Heritage Oak Winery – A Vineyard Survives the Flood

It was the Instagram image below, shared by Heritage Oak Winery, that prompted me to email Tom Hoffman. Tom is the winemaker at Heritage Oak Winery which he owns and operates with his wife Carmela. They farm 106 acres of vineyards planted to 25 varieties along the north bank of the Mokelumne River in the Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The property is part of his family’s original homestead that dates back to the 1860s and it is one of the first wineries we wrote a winery profile about for Pull That Cork. Because of the long family history and our personal experience at the winery, it is a sentimental favorite of ours in Lodi. And the wines are lovely too, that doesn’t hurt.

So what is so special about an Instagram image of Sauvignon Blanc juice becoming wine? Well, when we last visited Heritage Oak in March of this year, a lower Sauvignon Blanc vineyard was standing way past knee-deep in water. In fact only the vines’ canes were visible, reaching above the water level. A sad sight indeed. Exceptionally high rainfall, and a levee failure, caused flooding in the 10-acre vineyard from the Mokelumne River. What, I wondered, would become of this Sauvignon Blanc vineyard? How long could it survive in standing water? Would this entire vineyard be lost? When I spotted the Instagram post of Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc I had to know if it was sourced from this lower vineyard.

Heritage Oak Winery, March 2017

Well, as it turns out the vineyard would survive months of flooding and, in fact, Tom reported that not a single vine perished as a result of the flood. There is no crop for 2017, so that is not good news. The vines produced only a few, small clusters per vine and the only vineyard work of note possible in the vineyard this year has been just enough pruning to allow a tractor to pass between the rows to disk the ground.

Who knows what 2018 will bring. Pruning will be a challenge, according to Tom, and no one knows what conditions will be like over winter and into spring of 2018. What kind of crop will it produce in 2018? This vineyard is something of an experiment and I am curious to follow its progress. I will certainly be rooting for this Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.

Heritage Oak Winery, September 2017

So, the image above of Sauvignon Blanc juice is not sourced from this vineyard, but another vineyard just at the end of the road near Heritage Oak. This very young wine had nearly finished fermentation when we visit last Saturday and had the opportunity to taste it. It looks and tastes young and unfinished, but it’s delicious. In Tom’s able hands Sauvignon Blanc has just enough herbal character to make it easily identifiable as Sauvignon Blanc, but it doesn’t have too much herbal character for my taste. It is always one of my favorites at Heritage Oak Winery.

Over the next three days I will be joining a group of writers who are visiting Lodi to walk the vineyards, taste the wine and learn about 2017 harvest first hand — from the winemakers and growers. I am excited to hear what they have to say about some of the challenges of this vintage and look forward to sharing what I learn with you.


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