Tour de Vine goes back to the roots of winemaking
September 10, 2008
While drivers zoom through the El Dorado foothills on Highway 50, many may not be aware that just a short distance away, dozens of wineries are hard at work harvesting grapes.
“It’s hot, and your arms start to hurt after harvesting half a row,” said Mari Wells, winemaker at David Girard Vineyards, while giving a tour of the vineyard.
Harvest usually lasts from September into November, but sometimes people harvest as early as mid-August.
This is an exciting time for the wineries, said Justin Boeger, winemaker at Boeger Winery. He’s looking forward to working with the grapes and beginning the winemaking process.
“I already have a vision for the wine when it’s done,” Boeger said.
El Dorado wine country will celebrate the start of the harvest season by hosting the Tour de Vine festival Saturday and Sunday.
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Visitors can experience the harvest by touring vineyards with winemakers, crushing grapes, eating light food pairings with wine and watching the blessing of the grapes.
Instead of just tasting the finished product from the bottle, visitors’ taste buds can follow the steps in the winemaking process by tasting grapes straight from the vine, to the first crushing and then to the wine glass.
Winemakers can tell a lot about the grapes while they’re still on the vine.
Every morning, Wells drinks her coffee, then tastes the grapes growing in the vineyard.
She also analyzes them in the lab to check the sugar and acidity levels. The tests give her a baseline of where the grapes are at to help her make decisions about the winemaking process, and what final product she wants to have.
“Ultimately, you leave it to your instincts and your palate,” Wells said.
Because of the elevation differences in the area – ranging from 1,200 to 3,500 feet above sea level – El Dorado wine country grows more than 50 different grape varietals.
At the Boeger Winery, Boeger said they can grow more than 30 varietals because of the microclimates on the property.
Behind the Boeger Winery’s tasting room, Boeger said if he stands on the north-facing hill of the property, which grows chardonnay grapes, he needs a jacket. When he walks to the opposite side where the zinfandel grapes grow, he said it’s warm enough to wear shorts and a T-shirt.
Boeger said El Dorado wine country is experiencing a rebirth. During the past decade, the number of El Dorado wineries more than doubled, and David Girard Vineyards is an an example of that.
Wells said Rhone varietals were planted in 2000, such as grenache, syrah and viognier, and now the winery is gaining a reputation.
But El Dorado had a reputation for its grape acreage in the past.
The region used to be the third-largest wine producer in California in the late 1800s with 40 wineries. The 1849 Gold Rush sparked a massive movement of people to California, which led to the creation of the wineries.
A lot of people made money by creating certain amenities, such as alcohol and shops for the gold miners, then panning for gold themselves, Boeger said.
“Just think, whether you strike it rich, or you need to drown your sorrows, you can always use a bottle of wine,” Boeger said.
But with the onset of Prohibition, the industry plummeted to only two or three wineries, which included the Lombardo family winery – now the current location of Boeger Winery. They were only allowed to produce wine for the churches nearby during prohibition.
In 1972, Greg Boeger, Justin Boeger’s father, bought the winery from Elmo Fossati, a relative of Lombardo family.
As young wineries grow along with well-established wineries in El Dorado wine country, it won’t be long until the region surpasses its past reputation and becomes recognized worldwide.
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