Historic winery makes comeback
Giovanni Napolean Lombardo left his native Italy in 1856, sailing around the Horn and arriving in San Francisco to seek his fortune.
He spent several years mining before he settled down in El Dorado County to try his hand at agriculture, acquiring the controlling interest in a ranch and house near Dutch Mary Ravine in Placerville in 1864. By 1870 Lombardo had established a vineyard, and constructed a two-story combination home and winery in 1872.
Today, that winery serves as the tasting room at Boeger Winery, which is owned by Greg Boeger. In his book “Gold and Wine,” author Eric Costa said of Boeger: “Probably no other person has had such an important influence on the present status of the wine industry in El Dorado County.”
Indeed, Boeger – who earned an M.S. in International Agricultural
Development with a minor in viticulture from UC Davis in the early 1960s – is considered by many to be the father of the Sierra foothill wine renaissance. Boeger Winery is the first large post-prohibition
winery in the county, and set the stage for the other 17 county wineries to come.
In response to the county’s diminishing pear crop in the mid-1960s, County Farm Advisor Dick Bethell and County Agricultural Commissioner Ed Delfino started two experimental vineyards, containing 24 varieties of grapes.
“I was working for the Deptartment of Agriculture in Sacramento,” said Boeger. “But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I read about the test vineyards in El Dorado County, and that really appealed to me.”
Boeger was no stranger to the wine industry – his family has been in the business since 1890. He grew up working in the winery established by his grandfather, Anton Nichelini, in Napa Valley.
“But I was attracted to the Sierra foothills because I wanted to do something on my own,” he said. “Prices (for land) were four times higher in Napa Valley. And the mountains always had an appeal to me. Plus, I was young and foolish.”
So with the help of the Department of Agriculture, which helped him find the land, Boeger purchased the old Lombardo winery in 1972. He also purchased the nearby Gold Hill Winery, were he produced wine while a winery on his other property was being built.
By 1979 he was beginning to be noticed by the national wine press, and he really hit the big time when he won a gold medal at the 1980 Orange County Fair for a ’77 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a bronze medal for his ’78 Zinfandel.
Boeger Winery produced 10,000 cases in 1980, and does 20,000 cases today, making it one of the two largest wineries in the county (Michael Chazen’s Perry Creek is the other).
He grows grapes in four different locations, with a total of about 90 acres under production.
“I guess you could say that this is my passion,” Boeger said. “We grow 25 varieties, and it’s a real challenge to try and master all the different micro-climates; trying to find just the right equation, on just the right slope, with just the right exposure, for each variety.
“It’s an interest I’ve held since childhood,” he said. “I spent my summers at my grandfather’s winery in Napa. When I was 10 years old I can remember having a little Italian shot glass and drinking the raw Zinfandel juice as it came down out of an old Roman press. That was my introduction to winemaking.”
Boeger exports wine across the U.S. (16 states) and internationally
(including Germany, Switzerland, England and Japan).
His wife, Susan, owns philosophy and business degrees from Davis, and also helps run the winery. A son, Justin, has an oenology (winemaking) degree from Davis, and a daughter, Alexi, works in the tasting room and is a graduate art student at Davis.
“El Dorado County has unlimited potential for growth,” Boeger said. “The
General Plan dictates that you can’t subdivide the land, so land will always be available. There’s a lot of acreage untapped.”
Frank and Patricia Latcham
Frank Latcham and Patricia Peabody were married in 1945, having met three years earlier while both attended law school at the University of Washington. At 21, Frank Latcham was the youngest person to have ever passed the bar in the state. He later went on to earn a doctorate at Yale, and taught law there for eight years.
“But eventually he decided that academia wasn’t for him,” said their daughter, Margaret. “So they came back to San Francisco, and dad joined a law firm. I guess that’s when the story really begins.”
Latcham joined the law firm of Morrison and Forrester in San Francisco in 1954. The firm was founded by Alexander Morrison, a protege of Comstock financier Charles Crocker for whom San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium is named.
“When I was hired, I was the firm’s 21st lawyer,” said Latcham. “I was reading yesterday that the firm recently hired their 700th lawyer.
“The world has changed a great deal from what it was back in the 50s,” he said. It was a much different society then; more conservative, more restrained.”
One of those changes was in the nation’s interest in wine, which has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 20 years.
“We lived in Marin County, so we had made frequent trips to Napa and Sonoma,” he said. “In the late 70s we started looking around to possibly buy a place. But raw land was very expensive.
“Patty’s sister lived in Placerville, so we were familiar with that area. We visited Greg and Sue Boeger at their winery, and before we knew it we had put in a bid on a place.”
That place is now Latcham Vineyards in Mt. Akum, a short distance from Fair Play and Somerset in the southern reaches of El Dorado County. Latcham produces between 18,000 and 19,000 cases per year, 80 percent of it sold retail, making it one of the largest wineries in the county.
Their daughter, Margaret – who has a Masters degree in clinical psychology from U.C. Davis – now helps run the winery. She is the vice president in charge of retail sales. A son, Jon, is the vice president in charge of wholesale sales and public relations. Then there is Andrew, who teaches Modern European History at Oxford University in England, and Frank, a social worker in Berkeley.
“Andrew had applied at Berkeley, and they turned him down; then he was accepted at Oxford,” chucked Frank Sr. “It’s funny how things work out.”
The Latchams moved to El Dorado County in 1980, and started their vineyard a year later.
“I realize that you can’t pick your parents, so I’m aware that I really lucked out,” said Margaret. “They’ve led very interesting lives. My mom was enrolled in law school in the 1940s, when it was almost unheard of for a woman to be a lawyer. She quit school to have four kids, but became a writer.
“They’ve lived very interesting lives, and they’re real sweethearts. Us kids are quite lucky.”
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The reopening of U.S. Highway 50 starts 8 a.m. today for residents and property owners in preparation for its full opening 8 a.m. Tuesday.