Former Micke Grove Zoo director Ken Nieland and Heritage Oak Winery in Acampo were honored for their contributions to the community at Tuesday’s tourism luncheon, sponsored by the Visit Lodi! Conference and Visitors Bureau.
Nieland was named Tourism Advocate of the Year Award for founding Lodi’s Sandhill Crane Festival 17 years ago.
Nieland, this year’s Lodi Sandhill Crane Association president, attracts visitors to Lodi for the festival, held each year in early November. He retired last year as director of Micke Grove Zoo after 33 years.
“The Sandhill Crane Festival brings people into Lodi from all over the Pacific Northwest,” said Visit Lodi! chairwoman Diane Niggli. “We have become a premier bird-watching area. It is one of the top Lodi events for bringing hotel room nights to our city.”
Sandhill cranes fly south through Lodi and the Delta on their way to warmer climates in the winter.
Heritage Oak Winery, located on Woodbridge Road east of Bruella Road, was named Winery of the Year. Heritage Oak opened in 2007, said Tom Hoffman, who owns the winery with his wife, Carmela, and his mother, Joanne Hoffman.
“Heritage Oak Winery is Lodi agritourism at its best,” Niggli said. “Heritage Oak’s birding and nature tours have been well received and are a great draw to the Lodi area.”
As a small farmer at the time, Tom Hoffman founded the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association, a group of people who enjoy making wine and share tools and other equipment to avoid costly purchases. Hoffman said he’s no longer an association member since his winery has grown into a commercial enterprise.
Hoffman said he’s amazed on how big the wine industry has grown in Lodi. He credits wine pioneers like the Lucas, Mettler, Borra, Spenker and Phillips families for getting the industry started in the area.
“They kind of led the way for new guys like myself,” Hoffman said.
Nieland and Hoffman said they were surprised to be honored by the conference and visitors bureau.
“The crane festival committee is a great group of people to work with,” Nieland said.
“I was surprised,” he added. “I’m just up there (in Acampo) doing my quiet little thing.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.