Winery owner wants an overpass at El Campo Road, apologizes for handling of lawsuit

A planned picket of Laetitia Winery has been called off, after the local winery’s parent group apologized for the way it handled a lawsuit stopping work at El Campo Road and Highway 101.

“We have established a working relationship with Vintage Wine Estates over the last 48 hours and believe their heart is in the right place,” James Grant said in an email to The Tribune on Monday afternoon. “When we said safety first, they heard us loud and clear, and confirmed with us that they agree.”

Grant’s son, Jordan Grant, was killed at the El Campo Road intersection in October 2018, and he and his family have since spearheaded a grassroots campaign to have the crossing closed.

On Friday, he called for a boycott and picket of Laetitia Winery, which Vintage Wine Estates purchased in March, after news of the company’s lawsuit stopping construction on the intersection broke.

That picket has since been called off, Grant said, while he and Vintage Wine Estates work together to address safety along Highway 101. The boycott is still on however, until the litigation has been removed, he said.

“While I am continuing to demand this be resolved by Caltrans and Vintage quickly, and putting pressure on both to do so, I have formed an opinion that Vintage Wine Estates has the potential to be a good partner with the community on this issue — resolving the Highway 101 safe access problems in South County, now and in the mid-term work to get an overpass built,” Grant wrote Monday.

A petition calling for a boycott of Laetitia Winery and all Vintage Wine Estates Wines on Change.org has 2,103 signatures as of Monday evening.

The lawsuit

Work to stop left-hand turns at four crossings along Highway 101, including El Campo Road, was expected to begin this week, but was put on indefinite hold after Vintage Wine Estates filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court on May 7.

The lawsuit claimed Caltrans did not properly examine the impacts of the plan to stop left-hand turns at the intersections before scheduling work, and claimed there would be numerous environmental concerns from such a project.

“The project’s approval is motivated by political interest,” read the lawsuit obtained by The Tribune on Friday.

The crossing at Laetitia Winery’s entrance was one of the four expected to be closed.

The lawsuit was met by immediate pushback from community members who were part of the campaign to close the crossings, including a call for a boycott of Laetitia Winery wines and a picket at the business by Grant.

Vintage Wine Estates apologizes

In response, Vintage Wine Estates issued an open letter to the San Luis Obispo County community on Monday saying with the lawsuit, it hoped to bring Sacramento’s attention to the “urgent issue” along Highway 101.

“The lawsuit was intended to focus Sacramento on the urgent issue and not settle for a stop-gap or years-down-the-road solution,” read the statement from Vintage Wine Estates President Terry Wheatley. “We are continuing to work hard toward this goal. We fell short of our responsibility to explore and communicate this to the community and for that we apologize.”

“Our intent was not to take the safety of the community lightly nor to take lightly the tragic death of Jordan Grant,” Wheatley said in the statement. “Our intent was to create positive action for Caltrans to evaluate all of the impacts of the closures that are likely to occur, mitigate those impacts, and importantly, consider and adopt a permanent solution to El Campo Road access, not only for Laetitia Winery but for the many homes and ranches along El Campo Road.”

In the company’s statement, Wheatley added that Vintage Wine Estates supports an overpass at El Campo Road — something residents have been calling for for years — and asked that it be “fast-tracked by Caltrans on an accelerated five-year completion date.”

Wheatley concluded the statement saying “the safety of El Campo Road and the other three crossings is a priority for our company, as employees, guests and neighbors use it every day.”

“We have employees who are past students of Cal Poly and many of us are parents or family members of students, so this issue hits very close to home,” Wheatley said. “We are committed to being part of the traffic and safety solution for El Campo Road.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Grant’s boycott was called off. The boycott is still ongoing.

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.