Justin Vineyards & Winery is expanding

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comFebruary 14, 2013 

Since Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick bought Justin Vineyards & Winery in late 2010, their corporation has launched a flurry of behind-the-scenes projects at the rural property west of Paso Robles.

Its series of land purchases of estate vineyards throughout the North County was followed by a major remodel now under way at the winery’s longtime tasting room on Chimney Rock Road. And the company’s goal is to double the winery’s case production in the next five years.

Justin Vineyards, founded by Justin and Deborah Baldwin in 1981, is one of San Luis Obispo’s oldest wineries. The Resnicks’ Los Angeles-based Roll Global, owner of Fiji Water, acquired the winery for an undisclosed sum. County records later showed the company paid about $21 million for the property.

The original purchase of the 160-acre business included 70 acres of wine grapes, the winery, tasting room, restaurant, four-suite bed-and-breakfast and the Baldwins’ 10,000-square-foot home.

Roll Global, a $3 billion international firm according to its website, declined to say how much money it has invested in the site since then, but the focus has been on improvement and growth.

“Justin has always been more of a trailblazer on the Central Coast and progressive with some of the entrepreneurial decisions,” said David Bowman, Justin’s vice president of marketing. “Now we want to be timeless, but at the same time be progressive as well.”

A primary goal is to expand the winery’s national distribution at fine wine retailers and restaurants.

“Cabernet will be a primary growth driver,” Bowman said.

Overall, the winery is currently selling about 120,000 cases per year and plans to “go north of 200,000 cases produced annually … on the back of cabernet sauvignon, but also chardonnay and sauvignon blanc,” Bowman added.

The winery plans to target that increased production at its new 60,000-square-foot wine processing and barrel storage building that opened in August near Highway 46 East.

Meanwhile, Justin’s flagship wine, Isosceles, a cabernet-based Bordeaux blend, will remain a small production label for limited national distribution and its wine club. Justification, its longtime cabernet franc blend, will receive a similar treatment.

To grow, the firm has focused on building its estate vineyards, Bowman said, with the goal of increasing its in-house fruit supply to gain more control over its product.

About 900 additional acres has been purchased throughout the North County.

Of that, the company anticipates planting 600 acres by the end of this year — with the vast majority, 78 percent, focused on cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet franc, merlot and Bordeaux blend grapes have also been planted.

The 600 acres of new vineyards will take three to five years to mature and up to seven years to produce grapes ready for bottling, Bowman said.

Plans for the other 300 acres are still in the works.

Meanwhile, on a recent morning construction crews were tearing out the interior of Justin’s farmhouse-style tasting room as part of an expansion project to give visitors a more contemporary tasting experience.

The expansion, due to debut in June, will add 15 percent more space to the 3,000-square-foot tasting room building and configure its interior to add more vineyard-facing windows. The change will also reposition the small restaurant, expanding it from six to eight tables, and move the kitchen and bed-and-breakfast lobby spaces.

The expansive outdoor space around the tasting room is also being revamped with stone walkways, a barbeque area and shaded spaces with trellises.

Construction began in January.

Elsewhere on the property, Justin’s existing Wine Society Lounge, built in 2003, will also get a new roof, small interior changes and new furnishings later this summer.

Nearby, the former Baldwin family mansion, which the winery now calls the Chateau, has been hosting weddings for the public and gatherings for Justin’s top-tier wine club members since the family moved out.

The elaborate five-bedroom house, built in 2001, features art, murals, a towering spiral staircase and a swimming pool designed to look like the Hearst Castle’s famous Neptune pool.

Justin Baldwin is now involved as a winery spokesman, but Deborah Baldwin is no longer part of the company.

A Roll Global representative was unable to confirm the number of people Justin Winery currently employs, but said Roll Global increased the number of tasting room employees by 10 percent.

Reach Tonya Strickland at 781-7858. Stay updated by following @tstrickland on Twitter and checking out facebook.com/SLOTribuneNorthCounty.

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