With its laid-back charm and casual elegance, Paso Robles stands out as one of California’s greatest wine regions. For those who make these high-end wines, the region and its bounty are a dream come true. No one understands its offerings more than Jerry Lohr. As a pioneer of grape growing and winemaking in Paso Robles and the Central Coast, J. Lohr is a testament and inspiration to what can be accomplished with a lot of heart and endless grit.
Just four decades ago, California’s rugged Central Coast contained a mere fraction of the vines that populate its many vineyards today. But Lohr—whose farming roots went all the way back to his childhood in South Dakota—followed his instincts; he knew the right varieties in the right soils could produce something spectacular.
J. Lohr’s first vineyards were planted in Monterey’s Arroyo Seco in the 1970s, where the focus was on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Several years later, in the early 1980s, Lohr turned his attention 75 miles south, to Paso Robles. With its rolling hills, majestic oaks, and proximity to the rocky Pacific coastline, this was the wild west that fortune-seekers and romantics spoke about. For Lohr, the landscape and climate said something more: its rich calcareous soils and large diurnal shifts made it the ideal place for bold and expressive Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and other Bordeaux and Rhône varieties.
The release of J. Lohr’s flagship Seven Oaks Cabernet in 1987 was a revelation and drew attention to the quality revolution that was quietly taking place in Paso Robles. Lohr, with his innate understanding of the terroir, became a guiding light for aspiring wineries. With the release of the J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet in 1995, he and his team again raised the bar with a more limited, vineyard-focused release. Almost two full decades later, the J. Lohr Signature Cabernet Sauvignon was created in honor of Lohr’s eightieth birthday; it pays tribute to all the ways he created a world-class winegrowing region. More recently, the J. Lohr Pure Paso® Proprietary Red brings the Lohr legacy full circle with its blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, two benchmark varieties that started it all for the J. Lohr brand. Today, J. Lohr farms over 2,700 acres in Paso Robles alone. Through this growth, he helped others understand the nuances of Paso terroir, ideal pruning and viticulture techniques, and clonal selection. This research also became instrumental in the creation of Paso’s eleven sub-AVAs.
But the story goes deeper than just the right varieties with the right terroir. Lohr knew in order to leave a legacy, the family had to think about the future. In 2009, he unveiled three acres of solar panels at their Paso Robles Home Ranch, the largest of any winery at the time, and a year later, the estate became one of the first to earn the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing seal from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Today, the family remains deeply involved in numerous organizations and educational institutions, all with the goal of supporting the evolution of the California wine industry. In 2016, Lohr was named an American Wine Legend by Wine Enthusiast, only the third person ever to receive this accolade since 2000.
Through it all, J. Lohr has remained a true family company. All three of Jerry’s children—Lawrence, Cynthia, and Steve—are involved in the business and are keen to continue the work of their legendary father. J. Lohr has always been about the purity of winemaking and by inviting drinkers in with their accessible yet refined offerings, they continue to open people’s eyes to the magic of Paso Robles.
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Published: September 1, 2021