Fiji Water, one of the largest brands of imported bottled water sold in the U.S., is expanding into wine. The company has closed a deal to purchase Justin Vineyards and Winery, a family-owned winery that focuses on Bordeaux varieties and Syrah in west Paso Robles.
The sale includes the Justin winery and brand and more than 80 acres of estate vineyards. It also includes the winery’s lodging, the Just Inn Bed & Breakfast, and Deborah’s Room, a small restaurant with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its wine list. The sale price was not disclosed.
Former investment banker Justin Baldwin and his wife, Deborah, founded Justin in 1981. The couple purchased land in Paso Robles and planted a 65-acre vineyard. They made their first wine in 1987 and production has increased to 50,000 cases a year. Its flagship wine, Isosceles, earned the No. 6 spot among Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2000.
The Baldwins will continue to run the day-to-day operations and help market the brand. They decided to sell Justin after Fiji Water approached them with an offer. The couple was looking to step back from the winery financially but still wanted to be involved. “[We have] no desire to go anyplace else. We’re happy with what we have built here.” said Justin Baldwin. “One of the appeals [of the sale] is that we can work here.”
This is the first wine venture for Fiji Water but the company has been interested in entering the industry for some time. “[We] looked at a lot of wineries over the past six to seven years,” said John Cochran, Fiji Water president and COO. A company spokesman said the firm believed Justin was the best match for its business. More acquisitions could be on the horizon. According to Cochran, the company is looking to leverage its business across a broader range of products.
Canadian businessman David Gilmour formed Fiji Waters in 1994 and established a water plant on Viti Levu, one of Fiji’s largest islands. The company started importing water into the U.S., marketing it to high-end restaurants and hotels. In 2004 it was sold to U.S.-owned Roll International, a privately held corporation with diverse holdings including agriculture, floral services and packaged goods.
Baldwin said the focus would be on increasing the quality and production of the winery’s high-end wines such as the Isosceles and Justification labels. Fred Holloway, the director of production and winemaking, is staying on, as well as the existing staff. “First and foremost we are absolutely committed to letting the [original] team maintain and improve the product that the consumers enjoy,” said Cochran.