In 1998 Joey Tensley launched Tensley Wines with one hundred cases and one single goal – to start a well-priced, Syrah-driven brand that let the unique vineyards of Santa Barbara County speak for themselves.
Today, Tensley is a 5,000 case-a-year business with Syrah’s that have made the Wine Spectator’s Top 100, scored 99 points with Robert Parker, and won Food and Wine Magazine’s award for the “Top Syrah in America over $20.”
Joey’s first experience with wine took place when he was just twelve-years-old and his soccer team toured a winery while taking part in a tournament in France. Joey vividly recalls the chill of the old caves and the aromas of wines fermenting in barrel. From that moment on he knew he wanted to be a winemaker. “Which pretty much made me the only kid in Bakersfield with that particular dream,” Joey says.
Ten years later, in 1993, Joey got his start in the wine business working as a “cellar rat” for Fess Parker Winery in Santa Barbara County. After only three years he became the assistant winemaker at Babcock Vineyards. While there Joey came to appreciate the importance of the vineyard and the grower. He also came to appreciate the uniqueness of Santa Barbara County as a growing region. “We’re one of the only places in the world with a mountain range that runs east-west. That gives us many different, unique microclimates, so a Syrah grown in one place is so different from a Syrah grown in another. It’s an exciting place to make wine.”
In 1998 Joey moved on to become the assistant winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards where he was offered space to make his own label. At Beckmen he developed his love for Rhône varietals and decided Tensley would produce only Rhône varietals and only source from Santa Barbara County.
The wine press began taking notice of Tensley in 2001. That year Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator named two of Tensley’s 2001 Syrah’s to his list of the Top Ten Wines in the World and Robert Parker scored all the ‘01’s in the high 90’s, calling them “serious, hand-crafted efforts.”
In 2002, Joey met his future wife, Jennifer. They were both working in the wine business. Within a year they were partners in business and life. Son, Oliver, was born in 2003. In 2004 The Tensley’s opened their Los Olivos tasting room where they still occasionally work today. In 2002 Joey also began making wines for Carina Cellars, which shares the Tensley Los Olivos tasting room space.
In 2008 Food and Wine Magazine named the 2006 Colson Canyon Syrah “Top Syrah in America Over $20.” Two years later, Robert Parker gave the 2008 Anniversary Series Colson Canyon Syrah 99 points, and The Wine Spectator named the 2008 Colson Canyon Syrah #17 of its Top 100 Wines in the World. The 2007 Colson Canyon Syrah was ranked #22 the year before.
More recently Tensley has received high praise and high scores from wine critics such as Josh Raynolds, James Laube, and Jeb Dunnuck. Dunnuck gave Tensley’s 2008 Syrah Noir 99 points and named Joey, “one of the rising superstars in California.”
In 2017 Joey also launched “Fundamental Wines” by Joey Tensley. The name was chosen because he felt it perfectly reflected the brand’s philosophy – make fundamentally sound, straightforward wines that over-deliver for the price on every level. Priced at about $18 per bottle, the brand has been a hit with the critics. The 2015 Joey Tensley “Fundamental” red blend received 92 points from The Wine Enthusiast and was an Editor’s Choice while the 2016 scored 90 points with both Jeb Dunnuck and The Wine Spectator. Dunnuck gave The 2016 “Fundamental White” 92 points.
While Tensley and its reputation have continued to grow, Joey has stayed true to the philosophy he had from day one – make quality wine that is well priced and always, “get out of the way and let the vineyard speak for itself.”