Wine Notes: Farmers Alliance building now part of Derby Wine Estates

rrailey@thetribunenews.comApril 26, 2012 

Winemaker Tiffanee Vierra talks to contractor Neal Madsen about construction at the former Farmer’s Alliance building in Paso Robles, which is being converted to a winery for Derby Wine Estates


A historic and highly visible agricultural building in Paso Robles is being prepared for its new life as a winery.

Derby Wine Estates purchased the Farmers Alliance building at 525 Riverside Ave. from previous owner Smart & Final to convert into a winery and tasting room.

“There’s a tower that’s basically the most visible component of the structure,” Derby winemaker Tiffinee Vierra said.

The tower will become a wine lounge. “It’s a pretty fabulous view of the city,” Vierra said.

The original structure, built in 1922, was used to process almonds, the area’s major crop at the time.

“It was built as a testament to the faith and confidence that the people in Paso Robles had in their industry,” said Ray Derby, who owns the winery with his wife, Pam Derby. But challenges in both orchards and the market led to the decline of the local almond crop and the building’s use as an almond processing facility ended in 1936.

Farmers Alliance then bought the building to process grain, a use that ended by the early 1970s.

“It kind of just fell into disuse and disrepair,” Derby said. “Smart & Final was going to tear it down.”

But when the Commerce-based company proposed demolition to make way for a warehouse store, the city blocked the move. Vierra said a 2006 study defined the edifice as a “historic resource” as defined by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Derby declined to disclose the purchase price, citing his winery’s agreement with Smart & Final. The assessed value, according to county Assessor’s Office, is $1.025 million.

The Derbys purchased their first local vineyard in 1998 and founded Derby Wine Estates in 2008. The winery has 18 employees.

Its new home will include 10,500 square feet for fermentation and storage, with a production capacity of 20,000 cases. The tasting room will be about 750 square feet, with another 1,000 for outdoor tasting.

Removing interior concrete and partitions for almond storage from the tower will make the building more seismically sound, Derby said. It’ll also make room for an elevator to a 996-square-foot private lounge that could seat up to 30 wine club members.

Currently, Derby Wine leases Carina Cellars to produce about 2,500 cases a year. Its tasting room is at Laura’s Vineyard on Highway 46 East.

“We have people spread all over the place,” said Derby, who hopes to consolidate on Riverside Avenue within two years. “It’s going to make life a whole lot easier.”

New winemaker at Justin Vineyards

Scott Shirley has been appointed winemaker at Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles.

“Scott brings a unique blend of talent and knowledge to Justin, sharing our philosophy that truly great wines come from the people you work with,” said Justin Baldwin, who founded the winery with wife Deborah in 1981. In 2010, the winery was purchased by Los Angeles-based Fiji Water.

Shirley previously worked with The Hess Collection in Napa and Opus One in Oakville.

Growers social in San Miguel

The Independent Grape Growers of the Paso Robles Area will hold a social event with an Italian theme Saturday in San Miguel.

Anyone may attend. The cost is $10 per person. Members attend free and may bring guests at a reduced rate.

It runs from 6 to 10 p.m. at the San Miguel Mission Parish Center, 795 Monterey Road. Reservations are required. Call Elizabeth Torp at 226-8293 or visit

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