Boeger Winery: A Taste of High Elevation Italian Varieties With a Slice of History in El Dorado County

By Published On: July 14, 2022

As Greg and Susan Boeger were venturing out into El Dorado County, situated in the Sierra Foothills of California, they stumbled upon an amazing property as they passed majestic pine trees and winding roads.  They came across a pear orchard that had all the intangibles for a winery.  There was already an irrigation system in place and buildings on the property that go back a century, including the remnants of a Zinfandel vineyard in the driveway.  Situated along Carson Road, the region already had 400,000 visitors a year passing by on their way to Apple Hill ranches.  This would become the core framework of Boeger Winery.

Photo: Boeger Winery

Greg was no stranger to grape growing or winemaking as he spent many a summer day with his grandfather, Anton Nichelini, of the Nichelini Winery, which has its roots in Napa going back to 1890.   As he would start the winery, Greg focused a lot of time on experimenting with lesser known more esoteric grape varieties to determine what would be optimal in that location. As the first commercial winery in El Dorado post prohibition, there was a lot to unpack from an overall approach perspective.

The vineyard consists of steep and highly-varied terrain, perhaps one of the most rugged vineyards in the El Dorado AVA.  Along with that, there are microclimates on the property itself.  For example, Chardonnay is planted only 200 yards from Zinfandel, but the Chardonnay site is cooler as cold air will pool along the hillside at night. Within the 75 estate acres, they have several soil types on the property. The hillsides tend to be rockier, which helps to stress the vines to create higher quality fruit.

As time marched on and more wineries were established in the region,the Boeger’s two children, Justin and Lexi, would become more directly involved in the operation.  Growing up on the property, it was not just a business, but an outdoor childhood paradise and a way of life.     

Justin graduated with a Fermentation Science degree from UC Davis with the intent of eventually overseeing the family winery.  He found his passion in winemaking and managing the vineyards. Lexi followed her own creative path through art and writing–she has been responsible for some of the award winning labels and continues to participate in community and industry groups. 

The family realized their vineyard was ideally suited for Italian varieties and it remains one of their key focus areas. “I’m not a fan of producing what I usually refer to as the California-ization of wines– making everything as big and bold as possible because the California climate gives us that ability,” said Justin. “Instead I prefer to pick on what-I-feel is the ideal balance for a particular varietal that stays true to the varietal’s origins and terroir.”

Their Barbera maintains a healthy acidity without being too tart.  This is achieved by selecting warmer sites and mixing different Barbera clones (a mix of old world high acid and newer low acid clones).  They make a range of Barberas with some focused on structure and balance while others have a softness and upfront drinkability.

The Boegers also do an Italian-based red blend called Migliore. For Justin, it is the icing on the cake and checks all the boxes about why he loves to make wine. The key is quality and balance while flavor and profile are variable year-to-year.  “I don’t try to keep a consistent stylistic blend each year. If the particular vintage calls for a heavy dose of Aglianico, and a resultantly more tannic and ageworthy blend, then that’s what I’ll make.  If the year produced better Refosco, then I’ll go for a fruitier Refosco-based blend and then achieve the final balance with blending from the other varietals,” said Justin. 

Photo: Boeger Winery

Although the El Dorado AVA is normally referred to as a warm region,  the Boegers make Pinot Noir as well, which is quite a rarity in the Sierra Foothills at large.  At about 2,900 feet sits the Pinot Grande Vineyard (named after the lumber mill at the turn of the 20th century).  Its small bowl shaped valley is significantly colder than the surrounding vineyard locations. With a combination of cold nights and mornings contrasted with full sun exposure, this location is ideal for cool climate varieties.  

The Boegers took it a step further and developed a White Pinot Noir as well. “We harvest the White Pinot Noir very early, and capitalize on the low Brix to produce a delightfully crisp, low alcohol white wine that is simply put, a refreshing treat,” said Justin.

The Gold Rush plays an integral role in not only the Boeger Winery’s story, but the El Dorado region as a whole. Winemaking goes back 150 years providing a living history of California’s earlier days.  For visitors, that means seeing wine being produced in a modern facility with the original infrastructure in place giving them a sense of time and place of how agriculture has evolved. 

The Boeger family sees themselves as part of the fabric that is interwoven into the greater wine and farming community of El Dorado.  The region continues to attract vintners interested in trying their hand at making unique and esoteric wines while providing consumers a spirited adventure that includes the great outdoors of hiking, skiing and fishing to name a few. 

The Boegers are hoping to expand partnerships within the community and the tourism bureau to further develop more holistic customer experiences.  Lodging and hotels have historically been a challenge as there just is a scarcity of places to stay. 

From a business perspective, the Boegers have also been able to keep their wines affordable, which in an environment of inflation, soaring costs of raw materials and labor is a challenge in itself.  “I noticed early on in life, how important wine was, in that, it served as a way of bringing people together–I think of it like salt. A meal without salt is bland; a dinner-gathering of friends and family is enhanced with wine,” said Justin. “I want everyone to share what I have experienced in regards to the importance of the enhancement of life.”

Wine Recommendations

2018 Migliore Red Blend- gorgeous black pepper and mocha aromatics with black cherry and spice on the mid palate followed by firm, grippy tannins.

An Italian variety-based red blend of 38% Charbono, 36% Refosco, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Barbera, 2% Primitivo and 2% Carignan.

2018 Aglianico- dried plum, licorice and raspberry flavors with bold tannins, depth and a long finish.  Aged for 29 months in neutral French and American barrels, drink now or hold back for ten years.

2019 Barbera- flavors of dark fruit and blackberry with a nice smooth, velvety tannin structure. A small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon was blended in to enhance the overall tannin structure to make it more ageworthy and increase the wine’s longevity.

2020 Pinot Noir- flavors of cranberry, strawberry with a little bit of cherry.  Smooth on the finish with a touch of oak.

2020 “Pinot Grande” White Pinot Noir- honey and pear with a touch of melon.  Clean and crisp showcasing nice minerality. A small percentage is aged in lees in barrels to give the wine more body and counterbalance the natural acidity. 

2021 Flora-  Orange, honey and apricot with a refreshing finish. A composition of 77% Flora and 23% Muscat Canelli.

Flora is a hybrid grape developed by  Professor Harold Olmo of UC Davis.  Typically it is blended with Sauvignon Blanc, but the winery blended it with Muscat Canelli to give it a fuller body and increase the overall aromatic complexity of the wine.  A perfect summer and chase pairing on the patio. 

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : joe@winebulletin.net .