Biz Buzz: Justin Winery founder says to follow your heart

Listen to your heart and gut, be positive, visualize success, fulfill your dreams and give back to the community.

Those are just a few nuggets of wisdom Paso Robles winemaker Justin Baldwin shared with The Tribune’s Top 20 under 40 award winners Thursday at the Madonna Inn. Now in its sixth year, the award honors county leaders younger than the age of 40 who excel in their profession and in their service to the community.

Baldwin, founder of Justin Vineyards & Winery, was invited to give the keynote speech for the event.

“Don’t die with the music still in your heart,” Baldwin said. “You’re young, but at some stage in your life, you’ll say, ‘Did I do what I wanted to do?’ ”

Throughout his life, Baldwin has followed his passion and chosen opportunities where others might see obstacles.

In 1981, while still in his 30s, Baldwin bought a 160-acre site in Paso Robles to grow wine grapes. At the time, Baldwin was a successful banker, and friends questioned his decision to leave the banking business.

“Friends said, ‘You have a brilliant career, and you want to go to Paso to make wine?’ I didn’t want to wait until I was 65. I wanted to do it then.”

Baldwin, known for being a Paso wine pioneer, told young leaders that it’s not about following the pack, or even pursuing a career for the money. Rather, it’s focusing on what you enjoy.

“The rewards will come back to you,” he said.

Baldwin and his wife, Deborah, built Justin Vineyards & Winery into an enterprise that has grabbed the attention of wine enthusiasts worldwide. The couple recently sold the winery to Roll International Corp., owner of Fiji Water, for an undisclosed sum.

Baldwin put his words of advice into practice early on.

In college, he majored in biological sciences with the goal of being a dentist. But he soon discovered that “it just wasn’t me.”

After a stint in the Marine Corps, Baldwin bumped into a stockbroker in San Francisco, and was taken by the energy of the financial world, even though Baldwin lacked experience in the field.

For years, he lived and worked abroad as a banker, eventually joining partners to start a private bank in the United States before being “bitten by the wine bug,” he said.

Baldwin and his wife have also reached out to the community. In 2003, the couple battled different forms of cancer. Now, both are healthy and cancer-free, but the experience motivated them to establish the Wellness Community California Central Coast, a nonprofit organization providing free support for people with cancer and their loved ones.

For Baldwin, an optimistic outlook is the key to overcoming challenges and achieving success.

“Be positive,’’ he said. “It shows.”

— Julie Lynem

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