Family Ties

At Boeger Winery, a close-knit family makes award-winning wines.

At Boeger Winery, family and business go hand in hand.

Years ago, owners Greg Boeger ’66, M.S. ’69, and Sue Boeger ’67 brought on their son, Justin Boeger ’99, as winemaker, and daughter, Lexi Boeger ’98, as art director.

In the heart of El Dorado County’s Apple Hill region, the Boeger Winery is part of an early successful example of agricultural tourism, where visitors can spend the day on apple orchards, Christmas tree farms and vineyards. 

The family helped pioneer the way and recently celebrated the winery’s 50th anniversary.

“There were only 6 acres of vineyard in the county when we came here in 1972,” said Greg Boeger.

Now, about 70 wineries call El Dorado County home, he added.

“That’s what the anniversary did for me — it was, ‘oh, my goodness,’ looking at what the county is now and what it was then,” said Sue Boeger.

Four people stand in a wine cellar while looking at the camera. Wine barrels are racked in rows on both sides of them.

From left: Greg, Sue, Justin and Lexi Boeger.

Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

A family of Aggies

Greg and Sue grew up “across the field” from each other in Sacramento, near Carmichael. The two went to the same high school, where Greg was friends with Sue’s older brother. But, they said, they ended up at UC Davis independently.

Growing up, Greg had worked summers on his cousin’s apricot farm in San Jose. He had also spent time on his grandfather’s winery in Napa. Those experiences fostered an interest in agriculture, which led him to UC Davis, where he studied ag economics and viticulture.

“I thought ag economics might be a more profitable field to go into, not knowing how great the wine industry was going to be,” Greg said.

Sue transferred to UC Davis and majored in philosophy.

Neither pressured their children to consider their alma mater when it came time to choose a college.

Though he entered UC Davis as a viticulture and enology major, Justin said he enjoyed pursuing other interests in college. “I took everything else under the sun,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I did want to work with family.”

At the same time, Lexi had come to UC Davis as an art studio major. The siblings moved in different circles in school but found fun ways to stay in touch.

“[Justin] was a Unitrans bus driver, and we would make cardboard signs with messages to my brother and hang them out in front of our house, by the bus stop,” Lexi said.

An old black and white photo of a man and woman behind a counter in a room with stone walls and exposed timber beams. A large wine barrel is off to the side.

In the early days of the winery, Greg and Sue Boeger in the historic cellar, constructed in 1872 and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo: Courtesy

Starting a winery

University of California connections helped in the couple’s quest to find land for their winery. Parcels were already expensive in the Napa region, so they broadened their search to El Dorado County.

The county’s ag commissioner and UC’s farm advisor played a big role in coordinating the sale, they said.

“They really made it happen, because they could see that Greg had the training,” Sue said. “We just took the plunge. We felt we had nothing to lose.”

The wine industry in El Dorado County actually dates back to the gold rush and was already firmly established in the area by 1855. By the early 1900s, a decline in the county’s population, followed by Prohibition led to the abandonment of many of the early vineyards.

The Fossati-Lombardo homestead purchased by the Boegers in 1972 was primarily a pear orchard by that time. The couple harvested pears for a few years while working toward their dream to become the first post-Prohibition winery in El Dorado County.

Sue went back to school to study business, learning production, statistics, accounting and management. She focused on learning the business and resolved the pears had to go.

“It was not profitable and a big distraction,” she said.

Today, Boeger Winery produces more than 30 varietals, with the Barbera being particularly popular and garnering hundreds of awards over 30 years.

Greg received a congressional commendation for wine from John Garamendi’s office in 2018. That year, he was also recognized by the California State Fair with a lifetime achievement award.

Black and white photo of a young boy behind a crate of grapes. He's holding up a bunch of grapes in one hand while eating some grapes with the other.

Justin Boeger celebrated his 50th birthday the same year as the winery reached that milestone. (Courtesy photo)

Working with family

Justin and Lexi grew up on the vineyard and continue to live and work there now. They learned about all aspects of the business early on. But, they said, working in the family business wasn’t always a given.

“My joke, that was also serious, my mom told me I don’t have to go into the family business, that it wasn’t an expectation, and they would just sell the place if I didn’t,” Justin said. “And she was trying to say I didn’t have to do it, but what I heard was, ‘If you don’t do it, we’re going to get rid of your home.’”

Each family member took on a position that fit with their interest. Greg has continued to manage the farming, while Justin is the winemaker. Sue, who is now retired, oversaw the accounts. Lexi handles marketing and art — many of the wine labels are her designs. She has also found a passion for local land use and politics. She’s served on the local planning commission and is currently running for the Board of Supervisors in El Dorado County.

“Being in a family business is just like being in a family — 24/7,” Lexi said.

Sue added, “Basically, it’s a family. All family dynamics are there, so you have to learn [from it] especially if staff grows, you find your niche and your role.”

Lexi and Justin both have children, but they aren’t yet sure if they will follow in their parents’ footsteps at the winery.

“I’m just going to expose them to it and if they show an interest [go from there],” Justin said. “My eldest helped me seal up some cases the other day, so we’ll see. In the meantime, this is all I know: This will be my 25th year. I’m planning on doing it as long as I can, but I’m not like my dad, so maybe not when I’m 80.”