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During the afternoon sessions on the first day of the 2018 Customer Expo conference, Rhonda Motil, Vice President of Marketing at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, took the stage to discuss the importance of family to her company. J. Lohr began operation in 1974 under the leadership of Jerry Lohr, who still serves as the company’s CFO. His children and grandchildren have taken over most other operations, while many other employees, such as the vineyard manager, have been with the company over 30 years.
Motil took a few minutes to point out that the wine market is a competitive industry. “Across the board, there have been a lot of changes. In 2016, Constellation purchased a company called The Prisoner. Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates purchased a very high-end brand out of Napa. Gallo purchased the Locations brand. Whereas fifteen years ago the wines that were getting acquired were in the $5 to $10 range, now all of the sudden wines that are priced $15, $25, $30 are getting acquired.”
In the midst of this challenging environment, J. Lohr has kept its core ethos in mind to remain profitable. “We’re mid-sized in the industry compared to Constellation, Gallo, Kendall Jackson,” said Motil. “In order to differentiate ourselves, we really need to focus on what we stand for and understand our customer better. Over about four years, we honed in on key concepts: family, place, and craft.” Sustainability is the fourth differentiator.
Family, according to Motil, doesn’t just mean retaining ownership of the business from generation to generation. It also means extending the family feeling to team members. This is why the vineyard manager and other executives have been with the company for so long. J. Lohr tries to treat them with the respect they show to blood relations.
J. Lohr also differentiates itself by sourcing 70 percent of its grapes locally, rooting the brand in place. Some other vineyards, Motil said, will source grapes outside of California during bad years, but her company doesn’t. Farms from three regions—Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and Monterey—provide grapes to J. Lohr, which means that the company is supporting local farmers rather than vineyards in other states or countries.
Craft means, among other things, using the best ingredients and products. As an example, Motil said, “We have one of the most aggressive oak management barrel programs in the industry. We buy about 12,000 new barrels every year, which costs about $7 million, to make sure that we have the highest quality of barrel and that the product is perfect from vintage to vintage.”
Motil also placed heavy emphasis on the company’s mission to remain sustainable. She said, “The concept of leadership, and making sure that your leaders embody the spirit of the organization, is true at our company. This goes into our sustainability efforts. I’m proud to say that we have the largest solar array of any winery in North America, which fuels about 98 percent of our energy needs.” In addition, in 2010, the company became one of the first vineyards in California to earn the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing distinction for its efforts toward sustainability.
Though not as large as some of its competitors, J. Lohr’s four differentiators have maintained its profitability. Customers can probably find its main wine, the Seven Oaks Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon, at their local grocery stores.
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