nays, the Fog’s Reach and High­lands’ Bench Pinot Noirs, and a Late Har­vest Ries­ling. J. Lohr’s lone Napa Val­ley prop­er­ty in St. Hele­na is the source of the J. Lohr Carol’s Vine­yard Caber­net Sauvignon. 

    Since its incep­tion, the J. Lohr Vine­yard Series wines have ben­e­fit­ed from the company’s con­stant viti­cul­tur­al invest­ment and inno­va­tion. Tighter spac­ing, advance­ments in farm­ing tech­niques, new irri­ga­tion pro­to­cols, and expe­ri­ence with choos­ing bet­ter-suit­ed root­stocks and clones are all instru­men­tal in improv­ing fruit quality. 

    With such sig­nif­i­cant advance­ments in the vine­yard over the past 20 years, a refresh in pack­ag­ing for the Vine­yard Series tier seemed appro­pri­ate. The new look was thought­ful­ly craft­ed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with high­ly regard­ed firm CF Napa Brand Design not only to com­mu­ni­cate the series’ focus on place but also to bet­ter dif­fer­en­ti­ate it visu­al­ly from the J. Lohr Estates tier. In addi­tion, a con­scious effort was made to pre­serve ele­ments from the orig­i­nal design so as to retain famil­iar­i­ty among buy­ers. Keep an eye out for the brand-new Vine­yard Series label begin­ning with the release of the 2017 J. Lohr Hill­top Caber­net Sauvi­gnon this fall.

    Read the full arti­cle here. 

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