Hoffman Farms, a hidden gem in the crown of Northern California's most famous wine grape growing region, is about sixty miles from the Bay Area. John and Margaret Hoffman have owned the twenty-three acre orchard located on Silverado Trail since 1949. U-Pick for over twenty-five years, the land is a study in small farming that has all but disappeared in a region once known for eating as well as luxury fruit.
I met John Hoffman in 1998 when I was working for Thomas Keller at Bouchon. Attracted to the intriguing walnut trees first from a photographer's perspective, I came to eat and use a sampling of what his farm has to offer. Originally a pear orchard, the Hoffmans began planting French Prune and Sugar Plums to sell to Sunsweet, then based in Napa.
Needing to take a job away from the farm for a number of years, John and Margaret happily returned to Napa in the mid 60's and, after consulting with George Slinson, a fellow farmer and neighbor, started learning about and planting the Hartley varietal of English Walnut trees. Having started, grown and grafted each tree by hand, the walnut trees are a study in graphic individuality.