J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines: Pioneering an Industry, Changing Lives

Start with a South Dakota farmer turned Stanford-educated NASA engineer, add a longstanding commitment to hard work and excellence, and what do you get? J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines.

Simultaneous to his successful career as a builder-developer, and with a return to his agricultural roots — albeit as a California vint- ner rather than a South Dakota farmer, J. Lohr founder and CFO Jerry Lohr intensively researched his options, and then in 1971, set down roots for his first vineyard in Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco district. Though it may not have been known at the time as prime wine-growing country, Lohr knew that the cool, windy climate and rocky soils would be ideal for producing outstanding Chardonnay.

His next step was to establish a second estate vineyard program in Paso Robles, where temperature swings of up to 50 degrees over the course of a day encourage grapes to stay small and packed with concentrated flavor. The growing conditions “make a really rich flavor profile, particularly for red varieties,” says Jerry’s daughter Cynthia Lohr, co-owner and trade and brand advocate of J. Lohr.

Today, the J. Lohr family owns more than 2,600 vineyard acres in Paso Robles, 1,400 vineyard acres in Monterey County, as well as the family’s beloved 31-acre Carol’s Vineyard in Napa Valley. The winery offers a portfolio that showcases five tiers of bold, award-win- ning wines: J. Lohr Estates; J. Lohr Vineyard Series, priced at $22 to $60 and featuring wines such as Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon and Arroyo Vista Chardonnay; J. Lohr Cuvée Series, J. Lohr Gesture and J. Lohr Signature Cabernet Sauvignon — the winery’s pinnacle bottling. Wine Club members have access to the Vineyard and Cuvée Series, library wines, J. Lohr Gesture and J. Lohr Signature Cabernet.

With annual U.S. sales of 1.7 million cases, J. Lohr ranks among the top 30 wine producers in the country, and one of the few independent, family-run wineries of its size.

Jerry’s unorthodox but wise choices in locating his vineyards opened people’s eyes to the potential of California’s Central Coast and helped reshape the landscape of the wine industry. He is regarded as a pioneer, and in 2016, was named “American Wine Legend” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine for his visionary and transformative work — an honor the magazine had bestowed only twice before in 16 years.

“He is very exacting, very precise, in everything he does,” Cynthia Lohr says of her father. Like Jerry, Cynthia Lohr forged her own path prior to joining the world of winemaking. But in 2002, following a successful career that included work in education, public relations and technology marketing, “I knew that I could add great value to our business,” she says. Although Jerry, at age 82, still puts in 60- plus hours a week, Cynthia, along with her brothers, Steve and Lawrence, also hold leadership positions in the family business.

A trailblazer, Cynthia is a leading advocate for women in the wine industry. It’s a role she takes seriously. “I have a platform as a woman, as a co- owner, as an employee, and as a mother and a wife,” she says. “I like to leverage that for the good of the industry but also for women and women’s issues because I recognize that not all women have that opportunity.”

She is proud of the fact that J. Lohr remains family-owned and operated. And because Lohr grows, produces and bottles its own wines, the family can ensure consistent quality of the final product. “It’s not going to be that one vintage is terrible and the next is fantastic,” she says. “Our portfolio, our story — everything points back to quality. My brothers Steve [CEO of J. Lohr)] and Lawrence [who works with Jerry in the vineyards] and I are second-generation owners who have this honor and this responsibility not only to the family business, but also to our employees who have entrusted us with their families, with their lives.”

She points to the remarkable loyalty of J. Lohr employees, listing example after example of individuals who have devoted decades to the company. “Our HR director retired after 38 years,” she says, while Jeff Meier, president/COO has been with us for 34 years. A number of other employees are approaching their 20th anniversary of working at J. Lohr.

In addition to authenticity and respecting its employees, J. Lohr is also committed to innovation and sustainability. Jerry’s modest roots growing up in a farming family led him to be “very conscientious of resources,” Cynthia Lohr says. “That instilled in him a deep appreciation for the land, for resources, also for great discipline.”

In 2010, J. Lohr achieved Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing status following an extensive review of its vineyard and winery practices in environmental stewardship; relationships with employees, neighbors and communities; water conservation; energy efficiency; healthy soils and other sustainability initiatives.

One of the sustainability initiatives that the Lohrs are most proud of is J. Lohr’s solar tracking array in Paso Robles. When the three-acre array was first installed in 2008, she notes, it was the largest solar-tracking array in the North American wine industry — one that required a significant capital investment. But today, she says, “that three acres of photovoltaic tracking array powers over 84 percent of the needs of our Paso Robles winery and tasting room, and has paid for itself easily.”

Many additional eco-friendly initiatives can be found throughout J. Lohr facilities, such as high-speed roll-up doors in barrel rooms, a beneficial insect garden, biodegradable wine-packaging materials, and an intensive recycling program. Lohr is also careful to conserve water. “It’s important, particularly given our California climate situation right now and the lack of water on the Central Coast,” Cynthia Lohr says. “My father has been deeply invested in shaping alternative water sourcing to the area.” That enduring sense of connection to land and resources helps ensure that springtime in the vineyards will be as glorious as ever. Budbreak “is the signal that everything is as it should be,” she says. “It represents the start of things to come.”

The delicate yet robust buds in the vineyard are “a beautiful thing to see,” she says. “The initial flowering is really quite gorgeous. I’ve long been a champion of having a camera out there to actually capture it.”

By Karen Jamrog from Celebrate Magazine