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Paso’s Pioneers

February 21, 2017

Yesterday was Presidents’ Day, and we celebrated our founding fathers – the pioneers of our country. Today, we honor a few of the pioneers of Paso Robles Wine Country. The dictionary defines “pioneer” as, “a person who was the first to explore or settle a new area or country” or “one who developed or was the first to use or apply a new method, area of knowledge or activity.”

Jerry Lohr of J.Lohr Vineyards & Wines, John Munch of Le Cuvier Winery, and Tobin James of Tobin James Cellars have trail blazed Paso Wine Country in their own distinct way. We’ve asked each a few probing (humorous) questions to get a glimpse into the innovation and spirit of these Paso pioneers.

Jerry Lohr, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines

Founder and Proprietor

How do you feel about being a pioneer? Being called a pioneer is just fine, but what I was really looking to do was find the ideal places to grow Chardonnay and Cabernet, which led us to first Arroyo Seco and then Paso Robles. We were just early adopters of these promising appellations, which we’ve all collectively raised to world-renown in the last decade in particular. The truth is, we were always making great wines from these regions.

What advice do you have for those just starting their career? The best possible exposure you can get early on in your career to the art and science of grape growing and wine making is to work harvest. Here, you develop a full appreciation for the journey that grapes go through before they become wine in the bottle, and a taste for the dedication and team work required to succeed in this industry.  You’ll quickly learn if you have what it takes to make great wine. In fact, our Director of Winemaking, President/COO Jeff Meier originally worked in the cellar and in bottling; he’s still with us today after some 33 vintages.

Fondest/funniest memory at J. Lohr? We have a terrific picture that we found recently in our stash of photos that represents kind of a seminal moment for me. In the summer of 1972, the children were 11, 8 and almost 3, and we were in the shade house in the Greenfield vineyards, similar to a greenhouse, where we were housing virus-free Cabernet potted vines to be planted the next day.  Carol and the kids were squinting in the photo and looking out over the plants, and it was just so cute and meaningful to have the family all there. It’s symbolic of the legacy the children and I hold today.

If you could only drink one of your wines for the rest of your life, what would it be? That’s a difficult question, as it’s like asking me which of my children I prefer! I am extremely proud of our efforts in Cabernet Sauvignon, for which we’re best known; after all, we came to Paso Robles for a reason!

jerry brRm

John Munch, Le Cuvier Winery

Co-owner, Wine Herd/Winemaker & Elliptical Pontificator

How do you feel about being a pioneer? Old. Next thing you know they’ll be naming a minor street or alley after me.

What advice do you have for those just starting their career? Go for it! Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can usually fool most of the people most of the time, and remember that with wine added to the mix, no one gives a damned anyway. At least this has been my approach to success.

Fondest/funniest memory working at Le Cuvier? Are you kidding? Every single day is a wacko hoot!

If you could only drink one of your wines for the rest of your life, what would it be? That’s an unfair question to ask about one’s children.

john mug

Tobin James, Tobin James Cellars


How do you feel about being a pioneer? I didn’t think I was a pioneer, but it is crazy I am now considered one after being here for 30 years.  I was just looking for a way out of Cincinnati at the age of 19, and never  thought Tobin James would turn into what it is now. When I was creating the tasting room, the vision was never for it to be a party. I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time in it, and I wanted to create a place where I felt at home. So, I built a old salon and over the years it’s really taken on a life of its own.

Fondest/funniest memory working at Tobin James? Some of my fondest and funniest times were when I was just starting out – broke and maxing out credit cards. I had this old truck with breaks that didn’t work. I would take it out during harvest to pick up grapes and haul them back. I called it the “death run,” unsure if and where the truck would come to rolling stop.

If you were to write a book about yourself, what would you name it? Don’t Try This at Home

If you could only drink one of your wines for the rest of your life, what would it be? I’m around grapes all year round… Chateau Budweiser