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Lifetime Achievement Award for Boeger

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By Dan Clarke

Greg Boeger is the recipient of the California State Fair’s 2018 Wine Lifetime Achievement Award.

It is an honor he shares with co-winners, the Bogle Winery family of Clarksburg, though Greg is quick to point out that his El Dorado County winery is also a family affair.

Though he grew up in suburban Sacramento in the 1950s, Boeger wasn’t without agricultural influences, having worked summers on a relative’s apricot ranch in San Jose and at a Napa winery started by his grandfather, Anton Nichelini in 1890.

After working for the California Crop and Livestock Service for a while after graduation from UC Davis, Boeger decided he wanted to strike out on his own. Napa and Sonoma were proven territory for vineyards and wineries, but land there was expensive. The foothills east of Sacramento offered possibilities, but in recent years agriculture there had meant orchards, not vineyards. He and wife, Sue, opted to purchase 70-acres just east of Placerville in an area now known as Apple Hill. The seller was retiring from a life as a pear farmer, but many years earlier the property had supported a vineyard. The site included a winery building and a distillery, both abandoned since the 1920s.

The young couple worked hard tending the orchard and selling the fruit, but growing grapes was always the plan. In 1973 the Boegers planted their first vines. Four acres was devoted to Zinfandel, 3 ½-acres to Cabernet Sauvignon and an additional 2 ½-acres to Merlot, an innovative choice for the times. A couple of years later they put in an additional five acres of vineyard. This second planting was mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Over the years, additional grape varieties have been added and more acres planted. He currently farms about 30 different grape varieties. Driving onto the Boeger property on Carson Road one can see many small blocks of vineyard shaped to the terrain. “It’s like going back into time in Northern Italy,” Greg comments.

The location is hilly, with elevations from 2100 to 2300 feet. Farming in such steep and varied terrain is both a joy and a challenge, according to Greg Boeger. He admits that farming in the hilly setting can be difficult, but takes a glass-half-full attitude, saying, “It’s great for frost protection, because of the air drainage.”

Greg Boeger credits his wife, Sue, with doing much to make their business successful. A Philosophy Major at UC Davis, she also did graduate studies in business at Sacramento State. “I don’t think I could have made it economically otherwise,” Greg says. “She’s kept everything in good shape.”

The whole family has a Cal Aggie background. Son Justin, a Viticulture and Fermentation Science grad, is now the Boeger winemaker and daughter Lexi, a UCD Fine Arts alumna, handles design and marketing aspects of the winery business. Boeger Winery seems well-positioned to continue the family legacy into the future. “We’re going through that (planning) right now,” Greg comments. “We’re expanding. We had been at 24-25, 000 cases and now we’re going up to 35,000. It’s one step at a time, as long as we can keep up the quality.” Boeger credits assistant winemaker Byron Elmendorf (and another UC Davis alum) as being an important addition helping to sustain that quality through the growth process.

Though the county saw one short-lived winery that began in 1969, Greg Boeger is properly credited as the modern era pioneer of El Dorado County’s wine industry. “Even though I might have been there first, Lava Cap, Madroña, Sierra Vista--we all worked together to establish this region for what it is today,” says Boeger.

“I inherited a very historic site,” he explains. “Around 1900 there were 2300 acres of vineyard and 60 wineries. Today El Dorado County has 2500 acres of vineyards and 60 to 70 wineries. Things go full circle as long as you can protect the land and keep it viable.”

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