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Monday, 8 November 2021

California's Central Coast: J Lohr and Oz Clarke

A Three Wine Men tasting of J. Lohr wines with Oz Clarke

J. Lohr's story

Founded five decades ago and still family-owned and operated today, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines has established itself as one of the industry’s most respected wine brands.

At the time, the California Central Coast had not yet emerged as one of North America’s world-class winegrowing regions. With little history or viticultural precedent, planting on the Central Coast was a gamble.

One of a handful of early pioneers, Jerry Lohr was among the first to realize the inherent potential of Monterey and Paso Robles for producing high quality grapes and superb wines.

The Central Coast’s emergence as a world class winegrowing region runs parallel with the establishment and growth of J. Lohr Vineyards & Winery.

Founder Jerry Lohr is one of the region’s pioneers and has played a larger-than-life role in bringing the area to prominence.

Jerry’s instincts led him to two regions located about 75 miles apart. In the early 1970s, he chose Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco district for its cool, windy climate and rocky soils as ideal for Chardonnay.

In the 1980s, he recognized the potential of Paso Robles for growing Bordeaux varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon – given the area’s rich soils and dramatic diurnal temperature swings between warm days and cool nights.

Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco appellation has proved ideal for growing layered, complex Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Brisk winds and fog off Monterey Bay, stony, well-drained soils, and a lack of damaging fall rains all combine to produce grapes with trademark fruit intensity and balancing acidity. In 1974, Jerry unveiled the first J. Lohr winery in San Jose.

In the early 1980s, Jerry Lohr saw the potential for great Cabernet Sauvignon further south. Borrowing a lesson from the French—that great Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon excel in very different growing conditions—Jerry began planting Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varieties in San Luis Obispo County’s little-known Paso Robles region in 1986.

With the hands-on devotion of an artisan farmer, Jerry tended to the vines while diligently working toward the creation and development of an adjacent winery and barreling cellars; J. Lohr’s Paso Robles production facility was opened in 1988.

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines now includes more than 1,400 acres of cool-climate estate vineyards in the Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands regions of Monterey County, with an emphasis on Chardonnay, Riesling, Valdiguié and Pinot Noir.

J. Lohr farms over 2,700 acres of vineyards in Paso Robles, now recognized as one of the world’s best spots for Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. Nearly all the red wines in the J. Lohr portfolio come from here, affirming the foresight of Jerry’s original vision.

The winery also owns over 30 acres in Napa Valley at Carol’s Vineyard, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

An MW's Assessment

For more on California generally, this post by Nicolas Quillé, MW provides an excellent overview: Post | Feed | LinkedIn

My take

My own take is that I have historically often thought of Californian wines as warm-climate, over-extracted, Parker-esque points-chasers.

This tasting showed that California does cool-climate elegance, moderate climate plushness and warm-climate monsters, so there's something for everyone.

The Wines

2019 J. Lohr Riverstone Chardonnay 

very cool-climate wine; 7-9 months in American Hungarian and French oak, from new to fifth-fill oak, weekly battonage; oatmealy like Meursault, but the fruit is more vibrant

Food match from Lohr: www.jlohr.com

pear and apple fruit with honeysuckle and sweet vanilla; stone fruits, tropical melon and pineapple; 
creamy-oatmealy toastiness with some gentle oak on the finish; very elegant, sleek and harmonious, very clean and pure


2018 J. Lohr Estates South Ridge Syrah

Syrah is not as well liked in America as in Europe, but Paso Robles is Rhone Central.

fresh, elegant, harmonious - dark fruits, blackberry, black plum, dark chocolate with herbaceous eucalyptus and some toasty-oaky spice


2018 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles

Hilltop is their reserve wine; French oak is used with 5% PV for lifted florality; this wine is over 15% alcohol.

Blackberry, cassis, oaky spice, warming and slightly porty; concentrated and alcoholic. Technically impressive but quite hard work and, stylistically, not my thing at all.


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