JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery is a family owned and operated winery making estate grown and produced wines in Paso Robles, CA. Founded in 1981 by Justin and Deborah Baldwin, JUSTIN began with 160 acres planted to the major Bordeaux varietals and the goal of producing wines in the style of the great wines of Bordeaux. In addition to estate wines, today JUSTIN also works with a handful of small growers in Paso Robles.
When JUSTIN started, there were fewer than 10wineries in Paso. Since those early days the region has exploded to include hundreds of wineries, many of which produce modern, fruity wines meant for near-term consumption. The wines of Justin are different - classically styled, balanced and ageworthy. As a result, JUSTIN takes wine education and service very seriously, incorporating specialized sommelier services, department training, hospitality, and overall customer services to ensure their wines are appreciated to the fullest extent possible.
Whether you're not sure when to open that special bottle, looking to build a vertical collection, or are interested in learning more about wine in general, JUSTIN has many resources for you, from Master Sommelier Joseph Spellman, who heads up the Mid-West Marketing and Sales Department, to Jim Gerakaris, Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator on site at the estate and the subject of today's Behind the Wine interview below:
Q&A with Jim Gerakaris, JUSTIN Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator
How did JUSTIN get started? What is your role?
My name is Jim Gerakaris, [and I'm] the Winery Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator here at JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery. I work with our guests and various departments here at the winery to educate and provide information and training about our wines and wine in general. I also manage our library and conduct educational reserve tastings that include everything from library wines to barrel samples, or both!
JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery was founded by Justin Baldwin, a former investment banker who was so affected after tasting a few of the [Bordeaux's] 1st Growths that he decided to make a wine in that style here in the United States. He came upon Paso Robles in his search for a place to do this and saw great potential with the soils and climate of the region.
How has the region of Paso Robles changed since JUSTIN was founded? How has JUSTIN changed since then?
There were eight other wineries here when Justin Baldwin purchased the property. They were growing mostly Zinfandel at that time and the idea of producing a high quality, Bordeaux-style wine was not a part of the mainstream thought. The soils and climate are ideally suited to growing grapes with concentrated and complex fruit character, but with great balance, whether you are growing Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. We have grown steadily in size and in quality and you will see a continuation of this through our mission statement “to belong in the company of the finest wines in the world."
Describe the viticultural and winemaking philosophy at JUSTIN.
Justin studied the 1st Growth Bordeaux Château and used the same grape varieties, vineyard care, low yields, careful attention to the vines during the season, and hand harvesting when the grapes showed the highest promise for making balanced and ageworthy wines. He also used many of the same cellar techniques typical to a high quality Bordeaux producer: specifically their attention to careful and ruthless sorting of the fruit, extended time with the skins and predominant use of the highest quality free-run wines to make the best blends.
Where is JUSTIN located? What is it about this site that makes it uniquely suited to producing Bordeaux varietals?
We are located in the far western part of the Paso Robles AVA, about 15 miles west of the city of Paso Robles at about 1,200 to 1,900 feet above sea level. This gives us slightly lower temperatures in the summer, and more rainfall in the winter. Our soils have a high concentration of limestone from calcareous deposits formed when the area was under the oceans. The uprising of the mountain range just west of us exposed this layer of almost solid limestone and it eroded from the mountains toward the city of Paso Robles. For this reason it is of a higher limestone concentration in the west than it is toward the city. This higher limestone concentration provides our soil with good drainage and lower nutrient value that naturally reduces our yields, keeps the vines reaching into the ground for water and nutrients. Along with our large summer diurnal change in temperatures, these conditions produce an ideal, natural structure of acidity and tannins in our wines contributing to their balance, and longevity.
What do the words "organic," "biodynamic," and "sustainable" mean to you? How are these practices applied at JUSTIN?
These are all valid methods to improve the quality of our wines. In any endeavor, the materials you start with dictate the outcome of your work. In food, the best, fresh, locally grown ingredients, selected at the peak of their condition, will always yield the best, most distinctive results in the finished dish. Wine is no different, and the highest quality, grapes picked at the peak of their condition gives us the best result with little or no need to try and balance the wines made from them.
Organic, Biodynamic, and Sustainable practices all contribute to the health of a vineyard and subsequently the quality of the grapes we use for making our wines. Their approaches may be slightly different, but the idea is similar: to provide the best fruit while promoting continued excellence in the future.
