Winery Review: JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery
It was a crisp, clear morning. The rolling green hills stretched up and away, their bare vines awaiting the pre-spring trim before they fruited. The brilliant blue sky cut a sharp contrast against the chartreuse new growth that exploded from every organic surface. Pink blossoms punctuated the sapphire and emerald backdrop, and warm stone structures dotted the hills. We had just arrived at JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles, California. And what a welcome it provided!
Note: Costs for my visit to JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery were covered courtesy of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. All opinions, recommendations, and suggestions are my own.
An Overview: JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery
JUSTIN is one of the original heavyweights in the fast-growing Paso Robles wine region in Central California. Their Isosceles red blend first caught the attention of wine critics in the last 90s. Since then, their wine (and the region at large) has exploded into a sophisticated and wide-reaching operation. The land was originally purchased in 1981 by Justin Baldwin, and was sold in 2010 to the conglomerate that owns Fiji Water. They’ve done their best to maintain the integrity of the wine, but have made upgrades to the tasting room grounds.
A quarter-mile down the road from the main tasting room is a wine making facility, where you can explore the fields of fruit (weather permitting). Wander through the equipment used to produce Justin’s iconic blends and vintages, and walk through the impressive man-made cave system used to age the bottles.
There are two tours, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Pre-booking is required and can be done here. We opted to kick off our day of wine tasting here with the 10 a.m. Winery and Cave tour. We were promptly greeted by Francesco, an Italian-born guide who has worked with wine in his home country and now here in California.
Francesco explained the processes used to create the various wines, then led us into the intricate cave system that stores the majority of the wine. There’s an awesome private dining room within the caves that would be the perfect place for a fun dinner with a group of friends. A different stops along the way, we sipped various wines and discussed the finer points of the Justin process.
2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: You can’t go wrong with a Justin Cabernet Sauvignon. And this 2014 Reserve is a cut above the rest. Full of bold, ripe fruit with a strong middle and smooth finish, it’ll pair beautifully with just about anything with a backbone.
2014 Trilateral: If the bold color of this Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre blend doesn’t get you, the peppery mid-palate or long finish will. An inky deep purple glass sets the tone for a lush journey through jammy blackberries and heavy tannins. Drink it alone — it’s a meal unto itself.
2014 Savant: It has a higher-than-average alcohol content (16.5%), but the winemakers did a beautiful job creating balance with a plummy and peppery palate. Give it some time to open up before drinking, or let it sit for a couple more years.
Honorable Mention: 2014 Justification, 2013 Isosceles
The Restaurant & Tasting Room
JUSTIN’s tasting room underwent a refit in 2013. The resulting space is clean, roomy, and bright, but is missing character. The layout allows for a crowd, but something about the space is too “done.” The outdoor patio, however, scores major points. Top features include plenty of heat lamps for chilly spring and autumn evenings and a healthy amount of space overlooking the vines.
The Restaurant at JUSTIN is producing gorgeous, simple food with gourmet finishes. I ordered a perfectly-cooked wild Alaskan king salmon filet (one of my personal specialties as a chef) on a spicy Dungeness crab fried rice. The whole dish was elevated by an amazing lemongrass sauce. One of the specials — Japanese Fried Chicken, also proved the kitchen knows it’s technique. If you’d prefer to err on the lighter side, you can’t go wrong with the JUSTIN House Salad.
Don’t Miss: Their seafood and the Icon Wine Tasting Flight ($25 for three tastings)
Price Range: Starters from $9, Mains from $18
Reservations: Recommended, Click Here
Other Things to Check Out
If just a day at JUSTIN isn’t enough, you can now extend your stay overnight. The “Just Inn,” a new 3-bedroom bed & breakfast, opened with the remodeled tasting a few years ago. Featuring three suites, it’s a high-end opportunity to snooze on the grounds of this iconic winery. I didn’t stay, so I can’t vouch for it, but you can check it out on their website here.
It’s also worth mentioning that the new owners of JUSTIN came under fire a while back for clear-cutting thousands of Paso Robles’ famed and treasured oak trees. They’ve worked to make amends for their ecological faux-pas, but the community hasn’t fully forgiven the interlopers just yet. Eco-conscious oenophiles may want to be aware.
Have you tried JUSTIN Wine? Which vintage is your favorite? Or do you have a favorite winery that you’ve encountered on your travels? Let me know in the comments!