Boeger Winery of El Dorado County Celebrates 50th Anniversary
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — In 1972, at age 29 and 27 respectively, Greg and Susan Boeger planted stakes and started a dream in El Dorado County.
In July 2022, the Boegers will celebrate their 50th anniversary at the original location of their vineyard on Carson Road in Placerville. Their adventure story is filled with colorful characters, misadventures, the kindness of strangers, and unimaginable rewards.
Both graduated from UC Davis – Sue with a degree in philosophy in 1967 and Greg with a master’s degree in agricultural economics and viticulture in 1968. The timing was right for Greg, as the university was then laying the groundwork for a revival and expansion of the region’s wine industry. Under the tutelage of renowned professors Maynard Amerine and Vernon Singleton, as well as Jim Cook and Harold Olmo, Greg has witnessed some of the most significant developments in the California wine industry. His classmates included legendary names like Maryann Graff, Zelma Long, and Silver Oak founder and winemaker Justin Meyer (hence the name of the Boegers’ son, Justin).
Both Sue and Greg grew up in the agricultural mecca of the Sacramento Valley. Greg came to college with a wealth of farming experience and a familiarity with wine grapes. Sue had business acumen and a passion for art and philosophy. Greg spent much of his youth in Napa Valley working at the Nichelini Family Winery, established in 1890 by his grandfather Anton Nichelini. At the winery, Greg learned about winemaking, tending the vineyard and running a business. He also worked summers on his cousin George Boeger’s apricot ranch in San Jose. There he drove tractors, forklifts and trucks, maintained and repaired equipment and learned the basics of farming. Sue, daughter of a respected Sacramento surgeon, was the younger sister of Greg’s best friend, who lived across from the Boeger family. Sue and Greg married in 1967.
Boeger means “Archer” in German and, as the name suggests, Sue and Greg went straight into the wine business. In 1972 they quit their comfortable government jobs – Greg as an agricultural statistician and Sue as a social worker – and sought out land for vineyards. After reading an article in the Sacramento Bee in which County Agricultural Commissioner Ed Delfino and Agricultural Advisor Dick Bethell touted the potential for viticulture in El Dorado County, the two contacted Delfino for help with find a property. He led them to pear farmer Elmo Fossati, who was ready to sell his orchard, which had a gold rush-era winery and a distillery operated by the Fossati family from the 1860s to the 1920s. Greg and Sue purchased the property in 1972, decades after the county’s last winery closed due to Prohibition.
Greg’s first vineyard plantings were Merlot, Cabernet and other traditional varietals, although he became a pioneer in his own right by experimenting with obscure varietals. “With the different exposures and slopes with elevations of 2150′ to 3000′ in our vineyards, I thought I could grow anything,” says Greg. He planted Barbera, Carignane, Refosco, Charbono, Flora, Aglianico, Tempranillo and Graciano: most of which are still on the estate today. Longtime friend Darrell Corti, world traveler and owner of Corti Brothers Market in Sacramento, encouraged Greg to plant unique Italian varieties such as Negroamaro. Negroamaro is now one of the most popular versions of the winery.
Sue was particularly drawn to the property’s proximity to the farms of the new Apple Hill Growers Association. The Association brought thousands of tourists right outside Boeger Winery. After running the ranch for a time, Sue returned to college at Sacramento State University and studied business and finance. At the winery, she instituted professional accounting practices, computerized the business, established the tasting room, set up a local and national sales network, and managed the staff.
As more El Dorado vineyards opened, the Boegers played a leading role in the agricultural development of the region. Efforts included establishing the El Dorado Winery Association and the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association and petitioning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to recognize El Dorado County as an American wine-growing area (this which took place in 1983).
In the 1980s, Boeger Winery took the accolades in the wine world, helping to put the wines of El Dorado County and the Sierra foothills on the map. In 1983, Boeger received the American Champion Merlot Award from the largest wine magazine in the United States at the time. Boeger wines have been poured into the Four Seasons in New York for an A-list of entertainment luminaries. Boeger’s Merlot has been served twice at state dinners at the White House – once for the Prime Minister of Japan and once for the President of Algeria. Boeger’s 1980 Zinfandel was selected for all events surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s 1984 California tour.
Sue and Greg’s children, Justin and Lexi, were born and raised on the ranch, and both play important roles in the winery today. Justin received his degree in Fermentation Science from UC Davis and interned at two wineries in Germany’s Franconia wine region: Staatlicher Hofkellerei Würzburg and Julius-Spital. He became Boeger’s full-time winemaker in 1998. Justin produces a portfolio of Spanish and Italian varietals that receive consistently high marks from national critics. our individual soil; a wine unlike any other wine in the world. Greg credits Justin for keeping the brand relevant.
Lexi, a UC Davis graduate multimedia artist, is the winery’s artistic director. It recently updated all packaging to better recognize the strong “Archer” arrow image. Lexi is also active with the El Dorado Winery Association and the Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.
In 2018, Greg was honored by the California State Fair with the Wine Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given annually to two pioneers in the California wine industry. The winner that year was the Bogle family. Past recipients include Paul Draper, Warren Winiarski and Robert Mondavi.
In the 2020s, Sue limits her involvement at the winery to large-scale business decisions. She considers the impending anniversary “something quite incredible”. Greg is still in the field full time and responsible for all farming. He loves being in the vineyards with his crew and tractors, especially in the spring when he can run his old D2 Caterpillar. He remarks: “There is something primordial and fundamental in this springtime ritual that dates back to the beginning of agriculture and the cultivation of crops. It has a satisfying and calming effect on the soul.
Greg and Sue continue to work with and support the local Chamber of Commerce and Agricultural Commission, as well as Family Winemakers of California, the Wine Institute and the Apple Hill Growers Association. In 2021, the winery welcomed 30,000 guests. Boeger Winery currently offers 26,000 cases of 15 wines from 33 grape varieties.
An open day of the cellar is planned for July.