A sense of heritage runs deep at Tom Hoffman’s vineyards. He makes his living off land that has been in his family for five generations. But instead of the hogs, peaches and cherries his predecessors raised, Hoffman grows grapes for Gallo, Bear Creek Winery, and his own Heritage Oak label.
“I like wine, and I like creating something that other people enjoy,” he said.
The Acampo vintner got his start as an amatuer winemaker in 1985 using equipment his parents had tooled around with in their college days. That experimenting spirit carries on as Hoffman makes about 25 different varieties of wine, with as few as five rows per variety.
In fact, he makes four types of Zinfandel. Three are traced to specific fields the fruit came from, and the other is a blend with a touch of Petit Sirah.
“People find that interesting,” he said. “It ties the fruit to the land.”
Nearly all of it is sold out of the tasting room, though some varieties can be found at local stores and Lodi Wine Cellars in Downtown.
The winemaking happens on that same farmland, just a few hundred feet from where Hoffman lives with his wife, Carmela. Currently, there are five bins of crushed Zinfandel sitting and waiting to be pressed. They’re taking on color and flavor from the skins and stems. Hoffman stirs the stuff three times a day with a canoe paddle.
The winery is still on the microlevel. A small lab is tucked behind the tasting room for tests and measurements. Bright new oak barrels are stacked four high in the crowded barrel room.
But while space is limited inside, the patio and grounds are colorful and thrumming with life. A collection of birdfeeders attracts a range of avian guests to the courtyard. Hoffman offers a birding list of the over 100 fliers spotted on site.
For the full nature experience, pick up a bottle of wine and a picnic at the tasting room, then follow the signs to the Heritage Oak nature trail. It winds along the vineyards and through the Mokelumne River floodplain until walkers reach a small secluded beach on the river. There’s a rope swing, a few picnic tables, and plenty of room to lounge and enjoy the scenery.
“It’s about taking something as natural as grapes and other natural ingredients, working for two years and watching it turn into something so delicious,” he said. “But it does take patience.”