JERRY LOHR grew up on a farm, and his knowledge of and love for the land has arguably been his strongest asset as a winemaker. It was that need for a direct connection with the soil that prompted him to enter the winemaking business.
After researching various California regions based on climate and soil, Lohr settled on the Arroyo Seco appellation of Monterey County. In 1972–73, he planted his first 280 acres. In 1974, the J. Lohr Wine Center opened its doors at 1000 Lenzen Ave. in San Jose, previously home to a brewery. The tasting room, bottling facility and corporate offices are still there today. Amazingly, this small space processes and bottles the majority of the wine, more than 1 million cases per year. Demand drove expansion, and from the original 280 acres the winery grew to 1,300 acres in Monterey County, 2300 in Paso Robles and 35 in St. Helena.
Although they make vast quantities of wine most of which is very reasonably priced, the people at J. Lohr want their customers to say, “Wow, that’s great wine, and what a great price too,” not the other way around. Lohr has always been interested in making good wine that can be enjoyed right now, not treasures to be stored away for decades.
There are essentially four tiers of J. Lohr wines. Out of those million-plus cases, there are a few that contain boutique-style wines. From a tasting standpoint, all the wines are solid. They are well-balanced and easy to drink. A few personal favorites from my visit were the October Night Chardonnay, Gesture GSM and Tower Road Petite Sirah. For the holidays, both Steve Lohr, Jerry’s son and executive vice-president, and Bill Flint, the hospitality manager, recommended the Wildflower Valdiguié as a great turkey wine. This unusually light red is best served slightly chilled and tastes distinctly of cranberries and retails for $10.
Jerry Lohr has always considered himself a steward of the land. His winery is a family business. He hopes to pass it to his grandchildren’s grandchildren and therefore does not follow a five-year or even a 10-year plan but looks at a much longer span of time as more businesses should.
In 2010, the winery became one of the first in the state to earn a Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing distinction, which requires meeting 58 prerequisites. In addition to composting, water conservation and reducing chemical waste, J. Lohr has a 3-acre solar photovoltaic tracking system that was unveiled in 2009 and is the largest of its kind in the industry. Even in tough times, the winery continues to grow and to win awards of distinction. This year, it was honored with Wine Enthusiast’s Winery of the Year award. It does pay to be green.