Father-Daughter Interview Part IV
Lexi: What was the worst thing or moment that ever happened in the business, grape growing or winemaking over the last 45 years?
Greg: There is no singular event that stands out to me as a disaster or worst moment, but rather events or situations that we've had to deal with and overcome. Changes in the general marketplace or a downturn in the economy can be distressing but rarely are momentous or catastrophic and can be handled by changing marketing strategy. And in wine making we've never had a situation that has been disastrous on any scale. Perhaps some years and some varieties are not ideal, but the fact that we grow over 30 varieties mitigates the chance of having a completely poor year.
If there was a distressing moment it would be the periodic frosts that have occurred in the vineyard over which we have little control other than running overhead sprinklers for frost protection---which has its own set of dangers. I recall one spring frost on our Peek vineyard Chardonnay at the 3,000' elevation when we had to make the decision of whether or not to turn on the sprinklers. Madrona vineyards is just across the canyon from the Peek vineyard and Dick Bush(the owner of Madrona) and I would converse over the phone on frosty nights about what strategy we would use for our frost protection. There are multiple factors to be considered when using overhead sprinklers to protect from frost. The principle of this type of protection is that turning on sprinklers will coat the shoots and buds with water that will then freeze at 32 degrees F. and protect the buds as long as water is continually applied which will hold the bud temperature at 32F. And the water must be continually applied well into the morning until the ambient tempera- ture raises enough to melt the ice that has been formed over the buds or emerging shoots. The physical; principle is that as water is applied and freezes, it gives off a certain amount of kilocalories of heat during the freezing process that will hold the temperature from dropping below 32F. That principle will hold as long as the ambient temperature does not fall below about 26F, after which no amount of sprinkler application will protect and everything freezes. The other factor that also needs to be considered in frost protection is at what temperature to turn the sprinklers on. Initial logic would indicate that you would turn them on before the ambient temperature reaches 32F but temperature physics is more complicated: relative humidity plays a factor as well. When relative humidity is high you can turn them on at close to 32F and see no damage, but when the relative humidity is low and the air is dry you have to turn them on much earlier, say at 36F, to raise the humidity closer to 100%. But this evaporative process of raising the humidity causes a drop in temperature, thus the need to start it at a higher temperature so when it reaches 32F there will be no further drop in temperature.
All this is to point out that it is a complicated decision making process with a lot factors to consider. And Dick Bush and I had thought through all these elements, made a plan of action, and turned on our sprinklers at the correct moment. And to first indica- tions we had done everything right; the air was calm, the ice was forming on the buds and shoots, and everything was going as planned. So we said good night to each other and went to bed assured we had done everything right. But in the middle of the night a severe north wind developed that swept the sprinkler protection away and introduced cold, dry air over all but the south side of the vineyard destroying the protective effect of constant water application. Surveying the results of our best-laid plans the following day our conclusion was that we would have been better off to have done nothing rather that turning on the sprinklers, since sections of the vineyard that we didn't frost protect showed little or no damage.
So what can we draw from this experience? To never frost protect? As usual there is no good answer since there have been other frosty nights that we've run sprinklers and saved the crop---multiple times. I think you just have to chalk it up to the inherent hazards of farming where you never have complete control over the weather and just do the best you can.
Lexi: What would you consider the highlight of your career?
Greg: As usual it is difficult to point out one instance as the "highlight" of one's career, some events being more subtle, but in the long run significant, such as the first crop of grapes we harvested or the bottling of our first wine. Or maybe the sale of the first bottle of wine in the old tasting room. But if I had to pick out some prominent events that were definitely "highlights" I would point to the selection of our 1980 Merlot as the "American Champion Merlot" and being invited to the Four Seasons restaurant in New York to pour it along with Hollywood celebrities such as Burgess Meredith, Maureen Stapleton, and opera singer Beverly Sills. And that was followed up with our Merlot being poured twice at White House State dinners, one for the Prime Minister of Japan and the other for the President of Algeria. And on the heels of that our 1980 Zinfandel was selected to be presented at all the events when Queen Elizibeth II visited California in 1984. A special label was designed incorporating the British flag and the official seal of the State of California. There seem to be a flurry of events in the early 1980's that gave prominence to our wines as well as to the emerging region of El Dorado.
And just a few weeks ago I was selected along with the Bogle family for the California State Fair "Winemakers Lifetime Achievement" award and in their words: "lifetime contributors and pioneers in the wine industry, placing California wines on the map both nationally and internationally". In talking to the coordinator of the award about why I was receiving the award, he explained that so many of the pioneers were dying that he didn't want to keep giving "posthumous" awards. Some consolation that I'm still alive.
But if I had to select one thing that I'm most satisfied with is that fact both of our children, Justin and Lexi, have taken over most of the day to day operations and are fully committed to seeing that Boeger Winery will continue to progress well into the future. Although Sue continues to oversee the financial stability and I continue to manage the vineyards, it is a comforting to see the continuity of the winery assured.