J. Lohr Vineyards — Defining Monterey Chardonnay

Mar 15, 2022

Defining Monterey Chardonnay: J. Lohr’s Fifty Years of Cool-Climate Winegrowing

The most widely planted white wine grape, Chardonnay, has found the perfect New World home on California’s Central Coast. There’s a reason Monterey County is the number one Chardonnay- producing region in the US, and why many significant brands have their primary Chardonnay vineyards here. As the Lohr family would say, that reason is “climate, climate, and then climate.” Monterey’s ocean-influenced cool climate and long growing season are ideal for crafting world-class Chardonnay.

J. Lohr Arroyo Seco vineyard
Overlooking J. Lohr's Arroyo Seco vineyard.


At the center of Monterey County is the Arroyo Seco appellation, home to the J. Lohr white wine program; all of J. Lohr’s Chardonnay vineyards and state-of-the-art white wine winery and barrel cellars reside here. For fifty years now, from this perfect location, J. Lohr has helped define the Monterey Chardonnay style — setting the standard for consumers’ quality expectations and style preferences for Chardonnay from California.

Early on, Jerry Lohr and his team recognized that the Arroyo Seco is a truly unique place to grow Chardonnay. Brisk winds and fog from nearby Monterey Bay lower daytime temperatures in the vineyards. These conditions allow for slow, gentle ripening, extending the growing season into late October — perfect for cool-climate-loving Chardonnay. The well-drained, gravelly sandy loam soils complete the picture, producing grapes with trademark fruit intensity and balanced acidity.


The J. Lohr Home Ranch in Monterey consists of sixteen separate vineyard blocks, almost 1,000 acres of which are planted to Chardonnay. Says Lawrence Lohr, who is COO, Vineyards and a second generation co-owner, “Our Chardonnay program’s longevity and success are fueled by fifty years of winegrowing experience in the Arroyo Seco. Sustainability is crucial for our detailed, long-term approach to every aspect of producing quality wines. With our use of eco-friendly methods among the vines, energy-saving practices in the cellars, and ongoing team members’ education and training, we are committed to crafting the very best possible Chardonnay.”

Two pictures: left, J. Lohr Chardonnay vine block; right, Arroyo Seco AVA vines
L-R: A block of J. Lohr's Chardonnay vines, the Arroyo Seco AVA.


The J. Lohr team constantly evaluates rootstocks and clonal selections for their Chardonnay program. J. Lohr White Wine Winemaker, Kristen Barnhisel oversees operations in Monterey. Her experience throughout many of the world’s great wine regions supplies a broad vision, incorporating new techniques alongside traditional methods. Ten different Chardonnay clones (4, 5, 17, 76, 95, 96, 548, 809, Hyde-Wente, and Mt. Eden) are currently cultivated, providing Kristen and her team a diverse palette of flavors to draw from.

Kristen explains, “Each of the different Chardonnay clones brings its own character to the finished wine. Owning our own vineyards and the various clones we have planted allows us to focus on farming for the highest possible quality grapes and to consistently offer one of California’s most interesting Chardonnay programs vintage after vintage.”


Continuous improvement also occurs in the cellar, with an industry-leading barrel program contributing immensely to J. Lohr’s Chardonnay success. J. Lohr is always reevaluating the cooperages selected for the élevage of each of its three Chardonnay releases. Meticulous records from decades of sampling and trials inform barrel selections for subsequent vintages. Besides traditional French, Hungarian, and American oak barrel cooperage, experimentation with other vessels such as the concrete egg and French oak puncheons are also part of the mix – always looking to enhance flavor and additional complexity into the wine.

3 J. Lohr Chardonnay bottles with wine glass
L-R: J. Lohr Estates Riverstone, Arroyo Seco, and October Night Chardonnay.

The final result? Three iconic J. Lohr releases that literally define the Monterey Chardonnay category. Riverstone, Arroyo Vista, and October Night feature complex tropical fruit aromas and flavors, with food-friendly structure and cool- climate acidity, and just the right touch of malolactic and oak-infused barrel character.

This is “Real Chardonnay,” where J. Lohr’s ideal location intersects with decades of winemaking expertise to provide consumers with three favorite, trusted Chardonnays.

