This week, we sat down with Joey Tensley, the Central Coast winemaking mastermind who’s managed to charm Robert Parker with wines the venerable critic himself calls “Super-Duper,” and simultaneously crafts outstanding, under $20 wines that turn the California value proposition on its head. Quite simply, nobody does it like Joey.
WA: How did you get into wine?
JT: I’m a first generation winemaker. My first experience with wine was when I was very young, and my soccer team went to Bordeaux to play in a tournament. We actually went to a couple of wineries and I remember feeling the history. I think I was the only kid on the team who showed any interest!
WA: Did that send you directly toward winemaking as a career?
JT: Not exactly, but almost. When I was in high school I had a job at a high-end deli that sold wine, and I was always intrigued. Once I moved to Santa Barbara I worked at another deli and became the manager and ordered the wines. I would read the Wine Spectator like it was studying for a test—it was my bible.
At 22 I got my first tasting room job at Zaca Mesa and a short time later I started cleaning tanks and dragging hoses for Fess Parker Winery. It was easily one of the best decisions of my life.
WA: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
JT: Not really! I’ve gotten to do a lot of different wine jobs— like running a bottling line— and I wouldn’t trade those experiences. I’ve worked for, and learned from, a number of winemakers who helped me tune my palate and style.
WA: On any given weeknight, what are you most likely to be drinking?
JT: Châteauneuf-du-Pae is my go-to, hands down. I’m a huge fan of Southern Rhône. With that said, I love trying wines from around the world. I very seldom drink the same wine in a week, I prefer to taste broadly and educate myself while drinking.
WA: What wines inspire you?
JT: 1990 Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage Syrah and 1989 Zaca Mesa Syrah-Malbec were life changers for me.
WA: What makes the Central Coast a great place for wine?
JT: In a simple sense, freshness. It’s actually sweater weather down here most of the time, because we’re so close to the coast. We have 45-degree temperature swings that just don’t happen elsewhere in California, which gives us wines with really great natural balance.
WA: If you could make wine from any other region in the world, where would you go?
BN: It sounds so cheesy, but Burgundy. The wines there are just so special.