Apr 27, 2008


JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery is one of the staples of the Paso Robles wine country. It's been around since 1981 and there's always something new whether it's a restaurant, a hotel, or a wine. This is one of the few wineries that people have not only heard of before coming here, but they've actually purchased and tasted a bottle of JUSTIN wine. Despite being at the end of a long, windy 25 minute drive out Chimney Rock Road hordes of people visit the JUSTIN facilities 7 days a week.

For most who have tasted at JUSTIN, they've been to the building just past Carmody-McKnight. Usually you'll be greeted by one of the winery dogs, which by the way have their own section of the JUSTIN website (http://www.justinwine.com/). This building houses a reception desk for those staying at the JUST Inn (get it? It's an inn...at JUSTIN?!), Deborah's Room-the fancy restaurant that's open for lunch and dinner (reservations recommended of course), and the tasting room. For those of us who aren't in the wine club, we stand at one of the counters in the tasting room and taste a few of JUSTIN's standard wines. To taste their top-of-the-line wines you have to be part of the JUSTIN Wine Society. And, as a wine club member, not only can you taste the award-winning Justification and Isosceles blends, but you can do so in their wine-club-only tasting room (on the ground floor of the Isosceles Center), which is located in an entirely different building farther down Chimney Rock Road.

While you don't get the exclusive club-member service at the regular tasting room you will at least get a chance to taste the wines in a room with Medieval Times-esque decor (and who doesn't love faux-medieval decor?). The walls as you approach the counters shelves on either side house an array of JUSTIN wines. For some crazy reason I always imagine each section on those walls being marked with a triangular flag...you know those flags that hang off the horn of one of those breeches-clad medieval horn-blower guys as he announces the arrival of the king! I know that sounds crazy but that's just what I think of!! And even though there aren't any triangular-horn-flags there should be! Anyway, the borderline over-the-top design at JUSTIN (both imaginary and actual decor!) only gets crazier when you leave the regular tasting room and head back to the winery and and the club-member tasting room where you sit on couches and get served your flight.
Overall, I've had actively positive tasting experiences at JUSTIN. The main issue I've had is that it gets quite busy. Luckily there's a little picnic area out front (often where the dogs hang out) so you can step outside if there are too many people. The only other complaint I have is the fact that any old person can't walk in and taste everything. Hearing so much about wines I've never tasted in the tasting room gives me mixed feelings. Part of me wants access to those wines, which is motivation to join the wine club. But then I remember that those wines are $50 a bottle so the wine club would drive me even more quickly towards poverty!! Then the other part of me just feels annoyed...they want me to drive all the way out there? And pay to taste wines that aren't necessarily their best? Mixed feelings...that's what I have!!

Now this is the part I've been waiting to talk about! If you have a reason to go around to this other entrance you must do so (I think you can sign up for a winery tour that will get you back there). You'll enter through a massive and quite grandiose gate and then cruise down a quarter of a mile and then see some giant buildings. This might not happen to you, but these building made quite an impression on me! First, imagine a big top circus. Next, imagine an Italian villa. And finally, combine the big top circus with the Italian villa (you have to think of really classy versions of a circus and a villa) and add a bit of that Medieval Times feel and voila!-you have a perfect vision of the JUSTIN compound that houses the winery, event space, corporate offices, and, among other things, the club tasting room.

While I poke fun at the decorative choices at JUSTIN I'm always amazed at the thoroughness and quality of everything at the winery. From the facilites, to the staff, to the printed materials, everything at JUSTIN in done right. The proprietors, Debbie and Justin Baldwin, clearly have an incredible knack for marketing and it shows. These two seem to be more entrepeneurs than just winery owners. They keep adding new projects like the restaurant, the inn, and the second tasting room. While these are choices I probably wouldn't make if I had a wildly succesful wine label I can't help but respect their total dedication to both JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery and the overall development of the Paso Robles wine community. The Baldwins go above and beyond for their employees and they readily participate in local charities. Basically Debbie and Justin Baldwin are completely on top of their game. They do everything with an unfaltering level of quality that I really admire. The wines at JUSTIN are all high quality and the highest echelon of their offerings, Justification and Isosceles, have been recognized by critics for years. So if you couldn't tell from my effusive description of the couple behind JUSTIN, I think you have to go to JUSTIN at least once. If you go and don't love it that's fine...in fact that's the whole point of wine tasting!! But JUSTIN is definitely worth a stop.
**All photos from the JUSTIN website: http://www.justinwine.com/**

For a look at a couple of JUSTIN wines check out these videos from Gary Vaynerchuk at Wine Library TV.
(Just to show how on top of it the Baldwins are, after this video aired on Wine Library TV Debbie and Justin wrote Gary an email thanking him for his honest comments, which Gary read on a later show.)

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