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A Taste of Harvest with Eric Jensen of Booker Wines

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Welcome to Coravin’s Taste of Harvest series! Today we chat with Eric Jensen, Owner & Winemaker at Booker Wines. Booker Wines is a Paso Robles, California-based estate that produces a myriad of different wines with an emphasis on Rhône varietals. From his first 2005 Vintage to present day, Eric has embraced a minimalist approach to winemaking characterized by quality, sustainable farming and interfering as little as possible. We caught up with Eric to learn more about how this philosophy translates to Booker’s harvest process

Image - Eric in Harvest[1]

What do you find to be the most interesting part of harvest?

The camaraderie even through the long, hard days. You wake up super early, your heart is racing. Thinking, “what do I have to do today? What needs to be accomplished and in what order?”

What makes Booker’s harvest process unique compared to other vineyards?

We accept it for what it is. No whining, no pouting, you give 3 months of your life to finish what took 7 months to grow. We embrace it with loud music, good food and plenty of beer. We are also extremely technical, so the lab is a crazy spot. We are constantly tasting and matching up our lab results to make the best winemaking decisions.

Booker Harvest LR-9457 copy[1]

With COVID-19 reshaping the way most businesses operate, how has the harvest process differed this season than in years past?

We’ll wash our hands a lot more and wear masks the entire time. Everyone’s in the same boat. We also test our entire team weekly. Actually, not sharing glassware (when we are tasting tanks or press juice) is probably the hardest part because you are moving so fast!

Do you have any special celebratory harvest traditions?

Around 5-6pm everyday someone yells out “Cerveza Time.” After making wine all day long, sometimes a beer is the perfect way to wind down. We also make sure to stop for a team lunch every day to take time to talk and hang out (we provide lunch for our entire harvest crew each day of harvest).

What’s something wine lovers might not know about how their wine gets from the vine to their glass?

Consumers view the process as glamorous and magical. In truth, its 90% manual labor. The amount of detail that goes into precise amounts of sunlight inside the canopy, how we measure total color and fluorosis is mind blowing. Winemaking was simple in the old days, technology has made more complicated (but way better) wine.

Image - Eric Pouring with Coravin[1]

What role does your Coravin play in the harvest/tasting process?

Coravin has reshaped our pour costs. As we all know we used to sample wines and that $50 - $150 bottle was done once the cork was pulled. With Coravin we can continue to follow the wine or even pour it in private tastings. Now there is no loss!

How do you know when you have a good vintage on your hands?

You start to see it in late August with future weather patterns. Hangtime for phenolic development is key, but if there’s constant heat you’re forced to pick based on temps and not physiological maturity. Then there’s fire/smoke potential, rain etc. It’s so important for it to be mild and clear from mid-late August until the end of October.

Image - Booker Harvest-7729[1]

How do you approach the picking decisions for Booker’s different varietals?

Reds are always picked based on true, scientific color peak. That is then matched up to desired acid. Most just hang to a high number but there’s zero science in that. That's what the amateurs do. We have certain alcohol targets in mind based on our best vintages, but Mother Nature throws that upside down every year – so then you look to the style. Whether it is big, little, elegant, powerful, etc and make the correct decision.

Tell us about the varietal you are especially excited about this harvest season.

The cabernet seems to look the best on the vine right now. Average crop load but great spacing, canopies are perfectly open and balanced and the clusters are extremely loose for maximum phenolic development. Now that harvest is progressing, Syrah seems to be the home run. The color is the best we have ever seen in the tank, but we need to be very gentle because the tannins are flowing out quickly and we don’t only want massive wines.

What complications has your team faced as a direct result of the Northern California wildfires?

The fires have created extreme angst for all California wine growers and winemakers because of the potential for smoke taint. The great news for wine drinkers is that wineries do so much testing and lab work to ensure a clean product that the consumer can be confident in purchasing the wines from this vintage.

How can consumers best support wineries and families affected during these difficult times?

The best way to support those wineries is to buy wine from those affected on the winery side, and then there will be relief programs set up in all areas that help those individuals affected that now have no job to go to.

Stay tuned on Coravin’s social channels for our next harvest partner spotlight!