This advertising content was produced in collaboration with SevenFifty and our partner, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines.
Fifty years ago, Jerry Lohr and his team planted their first Chardonnay vines in what was to become Monterey’s Arroyo Seco appellation. These plantings from J. Lohr are credited with kicking off a tradition that flourishes today, earning Arroyo Seco a reputation as one of the finest cool-climate addresses for growing one of the world’s most popular wine grapes.
The Arroyo Seco stage is set by the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west of the appellation, and beyond that, the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. This windswept and rocky region has given J. Lohr’s 10 clones of sustainably farmed Chardonnay a terroir that delivers an unforgettable lineup of wines. The production illuminates the significant diversity of the Central Coast, Monterey, and Arroyo Seco designations, a near case-study in terroir nuance.
A One-of-a-Kind AVA
Chardonnay cultivated in Arroyo Seco enjoys a long growing season. The day brings hot sun for sufficient ripening, but by the afternoon, a strong wind from the Monterey Bay blows in, cooling the grapes to lock in a high level of acidity and freshness. The bay is home to a submarine canyon of a size to rival the Grand Canyon; this is one of the most abundant spots of sea life in the Pacific Ocean thanks to the clear, cold water. This is also the source of the chilly ocean fog and breezes that air condition the Arroyo Seco.
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“I recently drove through the Arroyo Seco AVA, and the landscape was breathtaking and varied throughout the drive,” says Katherine Wojcik, the director of beverage development for Kimpton Hotels. She says that due to its small size, Arroyo Seco sometimes gets lost when compared to other Monterey County or California appellations. “But it’s so very diverse from some of the other AVAs in the area, and produces many layered, complex wines not to be overlooked.”
J. Lohr winemaker Kristen Barnhisel is the talent behind one of America’s most popular Chardonnay programs. With more than two decades of experience in the wine industry—including stints at international wineries and prestigious California establishments—Barnhisel is respected as a leader in the Monterey wine landscape.
From J. Lohr’s modern winery in the Arroyo Seco, she produces Riverstone, Arroyo Vista, and October Night Chardonnays. These bottles retail from $14 to $25 and have proven themselves valuable to wine programs and as retail selections across the country. Petra Polakovicova is the sommelier and beverage manager for Montage International and she’s poured J. Lohr Chardonnay for several restaurants throughout her career. “If any wine buyer is looking for a wine to add value, these are the wines to add to the list,” she says.
These three wines—while all Chardonnays from the same producer, same AVA, and same winemaker—extrapolate the diversity of Arroyo Seco for a variety of dining and retail atmospheres. “These wines are a beautiful example of how Chardonnay can vary,” says Yvonne Coury, a sommelier at The Palm Steakhouse. “I loved them all for their different applications and pairings.”
Polakovicova has found that these wines over-deliver for their price. She says that if guests have a preference for California Chardonnay, they’ll savor J. Lohr wines from the Arroyo Seco, which she describes as a “classic California style.”
Inside the Wines
Lohr Arroyo Vista Chardonnay 2020
Wojcik notes that the multi-clonal Arroyo Vista is versatile, with a satisfying weight on the palate. “It was mouthwatering as a pre-dinner glass of wine, and the texture and flavors complemented and stood up to our dinner,” she says.
“This wine offers bright acidity and a round creamy texture with a lovely nod towards a fresh-filled cream puff, citrus notes, and ripe stone fruit,” adds Coury. This is textbook Monterey Chardonnay, hand-harvested from J. Lohr’s pioneering vineyards. It’s aged in French oak from five different French cooperages, with 45 percent new wood. Overall, the sommeliers agree that Arroyo Vista is endlessly versatile, with food and on its own.
Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay 2020
Always a crowd-pleasing wine, Polakovicova notes the retail price of $14, calling it a “killer Chardonnay” at that price point. Now in its 33rd vintage, this wine has earned the Certified California Sustainable seal from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Riverstone is also “amazing” for by-the-glass programs, according to Polakovicova.
This wine is barrel-fermented in American, Hungarian, and French oak. Coury notes that “baking spices give way to vanilla creme with chalky undertones met equally with light oak.” Oak is an essential element in Barnhisel’s winemaking philosophy. The barrel program at J. Lohr leads the industry, earning a reputation as one of the most consistent and respected New World Chardonnay programs today.
Lohr October Night Chardonnay 2020
Coury enjoys what she describes as October Night’s “orange creamsicle” aromatics alongside white and yellow floral notes, “specifically spring daffodils and tiny buttercups.” This wine is layered with ripe honeycrisp apples and “trace amounts of caramel buttered popcorn” with lemon and oak spice notes, according to Coury.
The aromatic quality of October Night truly shows the range of what Chardonnay from the Arroyo Seco can present. “The October Night threw me for a loop,” says Wojcik. She notes that the floral notes are more pronounced compared to Arroyo Vista and Riverstone. This is thanks to the Dijon or Musqué clone, which comprises the core of this Chardonnay, historically harvested in a single October night.
These wines are proven to satisfy high expectations of California Chardonnay with the added complexity of characteristic freshness from an esteemed terroir such as the Arroyo Seco. “When writing wine lists, I like to have a collection of Central Coast wines that are superior examples of typicity and terroir,” says Wojick. “Having a Chardonnay from the Arroyo Seco is an excellent option to showcase the AVA.”