You can’t eat money….”It turns out that’s business as usual at Justin. An investigative story by the New Times weekly showed that in 2011, Justin had 17,000 trees cut down over 100 acres on a different Paso Robles property. Not only that, Justin refused to pay for the work as agreed, and lost a lawsuit for the money.”
Justin Vineyards’ Clearcutting Not a One-off
© Justin Vineyards |
If you are a tree, Justin Vineyards is coming after you, and they’ve got a chainsaw.
The winery, purchased in 2010 by the international water barons Stewart and Lynda Resnick, was in the news recently after committing possible code violations while clearcutting hundreds of oak trees on one of its Paso Robles holdings.
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It turns out that’s business as usual at Justin. An investigative story by the New Times weekly showed that in 2011, Justin had 17,000 trees cut down over 100 acres on a different Paso Robles property. Not only that, Justin refused to pay for the work as agreed, and lost a lawsuit for the money.
Of course, lawsuits over environmental issues are commonplace for the Resnicks, who own enormous swaths of nut trees in California’s parched heartland as well as control of the Kern Water Bank that they use to nurture them. They also own Fiji Water and have clashed with the Fiji government, and they have been forced by the US Federal Trade Commission to stop claiming their Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice cures erectile dysfunction. They have even been sued by the estate of Princess Diana over use of her likeness on expensive gimcracks; they won that one, and forced the estate to pay their legal fees.
Unlike Justin’s recent clearcutting, which resulted in a stop-work order from San Luis Obispo County, the 2011 treepocalypse would have gone unnoticed by the authorities if Justin had paid the contractor it hired to do the dirty work.
But halfway through the job, Justin’s vineyard manager Paul Kaselionis called contractor Keith Garl and said: “Pack up your shit and get it out of here. I don’t want you on my job anymore. Get your equipment and move it,” according to a court deposition by Garl.
Garl told the court he originally quoted Justin $540,000 for the tree clearcut, but agreed to take the job for just $200,000, only enough to cover his equipment and labor costs, if he could have the lumber to sell (17,000 trees – that’s a lot of lumber.) Justin had paid only $66,300.66 when it fired Garl’s company, according to court records, and the wood was still on Justin’s property.
Garl sued and Justin countersued. In October 2012, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford ruled that Justin Vineyards breached its contract and ordered Justin to pay Garl $444,112, which included profits from selling the wood as firewood.
It’s important to note that there is no law preventing clearcutting of trees in San Luis Obispo County. The possible code violation cited by the county in June was over grading the site to create an enormous 6.5-million-gallon irrigation pond that might have monopolized the region’s groundwater.
Yet nobody might have paid attention if Linne Calodo owner/winemaker Matt Trevisan hadn’t taken aerial photos of the 2016 deforested area from his small private plane. Despite the 2012 lawsuit, that incident didn’t get much public attention at the time.
“The neighbors in the El Pomar area (in 2012) raised a locally heard voice about their wells going dry, but it didn’t progress much farther than ‘it is an agricultural right to use water,’ ” Trevisan told Wine-Searcher. “There was no talk about practical, sustainable, equitable use of water. The revelation of these previous projects helps everyone understand why the third project on Sleepy Farm Road created such a stir. A feeling that this mode of operation was just going to continue.”
After a public uproar last month, Justin’s parent company, the Wonderful Company, announced it would not build the irrigation pond and would instead plant 5000 new oak trees.
When asked about this latest revelation from the New Times story, a Wonderful Company spokesman sent the following statement: “We have removed trees in the past and, while that work was legal, after our recent review of the Sleepy Farm Road project and subsequent internal discussions about our operations, we have decided to permanently discontinue this practice moving forward. We are committed to being a better member of the North County community – focusing more on environmental stewardship and increasing our conservation efforts in the region – and we hope the community will give us the chance to make good on that commitment.”