Wine – The Wine Wizard of Oz

I guess the story I’d like to share would be perfect if Jerry Lohr had been raised in Kansas, but South Dakota is a wonderful alternative. Born and raised on the family farm in the Dakotas, Jerry grew up with an innate sense of climate, soil, and place. He never really forgot this background as he pursued a series of degree programs, and then served in the Air Force, working with NASA at their Ames research center just south of San Francisco. Retiring from the military; he embarked on a new career of land development and custom homebuilding. But his farm roots led him into that new emerging phenomenon of California boutique wine. It was the late 60s. Napa was a term most Americans thought meant auto parts, with Monterey and Paso Robles not even on the radar as wine growing regions. Wine was essentially Chablis, Burgundy, and Rose. The category was dominated by brands like Inglenook, Almaden, and Gallo. The AVA (American Viticulture Area) system wouldn’t even be implemented till 1983, while the Judgment of Paris was almost a decade away. Lastly, Robert Mondavi was finishing up his brand new winery, the first to be built since Prohibition. This was all pretty much unexplored territory…there was no yellow brick road that led to the Emerald City.

Jerry began his hunt for the perfect area to grow grapes by driving all over the state of California. His travels on one weekend took him south of the Bay area to Monterey County. In the Arroyo Seco region he found that perfect convergence of climate, soil, and place, and in 1971 purchased his first 280 acre site, and began planting grapes and building his namesake winery. Originally planting almost a dozen varietals, thru trial and error he narrowed it down to those that grew the best…Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Valdiguie. He also increased his growing acreage to almost 1400 acres. Raw land back then in the early 70’s went for around $1,800 an acre. One of the reasons Jerry is always smiling is that 40 years later, the same land is valued at over $30,000 an acre. Over the years, the winery has expanded its selections and different tiers to encompass various price points, culminating in the Cuvee series. Today with almost 4000 acres under cultivation (the vast majority estate), they can source their own estate grown fruit from 3 of the prime locations for premium grapes in California. The “foundation” is the original vineyards which produced the original estate series, including our “house” chardonnay, the Lohr Riverstone. Over the years this portfolio has grown to include Paso Robles fruit for the Merlot, Cabernet, and others. One of the sleepers for the summer months for the dedicated red wine drinker is the Wildflower Valdiguie’ from this series. Stop by the shop anytime for the inside scoop on this gem, including how to pronounce it. The next tier is the vineyard series, where the winemaking team of Jeff Meier, Steve Peck, Karl Antink, and Brenden Wood get to produce wines from some of the best areas in Monterey, Paso Robles, and Napa. When I find a little of that elusive “extra” money, I always try to treat Kathy to a bottle of the Arroyo Secco Chardonnay (think Riverstone Chard on serious steroids). But the sentimental favorite is the Carol’ vineyard series. I relate this touching story in the next paragraph. Their very top tier is called their Cuvee series. This is the winery’s California interpretation of the classic Grand Cru chateau offerings from the 3 stellar AOC areas…Pauillac, St. Emilion, and Pomerol regions in Bordeaux. Working with their very best fruit from the Paso Robles area, this trio pays homage to the unique styles for these areas without being burdened by the strict French regulations. The Lohr Cuvee Pau, Cuvee St. E. and the Cuvee Pom are truly the best wines in the Lohr portfolio, and worth the hunt to find them. Production for all 3 types in generally only 500+ cases for the world. And when you sell your wines in all 50 states, and export to 30 countries, these may be hard to find. The good news is that we’re happy to track down any of these wines for you at The Boerne Wine Company…swing by, call or e-mail us.

And here is the real story on the Carol’s vineyard series. Named to honor his wife of 48 years, this is a 35 acre plot in the heart of the Napa valley floor near St. Helena. Planted to Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc primarily, with a small amount of Petite Verdot grown for blending. These two offerings were meant to showcase the exceptional fruit that Napa produces. After her unexpected death in 2008 to breast cancer, this series took on a special significance for the Lohr family. As a tribute to her memory, Jerry committed $2.00 of each bottle sold to help provide low cost mammograms for those unable to afford them through the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

The next part talks to the difference between a family winery and one that’s part of a vast conglomerate. Jerry got the production figures for the two releases and quickly calculated the dollar amount of the contribution he wanted to make. The next call was to the accountant to send out the check, who reminded him that he was under no real obligation until that first tribute vintage had sold out…probably in 9-10 months, possibly even over a year later. Jerry’s response…”cut the check”. The program has been showing incredible growth, and is now in its 6 year, having provided close to 3,000 mammograms to those who need them the most. Coming off Mother’s Day just a short time ago…help keep these good works coming to those who need them the most, and enjoy a great bottle of wine at the same time.

My part of the story comes into play in the early 80’s while I was working for a small distributor in San Antonio, and I was introduced to their portfolio. The winery had expanded into the Texas market in 1978, and in short order I was introduced to the lady who has become synonymous with the winery in my mind…Susan Cowder. Over the next 30 years, no matter which side of the fence I was working, Susan was always there as probably the best brand ambassador I ever had the pleasure of working with. She is a true industry veteran, having worked the retail and wholesale trade channels for almost 40 years. For J.Lohr wines to say she is knowledgeable is an understatement. She has been directly with the winery for 20 years, but has been selling the brand much longer. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s a Lone Star gal and speaks Texan. Thank you Susan for all your support and encouragement over the years.

And as we come to the end of story, and the bottom of my glass of Lohr Riverstone Chardonnay, I pull the bottle out of the ice, and pour just a little bit more for Kathy and myself as we finish the bottle. This month, Jerry and the winery celebrate 40 years of operation, his three children (Steve, Cynthia, and Lawrence) taking active roles in the total winery operation. And Jerry himself? Next time you visit the winery, look for the fella on the tractor working the fields in the vineyards…that’s Jerry. Here’s to many more vintages and great wines…continued success Mr.Lohr!


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