J Lohr Vineyards has been a leader in the wine industry for many years, with great commitments to quality and value. Of course, behind every great winery is a great winemaker. Steve Peck is the red winemaker for J Lohr. Here’s our recent interview with him, covering everything from how he got his start to his thoughts on this year’s harvest.

To read reviews of Steve’s J Lohr wines, click here.

Winemaker Steve Peck

Your bio says you learned from your uncle, who was a home winemaker. How did getting your start in that fashion influence the winemaker you’ve become today?

First and foremost, I view wine and winemaking as a communal activity. It is something that brings friends and families closer to one another. My uncle and his buddies were all high school teachers and Santa Cruz “foodies” in the generation of Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower and John Ash. In a technical sense, I learned from my uncle the importance of attention to detail, and how much the small measures in the cellar can make or break the ultimate quality in the bottle.

How did it come about that you became a red wine specialist? In other words, why haven’t you focused as much on white wine?

The Paso Robles region is known for red wines, and our Paso Robles winery is set up specifically for reds. All our whites are produced at the original J. Lohr Wine Center in San Jose. The closest I get to white winemaking is the J. Lohr Gesture Grenache Rosé.

Ultimately, what was it about the opportunity to be red winemaker at J. Lohr that attracted you to the job?

First off, J. Lohr is a phenomenal winery. Jerry Lohr helped to pioneer world-class winegrowing in both Monterey County and Paso Robles, and the winery has long been at the forefront of viticulture and enology in both regions. On a personal and professional level, as J. Lohr’s red winemaker, I have an enormous amount of resources available to me. I started in 2007, just after the installation of our small-lot winery, which has an array of winemaking toys, including state-of-the-art fruit-sorting equipment and open-top tanks with punch-down capability. We use this space for crafting our J. Lohr Vineyard Series wines (wines like the Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon), as well as our J. Lohr Cuvée Series and J. Lohr Gesture wines. This space has allowed us to further enhance quality, and we have seen a real progression in how the wines are perceived critically since we began using it.

J. Lohr’s production is around 1 million cases a year. With that kind of volume, what are some of the keys to keeping the quality of the wine high?

We really are a winegrowing organization. We have more than 2,300 acres of red grape vineyards in Paso Robles, and that’s where our focus on quality begins. The winemaking team is very involved in the farming decisions, from the scion and rootstock selections that have affected the character and quality of our wines for decades, to the daily irrigation decisions that help bring the crop to ripeness. In the winery, we have really become oak experts, having refined our barrel-aging program over many years, which has significantly improved the flavors of our wines.

There has been a great deal of hype in the wine community about the cooler summer temperatures and the potential for a great harvest. Do you think all the hype is warranted and if so what varietals do you think show the most promise?

The reason for the hype is potentially real. This will be the vintage of the decade in growing regions that are spared from autumn rains, but it could be disastrous for those that get too wet. The outlook for Paso Robles and the Central Coast is quite favorable; the North Coast will face a greater threat. I always say that sunlight is our friend, and heat is our enemy when it comes to red grape quality. Sunlight hastens color and flavor development in the fruit, while heat shifts things toward more tannin. The Paso Robles AVA has been very sunny this season but has had very few days over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. So far this harvest, as we enter our second week of the 2010 vintage, we are seeing some of the darkest Syrah wines we have ever produced and the quality of our reds is looking exceptional across the board. This said, Cabernet Sauvignon is our flagship Paso Robles varietal, and the source for some of our benchmark wines, so the quality of that crop is key. To ensure that quality, we imposed very strict water deficits, exceeding 12 bars in the month of July to hasten ripening for our Cabernet Sauvignon and to prevent the formation of herbal characteristics. We expect to capitalize on the cooler summer temperatures , along with the warm autumn we are enjoying, to create some really spectacular Bordeaux blends from the 2010 vintage.