The former Merrill Lynch investment banker started to slip out of pinstripes and into overalls about 25 years ago. Along with his wife Deborah, then a mortgage banker, he bought 160 acres near Paso Robles, California.
At the time, the central California area was known more for its wildlife – deer, boar, wild turkeys – then for viniculture. "There were about seven or eight wineries in the area when we started," Baldwin said.
Now there are more than 200 wineries in this sprawling region located between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Back then the land, which shares many of the characteristics of the better known Napa and Sonoma areas north of San Francisco, was also more affordable.
A year later the couple planted vines on about half that acreage and Baldwin flew off to a posting in London. When he returned, they started work in earnest on what would become Justin Vineyards and Winery producing their first wine in 1987.
"It's harder work. Less money. But way more satisfaction," said the 61-year-old winemaker. "Life in short. Make every moment count."
Justin Vineyards aimed to take on the wines of Bordeaux with a California twist. Their over-sized red, Isosceles, which won acclaim from Wine Spectator magazine, has almost achieved cult status.
In a normal year, Justin Vineyards produces about 40,000 cases of wine. Of that about 10 percent are whites – a fairly complex Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc. The rest are reds either varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, or the blends such as Isosceles and Justification – a St. Emilion style pairing of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.