The clear cutting of oak trees on property owned by Justin Vineyards and Winery in the Willow Creek Road area of Paso Robles has caused an uproar by some of the winery’s neighbors and many citizens of San Luis Obispo County. Neighbors lodged complaints against Justin Vineyards after discovering hundreds of oaks had been removed in order to build an irrigation pond to water more vineyards planned for the property.
Several concerned residents of the area met with San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Frank Mecham on Thursday, June 9. Mecham conferred with county code enforcement to confirm if the Justin project was in compliance. After learning about the citizen meeting and Mecham’s subsequent inquiry, Vice President of Corporate Communications for The Wonderful Company, Steven Clark, responded with a statement on behalf of the company which owns the Justin Vineyards brand. Clark said, “We are currently preparing a parcel of our land for new vineyards 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. 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.”
Objections to the project go beyond the mere aesthetics of removing hundreds of trees. Clear cutting of this type is known to have detrimental effects on drainage, erosion and groundwater. Mecham reports that though wineries sometimes remove oak trees, it’s not a common practice.
On further inspection, it was learned that the application originally submitted by project manager Eric Gobler stated that no trees would be removed. “The reservoir will be designed to conform to natural topography (rolling terrain) with no impact to native trees and the environment,” stated a letter by Gobler.
San Luis Obispo County issued two stop-work orders while violations to county ordinances were investigated. In agricultural areas it is not illegal to remove oak trees, but it was suspected that grading ordinances, which prohibit cutting on slopes greater than a 30% grade, may have been broken. On June 15, it was reported that all work had been halted on the Justin Vineyards project after several code violations were cited. Among the numerous violations, failing to notify proper officials of any tree removal was noted. As a result, SLO County supervisors are preparing to propose an oak tree protection ordinance in the near future.
As of this writing, representatives for Justin Vineyards & Winery deny any wrongdoing.
According to county records, Estate Vineyards, a subsidiary for The Wonderful Company, owns over 1,600 acres in the Willow Creek, Creston Road and Chimney Rock areas. On its website, The Wonderful Company claims to invest in, collaborate with and enrich the communities where their employees live and work.
Justin Wines, Landmark Wines, Fiji Water, POM Wonderful, Suterra, Teleflora, Wonderful Almonds, Wonderful Halos, Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Sweet Scarletts are the brands owned by The Wonderful Company. Many SLO County residents are calling for a boycott of The Wonderful Company’s products as a result of this environmental blunder and disregard for community agricultural traditions.