CARLOCK — Mary and Rudolf Hofmann’s life together has always been one of happenstance, and starting a winery on their Carlock farm is no exception.
The winery, which will be in full swing by spring, wasn’t in their plans when they moved from Germany to Mary Hofmann’s native Carlock several years ago to be closer to her dad and her work as a flight attendant.
“We always wanted to farm and we wanted to do something different,” she said. “We thought about strawberries.”
But a trip to find a new camper turned their focus to grapes.
“We were driving to Pekin to do some window shopping when we ran past Mackinaw Valley Vineyard,” she said. “We saw the grapes and said, ‘Let’s go see what that’s about.’”
By 2003, the couple had started their first crop of red and white grapes on three of their 22 acres at White Oak Vineyards, on 2100 North Road in rural Carlock. They now have eight acres with 4,000 plants.
“We totally love it,” said Hofmann. “As hard as it is, we love it. There’s nothing better than being out there, working all day long, watching the birds, watching the dog.”
They planned to harvest the grapes and sell them to others who were in the winemaking business. But they soon discovered most who made wine also grew their own grapes.
So they joined that group.
“Last year’s harvest we kept almost all of our grapes and processed them ourselves,” said Hofmann. “That was the start of the whole ordeal.”
And an ordeal it has been.
Because the Hofmann farmstead is in White Oak Township — which did not allow the retail sale of liquor — the couple had to gather nearly 200 signatures on a petition to get a referendum on the ballot to change the rule. It passed in February 2008 by a mere four votes.
They also had to seek a change in McLean County’s zoning ordinance that would allow a reception area as an accessory to a winery and vineyard through a special use permit. Once that was approved, they had to get a special use permit.
Then there also was the mountain of paperwork to get the needed federal license for the winery and the facility had to pass the state winery inspection.
In between, the Hofmanns went to a winemaking school at the University of Missouri, attended seminars and read a lot about the art of winemaking.
“Tasting and being able to smell helps,” said Hofmann.
As luck — or in the case of the Hofmanns, happenstance — would have it, when they were about to pursue construction of a reception building on their land, their next-door neighbors asked if they wanted to buy their property, which included a log cabin home with a wraparound porch.
The deal recently was finalized and the Hofmanns have been busy remodeling the house to use as a production area and tasting room.
“Eventually we want to do weddings and receptions,” she said. “We’ll have enough room in the house to have small family parties.”
They still plan to add another building in the future and eventually a pond.
“The sunsets out here are absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “We’re also going to make paths to stroll around so people can come out and enjoy themselves.”
It's all in the name
Mary and Rudolf Hofmann of White Oak Vineyards not only have given a lot of thought and effort into growing their grapes, but also in the labels and names of the wines that will be available at the soon-to-open tasting room. Here’s some of their selection:
• “The Golden Days,” a Seyval Blanc, dedicated to their golden retriever who alerts them of birds in the vineyard.
• “Bernese Red,” named after their Swiss Bernese mountain dog.
• “Heimat,” (German for home) a Riesling wine dedicated to Rudolf Hofmann and his family who hid a Jewish family in their house during the war.
• “Windmill Dreams,” a blush wine whose label will have a picture of a Holland windmill that’s special to the couple.