One of the pleasures of a visit to Paso Robles is the ability to explore dozens of small production winerys and taste the excellent Rhone and Bordeaux blends, which Paso is known for. One of those visits included a stop at Hearthstone Vineyard & Winery, located on Vineyard Drive, a snaking road off of Route 46 West of Paso Robles.
Hearthstone Vineyard & Winery was established in 1999 by Hoy Buell, a Cal Poly graduate and horticulturist who decided to focus on grape growing in the Adelaida Valley. Hearthstone’s first vintage debuted in 2003 four years later.
Today at 1400 feet, the vineyard includes several varieties including selected clones of Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Viognier, and Roussanne. Some of these are offered as a single variety wine, while most are carefully blended by Rhone or Bordeaux variety.
At Hearthstone there is also strong focus on sustainable farming. Deep irrigation is used minimally and organic fertilizers are applied to keep vines healthy. Only the basic necessities for balanced growth are supplied as vines adjust gradually to the natural elements. Mr. Buell is obviously applying many lessons learned from his ownership and management of Greenheart Farms in Arroyo Grande.
On my visit I spent some time speaking with Josslyn Wagster, the Tasting Room Manager. Josslyn was kind enough to pour several very well made Rhone and Bordeaux blends as well as single varieties. One of the great advantages of visiting small production wineries (besides the wine of course!), is the hospitality and knowledge of those pouring the wines. If you’re into wine, there is nothing better than an engaging conversation about the wines, location, and history with someone local. At Hearthstone, Josslyn made the visit both enjoyable and educational.
Unfortunately, one limitation of small production wineries is that they simply don’t produce that much wine, which means unless you can visit locally it is difficult to find their wines, and due to security limitations today, there are only so many options for purchasing and carrying some of these hard to find wines back home. One suggestion (thanks Josslyn!) when in Paso Robles is to use Safe Haven Wine Services. Here you can purchase wines at one or more wineries and Safe Haven will pick up the wines, package them, and then ship them back for you (except if you live in AR, KY, MD, MS, MA, NH, PA, SD or UT – thanks to a continuation of a three-tiered monopoly).
If you’re traveling in Southern California, you can find Hearthstone Vineyard wines available at several restaurants and local retail stores or visit them at 5070 Vineyard Drive (leave the 101 at Route 46 heading West and continue about 5 miles. Take a right at Vineyard Drive, Heathstone Vineyard will be on your right about 4 miles in).
With a very successful 30 year history and an annual 50,000+ case production of Bordeaux blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) and other single grape varieties (Red: Tempranillo, Malbec, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot / White: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier), Justin Winery is remains a must visit when staying near, passing through, or staying in Paso Robles.
Although a bit removed from downtown itself (located at the end of Chimney Rock Road in the Adelaida Valley) on the West side of Paso Robles, its definitely worth the ride. Besides some outstanding wines (which I will get to in a moment), the grounds include an inn, restaurant, well-maintained gardens and place to picnic as well as for those of us really into wine, examples of various trellis systems including one designed and implemented in the Justin vineyard itself.
One of the more iconic wines produced is the Justin Winery ISOSCELES Bordeaux blend (first production year was 1987), somewhat akin to a left-bank Pauillac or Margaux with a different blend each year of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and perhaps Petit Verdot). Not sure where the name came from except to say that the definition of “Isosceles” as a triangle is having two sides of equal length. Perhaps the origin for naming it Isosceles was the concept of equal parts of each variety (although in practice the Cabernet Sauvignon normally plays the major part of the blend). In any case, this blend has been lauded with a London International Wine & Spirit Competition’s Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande trophy in 1994 for the Best Blended Red Wine Worldwide and named number 6 wine in the world by Wine Spectator in 2000 for the 1997 ISOSCELES offering.
Learn more about Justin Winery Wines
However, in this very competitive industry great wines are not enough. In the most recent Justin Winery Newsletter Justin Baldwin explained, “I am often asked what the most important thing at a winery is. The answer is easy – great wines! However, that answer is always followed up by a list of the next most important items on the list. They are in order of importance – marketing, marketing, and marketing!”
Unlike some owners, Mr. Baldwin has put into action that which he has preached – from hiring a well known and successful luxury wine brand marketer – Jason Shorrock as VP, Director of Sales and Marketing, to a strong Social Media effort including Facebook and Twitter, its own Justin Winery blog, Smart Links (using QR codes), its own Newsletter, Wine Club (Justin Wine Society), hosting events, charitible giving, and certainly its bed and breakfast and restaurant.
While all of the marketing activity above provides brand recognition and buzz for the winery, at the end of the day personal attention, friendly service and knowledgeable staff are essential to building a strong wine brand. I can happily say that this is exactly what I experienced when visiting the tasting room earlier this Fall. Not only were the wines all well made, but the staff were enthusiastic about their product and their company.
“To belong in the company of the finest wines in the world” is Justin Baldwin’s mission statement.
I can confidently say that he has put together a strong team and the right strategy to achieve what he set out to do. So when visiting Paso Robles be sure to take the drive out to Justin. You’ll enjoy the grounds, the courteous staff, and certainly the wines.
Late in 2010, the Justin Winery was sold
by Deborah and Justin Baldwin to Roll International Inc., owned by Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick. Unlike many recent distressed winery sales, the sale of Justin Winery was more of good timing for the Baldwins and Mr. Resnick. Although no longer owners of the winery, Deborah and Justin plan to stay on and manage the day to day operations. We can only hope that the hard work, keen insights, and current mission will continue under its new ownership.