Interview with Steve Peck, Vice President of Winemaking.
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines was founded by Jerry Lohr in 1972. They have 2,600 acres of vineyards in Paso Robles dedicated primarily to their red wine programs and 1,400 acres in the cool climate of Monterey primarily dedicated to white wine. By farming the grapes and crafting the wines themselves, the J. Lohr team has complete quality control over the entire winemaking process.
With 4,000 acres of sustainably certified estate vineyards, J. Lohr is recognized for crafting an array of vineyard-driven wines that helped define quality on the Central Coast.
The family-owned-and-operated winery has two tasting rooms located in Paso Robles and in San Jose, as well as a production facility in Greenfield in Monterey County.
We interview Steve Peck, Vice President of Winemaking at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines to learn more.
What type of wine do you specialize in?
Steve Peck, Vice President of Winemaking at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines: J. Lohr became known as a Chardonnay house in the 1980s as its earliest plantings from 1972 took root and critics discovered our Riverstone Chardonnay from the Arroyo Seco in Monterey. Today, that reputation has shifted to one built on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varieties from Paso Robles.
Share a popular tasting experience?
Steve Peck: Our newest tasting experience, the Legacy Tasting, available at both of our J. Lohr wine centers in Paso Robles and San Jose, is gaining a lot of interest amongst our guests. As part of the experience, guests enjoy an exclusive tasting that features our limited-release J. Lohr Cuvée Series of wines; each blend is uniquely inspired by the Grand Cru wines of Bordeaux.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?
Steve Peck: People are shocked when they learn that we grow our own grapes and that we authentically barrel age even our most familiar wines.
Favorite Food and Wine Pairing?
Steve Peck: It’s hard to pick favorites, but I’m always up for anything off the grill such as a hanger steak seasoned with green peppercorn sauce paired with our J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon. Another great pairing is our J. Lohr Gesture RVG Rhone blend paired with roasted halibut with lemon-tarragon butter sauce.
How long have you worked at J. Lohr?
Steve Peck: I joined J. Lohr in 2007 and was initially responsible for the red wine program at our Paso Robles winery. Today, I am directing both the red and white programs, working closely with along with J. Lohr Red Winemaker Brenden Wood in Paso Robles and J. Lohr Winemaker, White Wine Kristen Barnhisel in Monterey.
Share your winemaking approach.
Steve Peck: I often describe our house style as “dense but soft.” That is true for our Chardonnays, where you will find a crisp and voluminous mouthfeel with notes of apple and peach or with each of our Cabernets, where the dark color translates to generous body as the wine enters your mouth, followed by a supple finish absent of excessive astringency.
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Steve Peck: I was born and raised in Santa Paula, California, which is about 100 miles south of our winery here in Paso Robles.
It was my uncle who was a high school teacher in Santa Cruz County who got me started down the path of winemaking when I was just 17 years old. He was part of a generational shift in food and wine in California that emerged in the 1970s. This group ushered in things like French roast coffee and Brie cheese instead of Folger’s and Velveeta.
At the same time, popular wines like the sweet Blue Nun from Germany were being displaced by dry varietal wines from California. Established post-Prohibition wines from folks like Louis Martini or Mount Eden were joined by newcomers such as Paul Draper’s Ridge Vineyards.
What do you enjoy about winemaking?
Steve Peck: The good and the bad is that your job is never done. Just as we celebrate the wine in our glass, we are working at the same time to elevate the wine in the barrels and to cultivate the grapes on the vine for the next vintage.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?
Steve Peck: Taking time with the vineyard staff throughout the year is always an essential foundation to producing the best wines.
In the winery, where the winemaker has sole control, I would say maintaining freshness has been key to our success.
It is kind of weird, but that translates to making the red blends as early as possible after harvest before sending them to barrel, and for whites, it means making the blends as late as possible by taking them out of barrel just prior to bottling.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Steve Peck: Boy, I can still almost taste the Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay from Chateau St. Jean from back in the early 1980s. That wine, in my mind, was the blueprint for the great barrel fermented Chardonnays produced up and down the coast of California today. From Santa Barbara, to Monterey, Sonoma, and Carneros, that style remains the benchmark.
Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery?
Steve Peck: I just love seeing Jerry Lohr at any meet-and-greet wine event, where he humbly introduces himself, “Hello, my name is Jerry Lohr.” The response is always the same: “I know who you are, Jerry.”
He is an authentic legend in the world of California wine – certainly on the Central Coast where he helped put Monterey and Paso Robles on the map. I always get a kick at how unassuming he is.