Up-and-coming wineries, gorgeous coastline, and a welcoming vibe make California’s Central Coast a magnet for both novice and expert wine tasters.
One of the most delicious and inspiring ways to spend a day on California’s Central Coast is to drop by one of the fine wineries that are charting the next frontier of California Wine Country.
We recently caught up with Eric Jensen, owner and winemaker at Booker Vineyard, in Paso Robles (the up-and-coming wine region about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles). Jensen shared some tips for first-time vineyard visitors, his top recommendations for wine and coastal fun, and some exciting news about Booker’s most recent bottlings.
What are your top tips for novice wine tasters headed to California for the first time?
Eric Jensen: Decide what’s most important before you book and this will help set your budget. Is it all about the wine? If so, look for lodging close enough to wineries that is bare bones but clean. If it’s about the area and enjoying the surroundings and you won’t be spending all your money on wine, then you can look for a hotel with amenities like nice pools, restaurants, areas around the property to bike and hike, etc. Don’t forget though, our Paso Robles region has incredible hiking, biking, and gorgeous beaches all within just 30 minutes.
What are your tips for aspiring wine collectors who want to shop for wine in California?
E.J.: Try it all! Find the varieties and styles you’re passionate about. For me, it was big Syrahs and bright red Grenaches, so I chose Paso Robles as this region just does Syrah and Grenache better. It took me trying lots of bottles though, because, like most, I thought there was only Cabernet and Chardonnay. After finding passions, trust your palate and don’t just drink wines that a sommelier or wine critic says is supposed to be great. I’ve found out I don’t like most of those wines. Also, it’s very important to find the salesperson who learns what you like and seems to always be right. This could be the person at the local wine shop, supermarket, or could be a wine critic. That individual becomes your personal sommelier/critic.
Any advice for Budget Travelers who are seeking world-class wine bargains?
E.J.: Paso Robles is a world-class bargain. You can stay in a hotel for a third the price of Napa, taste wine and purchase world-class wines with the highest of critical acclaim for $25-$75 that would be $75-$800 in Napa, and be on the beach with your partner, dog, and a glass of Champagne to watch the sunset! Paso also boasts a great food and cocktail scene at small-town prices, great boutiques, and one of America’s great small towns (San Luis Obispo) just 20 minutes away.
What do you love about the Central Coast, and Paso Robles in particular.
E.J.: I love that there’s no traffic, none of the pretension that sometimes comes with a wine country (think fancy watches and expensive cars), and that I can hike a ridge overlooking the ocean in the morning, eat lunch in the vines on a vineyard, do a bit of wine tasting, and then head to the beach for a relaxing sunset. Paso Robles is that friendly “Mayberry” town where everyone seems to go out of their way to treat you well regardless of the size of your wallet.
Tell us about the varietals that you grow at Booker.
E.J.: Booker started as a Rhône house, with predominately Syrah- and Grenache-based wines. We have added a world-class Cabernet that outscores every cab in its $79 price point with Robert Parker by a long shot. It has a 12-year history of around 97 points.
We would love to hear about your latest offerings.
E.J.: Our main wines are Oublié, which is a Grenache-based wine that also includes Mourvedre and a small amount of Syrah. Similar to the French wine Chateauneuf du Pape. Oublié was just Wine Spectator’s No. 10 wine in the Top 100 in the World. Fracture is our 100 percent Syrah and is one of the most coveted Syrahs in the world, selling out in a matter of hours on our list. My Favorite Neighbor is our version of the California Cult Cabernet, critically comparing to the rarest Bordeaux’s and Napa Cabs, but doing it for $79!
Are there any Booker wines that might be categorized as “budget”?
E.J.: We always make a diverse blend that is usually Grenache-based called RLF for $45 that sells like In-N-Out Burger at a crowded music festival. We have a new Cab-based blend coming out in June called Harvey and Harriet which is $50 and received a 96 point score in barrel, separating it from all the Cabs in its price category.
To learn more, visit bookerwines.com.