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Western innovator: Spurs, Syrah define cattlewoman

Rancher's daughter returns home to head up wine sales


For the Capital Press

SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS, Calif. -- Holly Boekenoogen's days can be as challenging and diverse as the California climate.

"My brother and I both manage the family's cattle ranch, where I move and gather the Black Angus herd of 800," she said. "I am also involved in roping, branding, vaccinating, checking cows when calving, weaning the calves in the summer and feeding them in winter."

But her duties extend beyond the ranch.

"I also spend a lot of time traveling, selling and pouring the family wine at upscale events that require wearing a sparkling cocktail dress instead of jeans and boots," she said.

Boekenoogen was a preveterinarian major at California State University-Fresno when a call from her father changed her career path.

"He grew row crops -- like broccoli, lettuce, beans -- for years but was leaning toward planting grapes because the land was gaining in value," she said. "He asked what I thought about changing majors and heading up the sales and marketing side. I was intrigued so I switched to winery marketing."

The 12,000-acre ranch -- the highest peak is 4,600 feet high -- has been in her family since the 1850s. The vines were planted in 1976 and first wine was produced in 2007. The Santa Lucia Highlands, south of Salinas, are known for their ideal growing climate.

"When most people talk about California grape growing, it's all about Napa," she said. "But this is the 'Gold Country' for Pinot Noir. We have warm days, cooling winds and sea breezes plus the fog. This grape is thin-skinned and is susceptible to hot sun but the average temperature here is 75 degrees, so the grapes enjoy a long hang time."

Boekenoogen Vineyards and Winery sells almost 95 percent of their Chardonnay, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Viognier and Pinot Noir grapes to other vintners. They produce 5,000 cases a year with the grapes they keep.

Dave Muret, executive director of the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans, has praise for Boekenoogen's contribution to the agricultural community.

"Holly is the youngest-ever board member of the Santa Lucia Highlands winegrowers group," he said. "She is constantly bringing a fresh perspective and 'out of the box' ideas to our discussions. The last few years, her input has proven an essential component in the growth of our organization."

Boekenoogen said she has the best job because it is so diverse. She was a rodeo roper during high school and college and enjoys the luxury and joy of living on the family ranch.

"I am in the tasting room most days answering questions and hearing about everyone's opinion of our wine," she said. "After a busy day I can drive to the ranch, and just being outdoors with the herd seems to clear my head. I suppose it's because cows don't have opinions."

Holly Boekenoogen

Age: 25

Hometown: Carmel Valley, Calif.

Education: California State University-Fresno

Occupation: Sales and marketing director, tasting room manager Boekenoogen Vineyards and Winery

Quote: "We don't have to go to Las Vegas to gamble. We do it everyday on the ranch and in the vineyards with Mother Nature."


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