It wasn’t so long ago that the closest one could hope to find a quality local wine was north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Over the course of a generation, that has changed. The Santa Clara Valley, once home to just a handful of jug wine makers, has come into its own as a reliable producer of top shelf varietals. Jerry Lohr and his family may deserve some credit for the region’s transformation.

Lohr—who recently celebrated 45 years as the head of his family-owned J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines—was one of the first modern vintners to explore the possibilities of California’s Central Coast. He planted his first 280 acres in 1972 and 1973 in Monterey County, and opened his San Jose winery in 1974 on Lenzen Avenue, just off The Alameda.

Through his dedicated study of terroir, Lohr helped prove the viability of the Arroyo Seco appellation and likely helped inspire boutique winemakers in southern Santa Clara County.

Lohr’s son, Steve, the CEO and co-owner of J. Lohr, is reluctant to take too much credit, however. “I think we played a part,” he says, but is quick to point to the work of the Wente family in the Livermore Valley and the Gugliemos in Morgan Hill, noting that each played a very significant role in developing winegrowing regions south of Napa.

Of late, the winery’s whites have shown particular promise, improving with each vintage. The 2018 Riverstone Arroyo Seco chardonnay ($14), sings of its chilly provenance with sage, honey and coriander.

Two wines from the F&G Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, a cool and windy site known for its cobblestones, really spotlight Lohr’s white wine prowess. The 2018 sauvignon blanc ($25) is the perfect marriage of passionfruit, grapefruit, Meyer lemon and kiwi, with a subtle touch of fennel from acacia barrels, a key ingredient in their sauvignon blancs. The 2018 F&G pinot blanc ($35) is just lovely, carrying ripe apple, pear and melon on a dreamy creamy palate.

Fans of megabig cabernet sauvignon will gravitate to the new “Pure Paso” blend ($27). Made by head red winemaker Brenden Wood, it’s endowed with blackfruited ripeness from Paso cabernet, then supersized by the addition of petite sirah—the velvet underground that gives so many blends plushness, depth and a finish of chocolate fudge.

J. Lohr
1000 Lenzen Ave, San Jose