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The History of El Dorado Wine Country

The Spanish never settled in this remote part of California. The first Yankees began arriving in elevated region shortly after Marshall found gold in the American River. For a short time, surface placer was abundant in many rivers and creeks in the Sierra Foothills. The fact that El Dorado means “The Gilded One” indicates that the region was no exception. Gold was discovered in the area during July of the same year. Quartz was also in abundant in nearby mines.

The town of El Dorado was incorporated in 1855. Until that time, it was known as Mud Springs. It was an important center for trade and lodging amongst the miners. Based on historical accounts and evidence, it is estimated that the population was about 500.

The vast majority of these people were young men who came to prospect for gold. Those who did not mine themselves largely worked to provide services for the miners. This massive population influx of largely single males created a huge market for alcohol overnight. After a long day of difficult manual labor, alcohol was a hot commodity amongst the miners. By the 1860s, wineries in the region were producing approximately 200,000 gallons of wine a year to satisfy this market.

However, this surge in wine production was short lived. In 1884, hydraulicking was outlawed and effectively ended the major economic base of the region. Because the Gold Rush was over, there was a much smaller market for wine. Even still, there were over 100 wineries in El Dorado County around the turn of the century.

But most of the grapes were beginning to be bought by wineries located in the Central Valley. Unfortunately, the bad times were just beginning for the local wine industry. The only bright spot was the fact that many of the region’s vineyards were too remote to be seriously affected by phylloxera. Fossatti-Lombardo Winery was the lone producer allowed to stay open during Prohibition. The winery had a contract to make wine for local churches.

At the end of Prohibition, there were only about 600 acres of vineyards left in region. The wine industry continued to vanish in the ensuing decades, and by 1970 there were less than 200 acres of vines left.

During the early 1970s, there was renewed interest in producing local wine. In 1972, Dick Bush planted a 35 acre vineyard. Greg and Sue Boeger also led the wine region’s renaissance when they bought the old Fossati-Lombardo Winery in 1972.

The Boegers initially planted a 60 acre vineyard at 2000 feet. In 1974, they opened the tasting room of Boeger Winery. They restored Fossatti-Lombardo to its old glory and still have the stamp that allowed production during Prohibition on the cellar door.

Greg Boeger is noted for producing Merlot before it became wildly popular in the United States. During the mid to late 1970s, Mr. Boeger made single varietal Merlots when few others in America were doing so. The El Dorado wine industry has continued to grow, and was granted AVA status in 1983.

> El Dorado Wineries

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