Several months ago now, a PR person whom I have known for some time asked me if I would be interested in sampling some wines from one of his clients and possibly interviewing the owner/winemaker over Zoom. He had seen a few of the dozen or so such posts that I had done and he thought it would be a good fit.
“Sure,” I responded, “who’s the producer?”
My exposure to Booker Wines in Paso Robles was at best, limited. I had tried a few of the wines somewhere along the way and I remember them being big, bold, and a bit pricey. That was not the reason for the hesitation, though. The reason I paused was the owner and winemaker: Eric Jensen.
Now, I had never met him, but he had a reputation for being a lot like his wines: big, bold, and even enigmatic. Normally, I would not shy away from such an encounter but on Zoom? I like to think I have a decent ability to read a room (perhaps from my days of teaching high school and college), but that is a lot harder to do when the “room” is a couple thousand miles away.
Besides, what would I have to add to a conversation with a guy who counts several NBA players, countless CEOs, and members of the band Metallica as his friends?
Nonetheless, I agreed, and our conversation, which occurred on September 5th, 2021, was well-received despite the fact that Eric apparently got little to no sleep since he was in Napa the night before, closing out the Bottlerock music festival, partying with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters.
Yeah. Just like me.
Well, a lot has happened in the last eight months, the Foo Fighter’s drummer tragically died in Bogota, Columbia, Booker Wines was sold to Constellation Brands (for an undisclosed amount), and I have visited the state of Ohio seven times (there is amazingly no link available for that last point).
I was a bit shocked when I heard the news that Eric had sold the winery, but not why one might think. As with many of the acquisitions that have happened recently, it is usually a win-win with both parties benefitting. Eric worked incredibly hard building Booker and deserves whatever price Constellation was willing to pay.
No, I was shocked a bit by the backlash from wine lovers who had previously enjoyed Booker Wines, many of them vowing to never taste another drop of the coveted wines, feeling that Eric had “sold out” to one of the behemoths in the industry.
That’s pretty stupid, in my opinion, since good wine is good wine and, at least for now, Eric is still very much involved at Booker, as I found out in March when I visited him at the winery.
It was my first visit to Booker and, well, it was impressive. As is the case with many California producers, Booker requires a reservation, which they suggest should be made at least a month in advance as the slots are filled quickly.
Pulling into the parking lot, one immediately hears classic rock seemingly being pumped from the oak trees adorning the property. Shortly after, I had a glass of the 2020 Booker Vineyard White, Paso Robles, CA (Retail $65. 50% Viognier, 33% Roussanne, 10% Chardonnay, 7% Marsanne) in my hand and was walking up the steps to our own private tasting room. I did not really have time to reflect on the White, much less take any notes, but it is crisp, refreshing, and tasty. Excellent. 92 Points.
We were soon joined by Eric, and he took us on a tour of the facility, which is remarkable. It includes, essentially, two wineries and many tasting ro0ms for both Booker Wines and My Favorite Neighbor (Booker’s second label).
2019 Booker Vineyard Ripper, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $85. 100% Grenache. Fairly light in the glass, a brilliant magenta with a floral and fruity nose. Really exceptional. Holy cow is this fantastic. Once again, I could not take a more serious note since I was trying to hang onto Eric’s coattails as he led us on a tour of the facility. Oustanding. 94 Points.
2019 Booker Vineyard Oublié, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $75. 33% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 28% Mourvèdre, 5% Tannat, 4% Petite Sirah. The 2014, the first vintage of this wine, was a bit of an afterthought that scored in the Top Ten wines of the year for the Wine Spectator. The name (which means “forgotten”) comes from Counoise (which was originally in the blend) which is a bit of a forgotten grape. Lovely magenta in the glass. Rich nose of plum, black currant, and blackberry. Whoa. Spice, earth. Yowza. Luscious on the palate with an intense acidity, rich mouthfeel, and really incredible fruit. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2018 Booker Vineyard Oublié, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $75. 38% Grenache, 35% Mourvèdre, 27% Syrah. Darker than the 2019 with a spicier, even meatier nose with darker fruit and more spice. More evolved but with stronger tannins and maybe a shade less tartness. Wonderful as well. Richer. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2018 Booker Vineyard Oublié 22 months, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $85. 38% Grenache, 35% Mourvèdre, 27% Syrah. Aged an extra four months in oak and referred to as “Extended.” More anise and even darker fruit than the 18 month. Whoa. The palate is off the charts. Rich, layered, incredible fruit. Impeccable balance. This is an incredible wine. Amazing how much more I like this one. Extraordinary. 97 Points.
2019 Booker Vineyard Vertigo, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $75. 48% Syrah, 46% Mourvèdre, 4% Grenache, 2% Viognier. Luscious red fruit on the nose. Whoa worthy. More perfumed with rose petals and violet. Whoa. Intense fruit, acidity, and some rugged tannins. Most of Eric’s wines are banging on the release and this one is too. But. Talk to me about this wine in a handful of years. Yowza. Now? Outstanding. 93 Points. In 3-5 years? 96+ Points.
2019 Booker Vineyard Fracture Extended (22 months), Paso Robles, CA: Retail $98. 100% Syrah. Often referred to as Booker’s “Flagship Wine” this Syrah is truly exceptional. Another gorgeous nose of luscious fruit, violet, and vanilla. Whoa. I wish I could say something else, but this wine is fantastic. Harmonious, with fruit, tartness, and soft tannins. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2018 Booker Vineyard Fracture Extended (22months), Paso Robles, CA: Retail $98. More red fruit here with tart cherry and strawberry and even some rhubarb. The palate is initially a bit shy but really opens up on the mid-palate with a wave of fruit, tartness, and some mocha. I thought that the 2019 was incredible, this is close to off the charts. Rivals the Vineyard of Pasterick Angle of Repose as the best Syrah I have tasted. Yowza. Extraordinary. 98 Points.