Co-Owner, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be in the wine industry as part of the family business?
A: Growing up, my father Jerry ran, essentially, three full-time businesses, which were a custom home building business (Saratoga Foothills Development Corp.), the winery (J. Lohr Winery Corp.) and the vineyards (J. Lohr Vineyards, Inc.). My brother, sister, and I were never expected to join our father on any of these paths. Instead, we were encouraged to study whatever we wanted, with no pressure to follow in our father’s footsteps. He closed down the home building business in 2003, placing his entire focus on J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines. Slowly but surely, over the last several years, all three of us kids have found our professional paths leading to that same place.
What attracted me to working for J. Lohr was seeing how wonderfully fascinating and incredibly complex winegrowing could be. There’s so much that goes into growing great grapes and making world-class wine. It’s intellectually stimulating every day; who wouldn’t want to be part of something so challenging and ultimately so rewarding? Additionally, anyone who knows me can tell you there’s nothing I love more than being around friends and family. The social aspect of wine is what makes it such a great gift to our culture. It’s easy for me to work on something that makes so many people happy and plays such an important role in our best memories together.
I’m at a precious point in my career with J. Lohr—I work day-to-day with my father in all aspects of our company’s estate vineyards in Paso Robles, Monterey County, and St. Helena while also helping to provide strategic direction as a member of the winery’s executive team, where I also have the privilege of working with my brother and sister on a daily basis. I now report directly to my father, so he and I spend countless hours together, working with our colleagues at all levels of the business. I’ve always had a good relationship with my dad, but our working together has deepened it.
Q: How do you believe your time at Cal shaped your philosophies on sustainability?
A: Imagine if every urban setting could be well integrated with the natural environment, like the Cal campus. One of the great things about studying and living at Cal is how much of an impression it makes. The health of Cal’s natural beauty is not something that happened by itself, but rather something that many people worked hard to preserve and enhance. But sustainability doesn’t just consider nature; it must address equity and economic factors as well.
Cal’s rich history of social justice and investment in academics, research, and innovation has been an example to the world of how a public institution can influence us all to become better people. Sustainability in a business environment is no different, and Cal’s example has helped illustrate some of the ways that J. Lohr can participate in these same areas. The environmental aspect is clear to most people—J. Lohr has been actively engaged in sustainable farming practices for 46 years—but what many may not be aware of is how much J. Lohr gives back to the community through initiatives that support health and wellness of children and families, performing and visual arts organizations, and wine industry research and education at academic institutions. Our economic sustainability comes from measured growth; constant investments in talented people, facilities, vineyards; and prudent risk taking. Anyone familiar with Cal can see how the university embodies each of these areas.
Q: What do you find so appealing about the Bay Area that has prompted you to stay?
A: I’m originally from Saratoga, California, eight miles southwest of San Jose. When I decided to attend UC Berkeley, I hadn’t spent much time in the East Bay. No sooner did I arrive at Cal in August 1987 that I knew I was in a very special place. Almost immediately, I fell in love with the natural beauty of the Cal campus and the surrounding communities. I had always been close to my parents, so going to college in the Bay Area was a priority for me.
After college, I moved to the Oakland Hills in August 1993 and have never been tempted to leave the East Bay! To me, there is nothing quite like a bright, clear day in autumn during football season, when I can hear the cannon ring out over the hills after Cal scores a touchdown. I will never, ever get tired of it. My wife, Emily (who is Cal class of 1995, by the way), is originally from Oakland, so it was an easy decision for us to settle there for good. We honestly couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Q: Can you tell us about your family’s commitment to philanthropy and ongoing efforts to aid in student advancement?
A: My family’s commitment to philanthropy and student advancement stems from our father, who has long espoused a “culture of giving” at academic institutions. Over the last 35 years, he has been a tireless advocate and supporter of his alma mater, South Dakota State University, and has led three different fundraising campaigns that have ultimately funded countless college scholarships and simultaneously served as the lead donor on the building of the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering. My brother, sister, and I have been truly inspired by him to give back to the communities in which we live and to serve the organizations for which we care deeply. There is nothing more rewarding than that!
By their very nature, colleges and universities have strong traditions of preparing talented young people to make the world a better place. To that end, it’s a particular joy of mine to oversee my late mother’s scholarship fund at her alma mater, Middlebury College in Vermont. Her enduring legacy of love for languages and the liberal arts carries on in the annual recipient of this particular scholarship and it is a reminder to all of us that investments like these allow students to pursue their dreams. These examples can’t help but inspire me in my relationship with Cal. It has been truly a pleasure, over the years, to be a part of so many of Cal’s efforts to stay great, and I’m honored that J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines is a strategic partner and the primary wine sponsor of the Cal Alumni Association.
Q: How has J. Lohr continued to craft quality wines while growing the brand over the past several decades?
A: One of the greatest challenges in business is enhancing market share while improving the quality of one’s products and strategically, from time to time, increasing prices. At J. Lohr, we have always worked diligently to make great wine and to grow our overall wine program in ways that make sense, given the strong competition and the inherent challenges we face from an increasingly more difficult global environment for wine. To do this and to meet consumer demand for our products, we have always been intensely focused on keeping the quality of our wines high and the prices fair.
As a family-owned and operated company, what we have always endeavored to do is to make the very best wines we can, vintage to vintage. This requires continual reinvestments in our vineyards and facilities. But innovation and continuous improvement are important to any business. What’s more, we’ve learned that to project a steady quality level in the eyes of the consumer, we actually have to continually improve our wines’ quality year after year. These things can only be achieved through the hard work of a dedicated team of professionals. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most capable people in the wine industry, and I have the privilege of working side by side with my family members, each and every day, in the pursuit of making world-class wine.