Biz Buzz: Deal in the works at Justin Vineyards

Justin Vineyards & Winery, one of San Luis Obispo County’s oldest and most well-known wineries, and billionaire businessman Stewart Resnick, who owns several companies including Fiji Water, are expected to release a statement Monday regarding the future of the local winery.

Two growers who claim to know winery owner Justin Baldwin told The Tribune they expect a sale to be announced, and word was spreading throughout the local industry Friday that a sale is imminent.

Justin and Deborah Baldwin, who own the winery at 11680 Chimney Rock Road in west Paso Robles, did not return repeated phone calls or e-mails Thursday and Friday.

Amber Eyerly, manager of corporate communications for Fiji Water who returned a Tribune call to the winery, said Friday that “no deal has been finalized” and declined to comment further.

“We will be speaking to members of the press on Monday. If you have any questions, they will be answered then,” she added.

Resnick and his wife, Lynda, own several companies besides Fiji Water, including POM Wonderful and Paramount Farms.

His agricultural companies, based in Kern, Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties, comprise the largest farming operation of tree crops in the world, processing citrus, pomegranates, almonds and pistachios.

The Baldwins bought their 160-acre property in 1981 after working for years in the financial industry — Justin as an investment and international banker and Deborah as a mortgage banker. Their home, vineyard, tasting room, winery and bed and breakfast are located on the site.

Since then Justin has been honored with numerous accolades and awards. Ten years ago, Justin Isosceles 1997 ranked No. 6 on Wine Spectator’s Top Ten Most Exciting Wines of 2000. Most recently Justin Focus 2008 was named in Wine Spectator Insider’s list of Hot Wines of 2010.

Justin Vineyards produces 70,000 cases a year ranging in price from $15 for a bottle of sauvignon blanc to $62 for a bottle of Justin’s flagship wine, Isosceles.

Over the years the Baldwins have faced their share of difficulties. In October 2003 both Justin and Deborah were diagnosed with cancer, Justin with throat cancer and Deborah with breast cancer. They have gone on to raise millions of dollars for cancer research.

In 2005, two years later, they lost 15,000 cases of wine in a warehouse fire in Vallejo. That represented 38 percent of the winery’s annual production at the time.

One of the growers who spoke with The Tribune predicted the Baldwins would remain involved with the winery in some capacity for several years to ensure that the transition goes smoothly.

“Both Justin and Deborah have put an incredible effort into marketing Paso Robles, not just wine,” said another grower, who asked his name be withheld until a formal announcement is made.

— Stacy Daniel