booker wine cave

Winery of the Week: Booker Vineyard

Booker Vineyard is a game-changer for Paso Robles. While the region has long noted it isn’t going for the larger-than-life opulence of Napa, a little WOW factor never hurt anyone.

And…WOW. Just WOW.

Before even sipping the wine or tasting the food at that palace to the vine, we have to talk architecture. Is minimalist extravagance a thing? Upon pulling into the vineyard, the visitor’s center appears atop a hill. According to hat-loving entertainer and entrepreneur extraordinaire Eric Jensen (who also happens to be Booker’s owner and winemaker), the center was three years in the making. It starts with a 5,874-sq.-ft. expanded indoor-outdoor tasting room, but also has 10,070-sq.-ft. underground wine caves, bocce courts and picnic areas overlooking the vineyards.

The main tasting room is best described as airy island vibes meets the Hamptons meets California chic. The inside space features a large bar, ample seating, a vinyl lounge where guests can play their own records or choose from Jansen’s storied collection and a VIP terrace on the other side of the building with its own private fire pit. Each room was decorated by small boutique designers with a heavy assist from Jansen’s wife, Lisa, using organic and raw materials as much as possible and decorated with sustainable pieces. The hilltop space boasts a large patio outfitted with fire pits and a pergola for shade cover.

Hidden beneath the majestic upper area is the wine cave, but they it nothing like you are expecting. Rather than a space just for the barrels, there is a complete wine library down below as well as one of the coolest VIP tasting rooms you will ever see. Adorned with plush couches and access to a personal sound system set to play anything you can imagine, it even offers a view of the 20-plus feet of limestone surrounding the space.

A must-see, if visiting for the first time, book the Cave Experience package ($150 each). It kicks off with an adventure on the property with your own personal wine educator. Plan on a ride around the vines while learning the land’s full history and having a ton of laughs. Pretense? Nope, not here. All fun, games and wine.

Then, once seated in the cave (with furry blankets if chilly!) there is a blind tasting that will expand your senses and focus on the most important aspect of wine – the taste and aroma. Guests will be able to relax, throw on their favorite vinyl or personal playlist from their phones, browse through Jensen’s personal library of wines and enjoy some of Booker’s finest. Expert tip: ask for a menu and order a little of everything from the vineyard’s personal chef. It is worth it. Splurge!

Interested in other tastings? There is also a terrace tasting ($100 each), a private vineyard picnic ($80 each) and even Bottle Service and Bocce ($80 each), which might be my second favorite. It is perfect setting for a larger group looking for an intimate and fun social distanced setting to hang out with their friends, family or loved ones. Bottle Service and Bocce takes place in private outdoor lounge, featuring full vineyard views and bottle service – everything you need for a fun day with the gang.

There is actually one other tasting of sorts. Booker shares the property with My Favorite Neighbor, which was founded in 2006 as homage to the vineyard’s favorite French neighbor and Jensen’s first mentor, French-born Stephan Asseo from L’Aventure Wines. The goal at that winery is to create a Cabernet-based portfolio from some of the best vineyard sites and hardworking farmers in west side Paso at a friendly price-point. My Favorite Neighbor wines are meant to be shared on every wine lover’s dinner table in the country. If visiting Thursday to Sunday, the MFN lounge is open for guests to taste there as well.

Speaking of tasting…what tastes the best?

That is a tough one, but because saying “everything” is a cop-out, a few of my personal favorites:

2018 Fracture

A 100 percent Syrah of the highest order, this collector’s wine is named for the soil in the vineyard as the limestone in it causes the land to literally fracture. Velvety smooth with a balance between sweet and earthy, there are sweet beets, dark plums and even chocolate hiding in this bottle ready to wow its drinker. $98

2019 Vertigo

This blend of primarily Syrah and Mourvèdre with a touch of Grenache and Viognier is aromatic as hell, with yummy notes of blueberry and blackberry. To the taste, there are layers of plum, mixed berry and even a bit of tasted caramel in every sip. It was made for sipping by the fire. $75

2019 Ripper

While technically for the wine club only, if booking an experience, it is likely you can ask for a taste of this magical potion. A 100 percent Grenache made solely from estate grapes, it starts with strawberry, roses and spice on the nose before offering a hypnotizing blend cinnamon, light sugar and velvety crème brulee on the palate. $85

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