J. Lohr Second generation owner Lawrence Lohr

“With our use of eco-friendly methods among the vines, energy-saving practices in the cellars, and ongoing team members’ education and training, we are committed to crafting the very best possible Chardonnay.”
— Lawrence Lohr, COO, Vineyards & 2nd generation Co-Owner

Q&A with J. Lohr Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel

Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel

Q: You have quite a bit of experience learning and working in different countries and wine regions?
A: “Yes, I’ve worked and learned a lot of different winemaking techniques in Italy, South Africa, and France; closer to home, I have worked at Columbia Crest in Washington State, Jordan and Belvedere in Sonoma County, Handley in Anderson Valley, and Inglenook and Opus One in Napa Valley. I’ve been at J. Lohr for six vintages now and love every part of the creative process here.”

Q: Is there anyone in particular you’ve modeled your career after?
A: “I’ve been fortunate to have some really talented female winemakers as role models. Milla Handley for one. And the great Zelma Long is a longtime family friend and incredible mentor, teaching me the importance of science to balance the art of winemaking, and of the need for a never-ending curiosity about wine.”

Q: How is the Chardonnay fruit from Monterey different from some of the other wine regions you’ve worked in?
A: “The long, cool growing season in Monterey is truly unique, with the Arroyo Seco cobblestones in the soil and the afternoon wind from the bay that allows us to safely let the grapes hang as long as necessary for optimal balance of sugar, flavors, and acidity. It creates this amazingly textured combination of deep fruit character and balanced acidity. That big fruit texture provides a canvas for the oak and malolactic accents without the wine becoming unbalanced. Balance and harmony are two words I use to describe Chardonnay from the Arroyo Seco.”

Q: Do you have a favorite among the three J. Lohr Chardonnays?
A: “Truth is, I love them each as different expressions of Chardonnay. The River- stone Chardonnay is a fun style, lower in oak and malolactic flavors, perfect for springtime risotto or mussels in white wine sauce. The October Night is richer in flavor, more obvious gardenia and orange aromas from the Musqué clone, with French oak baking spices and sweetness – perfect with crab cakes or toasted hazelnut halibut. The Arroyo Vista Chardonnay is beautiful and classic, with aromas of ripe apple, Meyer lemon, and brioche, accented with French oak and rich texture from the lees stirring. It’s sensational with chicken with Dijon mustard sauce or lobster with lemon butter.”

J. Lohr Estates Riverstone wine bottle

A fresh, youthful and textured Chardonnay with flavors of pear, white peach, floral, citrus, baking spices, and honey

BEST BUY, 90 pts. Wine Enthusiast, Mar. 2022


Integrated flavors of pear, lemon cream, tangerine, apricot, and baking spices with a long, sweet-oak finish.

EDITOR’S CHOICE, 92 pts. Wine Enthusiast, Oct. 2021


Floral aromas of gardenia, orange blossom, white peach, vanilla, and baking spices, with a rich texture.

90 pts. Wine Enthusiast, Oct. 2021


J. Lohr Unveils New “Monterey Roots” Tier – Dramatic New Packaging for
J. Lohr Bay Mist White Riesling and J. Lohr Wildflower Valdiguié

In establishing the new tier, J. Lohr’s Bay Mist and Wildflower Valdiguié releases have migrated from the J. Lohr Estates portfolio to J. Lohr Monterey Roots. Beginning with the 2021 vintage, the beautiful new silkscreened labels present the look and feel of cool-climate Monterey County. The Bay Mist White Riesling label offers an artist’s rendering of Monterey’s dramatic coastline, and the Wildflower Valdiguié label features a multicolor painting of the region’s native wildflowers. Both wines bear the Certified California Sustainable seal on their back labels and feature a convenient Stelvin screwcap closure.

two J. Lohr Monterey Roots wine bottles laying on large cloth on sand


Monterey’s splendid spring wildflower bloom represented through the lens of a Pacific Rim woodblock print artist. Inspired by the beauty and vibrant color palette of Monterey’s annual spring bloom of native wildflowers and the pollinators that proliferate. Featuring Arroyo Lupine and California poppies and complementary Arroyo Lupine purple Stelvin capsule.


Monterey’s dramatic coastline represented through the lens of a Pacific Rim woodblock print artist. Inspired by the beautiful Monterey coast -characterized by jetting rocks, cypress trees, crashing waves and fog rolling off the ocean. Complementary ocean blue Stelvin capsule.


Served slightly chilled, displays inviting fresh raspberry, cranberry, and pomegranate aromas, with a bit of black pepper and hibiscus. Flavors of brambly, bright red berry with a touch of spice, mid-palate acidity, and a juicy, mouth-watering finish.


Exotic aromas of honeysuckle, ripe pear, Meyer lemon, and lychee. Flavors of ripe apple and pear, with just a touch of residual sweetness, classic minerality, and a light, refreshing spritz of natural carbonation on the finish.

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