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Paso Robles winery boycotted over oak tree axing

A number of restaurants have boycotted Paso Robles winery Justin Vineyards to demonstrate their anger at its decision to bulldoze hundreds of oak trees to make way for more vineyards.

Justin Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles

Big Sky Cafe, Pappy McGregor’s Pub and Grill, Thomas Hill Organics and Fish Gaucho have all removed wines from Justin Vineyards in Paso Robles from their menu in protest against the cull, as reported by The San Luis Obispo Times. 

Estate Vineyards LLC, a holding company which is managed by Justin Vineyards and is a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Company, cut down hundreds of oak trees earlier this month to make room for more grapes on its 742-acre Sleepy Farm Road estate. The company was ordered to stop work on June 9 by country officials after receiving complaints from neighbours.

The land was purchased by the Resnick family, which owns the Wonderful Company, in 2013. The family bought Justin Vineyards and Winery three years prior in 2010 from Justin Baldwin. Founded in 1981, Justin Vineyards specialise in Bordeaux varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

“Our oaks and oak forests are what makes this area beautiful and wild,” said neighbour Justin Smith, winemaker at Saxum Vineyards, speaking to the Paso Robles Daily News.

“There are no laws in our county protecting them, but there were none needed. Nobody who loved or lived in Paso would dare clear cut the forests. That is until Justin Winery/Fiji Water moved in. They’ve bought multiple properties, thousands of acres. I don’t know who to hold directly responsible for this disgraceful destruction in the name of farming, whether it’s the Resnicks themselves, their president David Ricanati, or the vineyard developer, but they should be tarred and feathered and run out of our town”.

Justin Vineyards has said it will be planting some 5,000 oak trees to counteract the deforestation, however some local restaurants have taken matters into their own hands, demonstrating their anger at the deforestation by pulling its wines from their menus.

Greg Holt, the owner of Big Sky Café in San luis Obispo shared his views via its Facebook page writing: “Justin winery, not Justin Baldwin the founder, but the Wonderful company that owns the property now, bulldozed over hundreds of old oak trees. You just don’t do that to the Earth. I get private property rights, but it just ain’t right to remove all those trees. As such, we are going to remove Justin wines from our list. They grow great grapes, and make GREAT wine, but I have to follow my heart here. Some things are just more important”.

Before (2015) and after. Credit: Paso Robles Daily News / winemaker Matt Trevison

While San Luis Obispo has no laws protecting oaks, the Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District, a special district created under state law, has said that the company violated three regulations, including not notifying the district prior to the tree removal so surveys for nesting birds could be carried out.

The company released a statement earlier this month insisting that their actions were legal and in “full compliance with all state and county regulatory guidelines”.

“We recognize the beauty and importance of our natural resources, and as part of this process, beginning this fall and throughout 2017, we will be planting 5,000 oak trees across our properties,” said Steven Clark, vice president of corporate communications at The Wonderful Company said in a statement.

“As a leading employer in the area and major contributor to the local economy, Justin Vineyards & Winery is proud of both its long-standing commitment to the Paso Robles community and responsible environmental stewardship.”

Justin Vineyards is part of The Wonderful Company, formerly Roll Global, which owns Fiji Water, POM Wonderful, Wonderful Almonds, Wonderful Pistachios and Teleflora.

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