The Farmer: Booker’s Eric Jensen

The former broker and concert promoter embraces his life on the farm in Paso Robles

Excerpted from the March 31, 2011, issue

Eric Jensen needed a change. He had done well as a broker and concert promoter and owned a big house in a gated community in Newport Beach, Calif. But one day, at the park with his son, surrounded by other people’s nannies, he realized, “I hate this life.” So he sold the house and moved to Paso Robles to become a farmer.

Jensen, 43, is a former broker in real-estate trust sales—essentially cold-calling for investment dollars. He was good at it, but disliked controlling other people’s money. When he got into concert and festival promotions, the bright spot of his job was seeing which wines were in the VIP areas.

In 2000, when Jensen and his family moved to Paso Robles, it was the biggest running joke with his friends in Southern California. “I had a gardener and a pool guy,” recalls Jensen. But soon he was immersed in viticulture and winemaking, taking classes, reading books and hanging out with Saxum’s Justin Smith.

Jensen impulsively purchased 85 acres that would never produce quality grapes. But he hit pay dirt the day he and Smith drove into the rocky, well-drained soils of a 102-acre property in Paso’s west side. “We saw the big, steep hillsides, so we knew we could control yields. We liked that it was all different exposures, so we could plant anything,” recalls Jensen.

Jensen sold off a 30-acre block (now owned by Torrin). Of the remaining 72 acres, 45 are planted, mostly to Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Jensen uses 40 of those acres for his own label and also sells grapes to Saxum, Linne Calodo and Clos Solène.

In 2005, Jensen launched the Booker label, featuring bold and ripe wines from his vineyard. Both the vineyard and wines are named after the site’s original owners, Claude and Dick Booker, who once owned more than 1,000 acres in the area and were known as being great neighbors and sponsors of the land.

The energetic Jensen is quick to brag these days about how often he drives his tractor (every day), his opinions on shortcuts (there aren’t any) and the two most important things about vineyard management (canopy management and crop load). “I’m a farmer,” he says with a grin. “I bang my chest when I say it.”