"Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away" Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Even though at first he seemed a little intimidating, I liked Eric Jensen from the beginning. I just couldn't figure out how to photograph him. Eric has to be decanted and fortunately I had the luxury of time.
I arrived at Booker and Eric was showered and energetic. He gabled about a lot of things at once and was moving around showing me the winery and barrel room as I was trying to find what his niche was in the wine world.
We sipped My Favorite Neighbor straight from the barrel. "Dear Lord," I thought. I then understood the whole Booker legend behind Eric and his wines.
After climbing on barrels and pulling samples with an improvised "thief," it was time to see the vineyard. He swiftly ran up the hill without losing his breath while I was hyperventilating and struggling to get to the top - and don't get me wrong, I have climbed the Kilimanjaro.
"I heard you play basketball pretty aggressively, is that true?" I asked. He looked at me and drove the ranger to what looked like a big warehouse in the middle of the vineyard. Inside the warehouse was a spotless, state of the art, regulation-size, full-court basketball arena. His son was practicing some shots when we arrived.
"Would you play your son?" I asked. Despite the 112 F degrees and no air conditioning, he jumped in his basketball shoes in a blink of the eye and started to run. I captured some intimate shots and after 30 sweaty minutes his son left and Eric turned around. That's when I met Eric Jensen and his contagious, enormous grin.
After that game, his voice became softer, his eyes sharp and the way he was expressing about his wines and his vineyard was captivating. We talked about canopies, sustainability, Must! Charity, his sons and wife, and his adorable Bulldog. It was music to my ears to listen to this winemaker talking about the vineyard , which he treats with respect and farms byodynamically - following Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher & social reformer who I completely admire - and Eric's journey as a winemaker.
He makes his wines with the same conviction as he played basketball during those 30 minutes. It's not surprising that Booker's "Oublié" was selected one of the 10 best wines around the world by Wine Spectator in 2017.
Here's raising a glass to Eric, whose wines and contribution to Paso's community makes him unique and noteworthy.
Here's Eric Jensen's profile, excerpted from "The Winemakers of Paso Robles" book, written by Paul Hodgins.
2640 Anderson Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Eric Jensen was a Southern California kid who didn’t seem destined to make award-winning wines in the hills west of Paso Robles. A native of San Dimas, not far from Pomona, he wasn’t exposed to wine during his hardscrabble upbringing. “I grew up poor so I never went to nice restaurants. I had no idea what wine tasted like.”
After graduating from a Catholic high school, Jensen went to Cal State Fullerton, where academic life failed to inspire him. “I was a so-so student. I dropped out. It was taking too much time; I was partying too much. My major was the fraternity.” So how did a college dropout and self-confessed party boy end up as the founder and winemaker at Booker, one of Paso’s legendary artisanal cult wineries?“
A bell went off in my head, just like that,” Jensen recalls. “I decided I wanted to make a mark.”
But that call didn’t lead him immediately into winemaking. Right after college Jensen sold real estate investment trusts, cold-calling for an Orange County firm. “I was calling people at their dinner table at night – crappy work.”
Casting around for more satisfying employment, Jensen fell into securing sponsorships for festivals and concerts. Working with jazz festivals, high-end restaurants and hotels, Jensen found financial success. By his early 30s, Jensen and his wife, Lisa, were residents of upscale Newport Beach and enthusiastic wine lovers. “All of our vacations were about wine. We were wine geeks. And Paso was where our hearts were. We loved it there.”
After several intense years in Orange County, the Jensens were ready for a change.“Newport was being built up by all these people with lots of money. We really wanted a simpler life, and we were in love with wine. I said, ‘Let’s go to Paso.’”
Following a false start – he bought the wrong piece of land, and his friends and col-leagues Cris Cherry and Justin Smith gently talked him out of developing it – Jensen dis-covered a 72-acre hillside property that was perfect. It had been part of the legendary Booker farm, a 1,200-acre west-side tract owned for decades by two brothers, Claude and Dick Booker, renowned for their farm-ing smarts and humanitarian tendencies.
They constantly lent their help and expertise to neighbors and those in need. And after they died – Dick in 1990, Claude in 2001 – the brothers’ estate was left to charity.
Jensen bought the property in 2000. “The hills faced all directions,” Jensen said. “I knew I could grow several completely different kinds of grapes there.”
At first, the Jensens intended to grow fruit for Linne Calodo, Saxum and other quality wineries in the area. But after work-ing with Saxum’s Smith and Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure for five years, Jensen decided he was ready to strike out on his own as a winemaker.
But he knew he’d need help at first. “I said, ‘I’m gonna hire a winemaker.’ I called someone from Silver Oak. I wanted to hire a hot shot. All of my friends said, ‘You’ll be fine; you’ll end up being a winemaker.’ I guess they could see something I couldn’t.”
Rising to the challenge, Jensen rolled up his sleeves. Booker’s first release in 2005 set the standard for his perfectionist’s approach. In a short time he has become one of the area’s most capable growers and winemakers, producing Rhône-style blends for the most part. He’s a relentless experimenter with canopy, rootstock and other elements. He avoids ripping or otherwise disturbing his vineyards, encouraging a permanent crop cover to assist with soil health. “We make very few passes in the vineyard and are never concerned with making our vine-yard look perfectly groomed,” he said.
Jensen’s practices led him to go organic, then biodynamic.“The vines are healthier as a result, and the aura of the vineyard is more vibrant. The wines are more balanced. Our alcohols are low for Paso. With the last few vintages, I’m making wines that not only compare well to the best in the world, but they’ll age well too.
“Besides, I feel better farming this way, and if it makes me feel better then the result is better.”
Jensen’s extended family, including his father and brother, lives on his property, and his friends have an affectionate name for him: The Badger. He fights relentlessly for the right result. But Jensen’s slightly tough fighter’s exterior belies a warm and playful character and devoted family man. Jensen built a full gym and basketball court in the middle of his vineyard, and games are held almost every night.
The Jensens follow in the footsteps of their winery’s namesake brothers: A portion of revenue goes to must! charities, a group that provides sustainable assistance to those in need who live in and around Paso Robles.
Video of our portrait shoot with the adventurous Eric Jensen of Booker Wines
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