Sustainable practices take a holistic approach toward everything done by the operation. Ideally this improves everything from the vineyard through the entire winery to assure that the vines, the people and the ecosystem surrounding all are maintained in a way that allows them to coexist indefinitely in balance.
Organic addresses problem solving in the vineyard with "natural" intervention, when necessary, that is to say without the use of synthetic (especially petroleum-based) inputs.
Biodynamic is a bit more all encompassing and proactive. It regards the health of the soils as the primary concern. If the soil is healthy, the vines will thrive, if the vines thrive, the wines will be at their best, if the wines are at their best, the people who work for the winery will be well provided for, and consequently, the soils and vineyard will be well tended, completing the circle. Biodynamics also incorporates a hyper- sensitivity to all conditions in the vineyard including things we cannot see, or always understand, but nevertheless need to be accepted in order to gain the overall benefits of the method. This is where many people get a little skeptical about some aspects of Biodynamics (burying cow horns, phases of the moon, etc.), but the differences made in just a few years practice can be substantial.
At JUSTIN, we have been using all of these methods to some degree, but we have not sought certification. Almost half of our estate vineyard is on a biodynamic program, which includes spraying preparations, composting and pruning or even picking by the Biodynamic calendar. Our Vineyard Manager, Paul Kaselionis is an advocate of staying in touch with each of the blocks in the vineyard personally, using minimal intervention for any problems that might arise. In essence we are using techniques from all three schools including techniques such as mechanical weeding, predatory bird control of rodents and composting. In fact, what we have found is that as we get further into balancing these programs, we have had to do less direct intervention because the general health of the vineyard has been improving, and as a result, the quality of our grapes has improved.
What's your position on wine-pairing and what do you like to pair JUSTIN wines with?
Of course as a Certified Sommelier, I am always concerned about how our wines pair with food. One of the reasons both our Master Sommelier Joe Spellman and I are a part of our wine education staff, is that our wines are so well matched for food pairing. Our "house style" is that of Bordeaux and of course these are very food friendly wines, especially after they are cellared for a few years. The combination of our soils and climate here in Paso Robles gives us wines that have great concentration and complexity, but with a structure that balances the wines and allows them to be an elegant companion to food at the table.
For instance, we have a wine called SAVANT, which is a blend of mostly Syrah with about 25-35% Cabernet. While there is full fruit intensity in this wine as well as an underpinning of deep spicy tones, the acidity and tannin structure help make the wine perfectly well behaved at the table, complimenting food instead of competing with it. Because of the wonderful peppery aspect of the Syrah and a smoky spice that our barrel fermented Syrah adds to the blend, it goes well with lamb or game dishes, especially when herbs are added to the mix.
On the other end of the spectrum, our JUSTIN Cabernet Sauvignon is our most popular and widely available wine. A lighter styled cab, this wine is very popular in restaurants around the country since it complements, rather than competes with various dishes. For about $25 it provides quality, balance and complexity rarely seen in this price range.
Our anchor wines are ISOSCELES and JUSTIFICATION, styled respectively after the Left and Right Bank wines of Bordeaux. The ISOSCELES, with its primary Cabernet component, is the perfect match to a full flavored, grilled New York steak, while the Cabernet Franc based JUSTIFICATION is perfect with the more subtle offerings like fillet mignon, duck or pheasant.
What advice do you have to offer people interested in learning more about JUSTIN and the wines of Paso Robles?
Come out and see us! I have traveled to many wine regions around the world and found that if you want to truly understand the soul of a particular wine or its region, you need to visit and see it in its natural element.
We hold a number of educational tours and tastings at the winery; everything from our daily facility tour to special reserve tastings in our ISOSCELES library located 120 feet underground in our caves. To get a better idea of how our wines pair with various types of food, join us for dinner in our restaurant, where we feature our wines paired with a seasonal menu created by our Executive Chef, Will Torres. We also offer lunch on our Wishing Well Patio on weekends.
During harvest, we offer guided tours of the production during the week so you can get a closer look at the care we take in harvesting and sorting our fruit, as well as a good look at our winemaking process. For more information about any of these programs, just visit us at http://www.justinwine.com/.
TASTE AND SHOP JUSTIN WINES THIS WEEK AT K&L!
When: 5pm-6:30pm Thursday 7/14 in San Francisco and Friday 7/15 in Redwood City
Where: K&L SF and K&L RWC
Buy JUSTIN Wines now on KLWines.com