The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 85 of 124

{ }  85 JEFF MEIER, Director of Winemaking Jeff Meier—whose first vintage with J. Lohr was in 1984—not only directs the com- pany's winery operations, but also serves as President and COO. As a measure of the Lohrs' commitment to the region, Meier has been overseeing the construction of a new white wine facility just outside Greenfield, begun this past February 2015 alongside the family's original plantings in Arroyo Seco. J. Lohr is one of the country's largest hand- craft wineries. Meier does not countenance shortcuts with, say, their $14-suggested-retail J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay, which is fermented primarily in a mix of new and older French oak, with further complexity derived from fermentation in steel barrel, flexcube (permeable polymer), French oak puncheon and acacia wood. This laborious small-fermenter regime requires space—lots of it. When finally completed, the new Greenfield winery's staging, fermentation and barrel aging areas will encompass nearly three acres—larger than two football fields. Just before the 2015 vintage, Kristen Barnhisel—respected for her prior work at Handley Cellars and Belvedere Vineyards—came aboard as J. Lohr's Winemaker, White Wine, and will preside over the Greenfield facility. In conversation, the pensive Meier initiates discussion of the region in Platonic fashion by asking, "Why Arroyo Seco?" Popping open his laptop, he shows temperature and degree day data assembled by Advanced Viticulture's Mark Greenspan, a widely respected industry consultant and cur- rent President of American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV). In Greenspan's graphs, average June, July and August tempera- tures in Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands are shown to be lower than that of Sta. Rita Hills, Carneros, the extreme Sonoma Coast and even the Beaune area of Burgundy. In terms of Winkler degree days—heat summations between April 1 and October 31—in most years Arroyo Seco falls within Region I (the coolest climate classification), along with the Annapolis and Sebastopol areas of Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Sta. Rita Hills, whereas Santa Lucia Highlands, the Cazadero area of Sonoma Coast and Beaune are more likely to skirt up into lower Region II. Point being, after all is said and done, Arroyo Seco is on the cutting-edge of cold-climate viticulture. The pioneers—the Wentes and Mirassous in the '60s, growers like Lohr and Meador in the '70s—knew what they were doing. Today, you may read more about Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Lucia Highlands or Sonoma Coast; but this rela- tively small appellation (totaling 18,240 acres, compared to Sta. Rita Hills' 30,720 acres and Santa Lucia Highlands' 22,000 acres) remains one of our more elegantly composed AVAs. Meier adds that Arroyo Seco's most pervasive factor—"our screaming amount of wind"—distinguishes the area even further. "Once winds hit 14, 15 mph," says Meier, "leaves stop bringing in CO2 and stomata close up shop . . . vines literally shut down and are no longer making sugar, fixing carbon, etc. "Barry and I [in reference to J. Lohr's former lead winemaker, Barry Gnekow] always felt that there is a glycerol pathway that comes as a specific result, hence the palate richness you find in combination with the high acid and low pH in Arroyo Seco Chardonnay. These wines can be lean, sharp, steely and at the same time rich, weighty, distinctly fleshy. Our entire white wine program is based on this." If it's possible to profile Arroyo Seco Chardonnay aromas, according to Meier, "it's stone fruit—nectarine and peach— plus lime zest, a little Meyer lemon or lemon cream, and very typically, orange blossom. This is slightly different from what we get from our Santa Lucia Highlands plantings, where Chardonnay tends to be more tropical with guava/papaya fruit and white flower, narcissus-like fragrances." Meier is also a fan of Arroyo Seco grown Pinot Noir, which he characterizes as "Old World in style . . . mixtures of red candy, earthy compost/mineral and pronounced strawberry yogurt perfumes." Meier con- trasts this Pinot Noir profile with that of Santa Lucia Highlands, saying, "We also get red candy, cherry/raspberry fruit in SLH, but it is not as earthy as Arroyo Seco." Jeff Meier, Director of Winemaking, and Kristen Barnhisel, Winemaker, White Wine, among 43-year-old Valdiguié vines.

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