Jerry Lohr is a farmer, descended from a family of farmers. That’s one of the first things the burly, affable man will tell you, and throughout a long dinner table conversation about his life, his career and his winery, J. Lohr – which has grown rapidly in 30 years to become one of the largest in California – Lohr returns to that theme again and again. “I’m a farmer, not a winemaker. This man is one of my winemakers, and a very, very good one,” he said, pointing to Steve Peck, who had joined me and Lohr for lunch at his tasting room east of Paso Robles; Peck has overseen red wine production at J. Lohr since 2007.
Lohr’s skills, as well as his modesty, can perhaps be explained by his rural Midwestern roots. His South Dakota clan has farmed the prairie for generations. His Irish ancestors arrived in the 1880s; the Swedish side came a little later. “I learned that farming is hard. There are no shortcuts,” Lohr said of his days helping work the fields as a kid.