Sacramento Bee
Story appeared in TASTE section, Page D1

We are bumping along in an orange Jeep through the steep hillside vineyards of Boeger Winery near Placerville. Below us, patches of grapevines run off in all directions. The land looks like an erratically made quilt.

I'm in the back with Carter Hom, a good guy and the dictionary definition of a trouper. Both of us are hanging over the sides as the Jeep rumbles up a hill and leans dramatically to one side.

More comfortably in the front seats are Carter's wife, Julie, and Justin Boeger, the winemaker here and, more importantly at the moment, our driver.

He's waving one arm at the hillsides, driving with the other, explaining that Boeger can grow 31 kinds of wine grapes because of the range of exposures and directions of the vineyards, and because of the range of micro-climates.

Carter and I would oooh and aaah at the view, but we're busy wrapping our arms around the Jeep's roll bar. Still, as we jostle along and swing like bells, Carter keeps saying, "This is so cool."

And he is so right. One of the joys of visiting Boeger, and most of the wineries in El Dorado County, is that those hills and angles and varying exposures make for some spectacular views. And all of it is enhanced by the vineyards running along those hills, soft, rolling lines that accentuate the landscape and turn the undulating countryside into vivid green line drawings.

When we reach a flat spot, we ask Justin, who's lived around this gorgeous spot for years, if he stills sees the beauty. Justin Boeger is a smart, sometimes glib guy, given to understatement and bits of irony. He pauses for a moment before answering.

"I do," he says. "Sometimes I feel so lucky to be here and so responsible for it staying this way."

Then the glibness comes back. "And sometimes," he says, "I just see the work."

Fair enough. These steep, angled hillside vineyards need to be cared for and pruned and right now, picked by hand. In these new weeks of autumn, Boeger, like all of Northern California, is in the throes of harvest time.

If that means work for people like Justin Boeger, it means a good time for the rest of us to go wine tasting. There's lots of activity at the wineries and lots of organized doings throughout Northern California wine country.

The Homs were at Boeger on El Dorado County's harvest festival earlier this month. Carter and Julie won the contest that included a tour of Boeger. Carter, who's an assistant produce manager at Safeway besides being an enthusiastic wine guy, showed he was a worthy recipient.

He worked a midnight to 8:30 a.m. shift, then went on the 10 a.m. tour, then wandered and tasted through the region all Saturday. He put in another night shift, then came back with Julie and wandered again on Sunday. That, my friends, is a heroic wine-tasting effort.

The thing is, though, to go wine tasting at Boeger or anywhere in the El Dorado County wine country usually doesn't take much effort at all. It's close (about 45 minutes from Sacramento), cheap (free), and the scenery is spectacular (really spectacular).

Actually, it doesn't take much effort to go wine tasting pretty much anywhere, and wine country scenery is always good, but today we're talking El Dorado County, partly because I was just there, and partly because their harvest is in a hurry.

The county's wine country has three separate parts: the area around Apple Hill (which includes Boeger), the region around Pleasant Valley Road, and the wineries clustered between Fair Play and Mount Aukum.

Usually, the crush takes six weeks or so and runs through mid- to late October, but things are moving faster this year, particularly in the Apple Hill area. They had a slightly reduced crop, a robust growing season, then a late summer heat spike that ripened the fruit and now is forcing growers to hustle. Greg Boeger, Justin's dad and the Boeger Winery vineyard manager, expects to be finished picking by the end of the month.

If you seriously need to get to the crush, the surrounding counties, plus Napa and Sonoma, are on a much more normal schedule, and their harvests have plenty of weeks left in them. But even if you miss the harvesting action, this is a great time to visit El Dorado County wine country.

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