Education

Justin Vineyards donates, gets name on Cal Poly building two years after oak-cutting

Cal Poly’s new wine and viticulture center will be named in part for Justin Vineyards and Winery, a major donor that became embroiled in local controversy when it clear-cut thousands of Paso Robles oak trees two years ago.

The university announced on Wednesday that Justin and J. Lohr Vineyards each committed $2.5 million to a campaign for the new facility, which will be called the Justin and J. Lohr Center for Wine and Viticulture.

The center’s groundbreaking was held on May 4, and the facility is expected to open in late 2019, according to a Cal Poly news release.

“The local wine community has stepped forward in support of this project, solidifying a partnership with Cal Poly that will not only benefit students for years to come but will provide the rigorously trained talent that the wine industry depends on,” Andrew Thulin, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, said in the release.

justin oaks
The Justin Vineyards and Winery property in June 2016, after thousands of trees were removed from its hillsides. Cal Poly plans to name a wine and viticulture facility after the company, which donated $2.5 million to the a campaign to build the facility. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Justin Vineyards was founded by Justin Baldwin, a local vintner who sold the winery and vineyard to the Wonderful Co. in 2010.

The Wonderful Co. — a Los Angeles-based multinational company owned by Lynda and Stewart Resnick — is responsible for many well-known brands, including Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful, Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Halos.

More than two years ago, the company came under fire after San Luis Obispo County Code Enforcement officials issued a stop-work order on a Justin Vineyards property in Adelaida, a region west of Paso Robles.

Workers had clear-cut thousands of oak trees and steeply graded the hillside, with plans to build a large agricultural pond, as well.

The deforestation angered many residents, even leading some local restaurants to boycott Justin Vineyards wines.

It also changed local policies regarding oak tree protection and ag pond development. Nearly a year later, the county Board of Supervisors adopted an oak woodland ordinance after decades of trying and failing to do so.

Justin property
The Justin Vineyards property on Sleepy Farm Road, in October 2016. Jute mats cover seeded hillsides and silt fencing was installed to prevent erosion during the winter rainy season. Cal Poly plans to name a wine and viticulture facility after Justin Vineyards, which donated $2.5 million to the a campaign to build the facility. Courtesy of the Wonderful Co.

The Resnicks announced their intention to restore and donate the land, although they still haven’t found a local partner to take on the property, according to the company.

“Working closely with the county and environmental consultants, the Sleepy Farm Road site has been stabilized,” said Mark Carmel, a Justin Vineyards spokesman, in a statement.

“We have completed the remediation project, and the code enforcement case has been closed. Ongoing work efforts include monitoring and maintenance of native plantings in the riparian habitat, while discussions with potential partners continue regarding the ultimate disposition of the property.”

When asked whether Cal Poly leaders have any concerns about naming a building after a company associated with local environmental degradation, a spokeswoman said the university couldn’t comment on the situation.

“We can’t speak to the matter you’re referring to, as that didn’t involve Cal Poly,” said AnnMarie Cornejo, spokeswoman for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

“What we can say is that we’re thrilled that two local leaders in the wine industry — J. Lohr and Justin Vineyards and Winery — share our vision for creating a Center for Wine and Viticulture that will help shape the next generation of wine industry professionals.”

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden
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