By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
The walls at Paul Hoffman’s Desert Rock Winery & Distillery are peppered with photos of visitors to his Scottsdale Airpark-area facility.
There’s Hoffman with Arizona-bred SiriusXM DJ Shannon Gunz and her fiance, Mudvayne’s Chad Gray. Rockers Adelitas Way stopped by. The pop band Lifehouse is well represented, as drummer Rick Woolstenhulme Jr. lives in Gilbert. Then there are photos of Hoffman with 3 Pill Morning lead guitarist Jon Stephenson, who is a Desert Rock Winery partner.
Meeting and greeting rock’s top acts is all in a day’s work for Hoffman.
Hoffman parlayed his lifelong love of rock music into Desert Rock Winery & Distillery, which personalizes wine for musicians around the world. There are specialized drinks as well.
In the Desert Rock tasting room, visitors can sample 20-plus varieties, many of them award winning. Hoffman’s Headbanger’s hard cider—a huge chunk of his business—is made with 99% natural fermented apple juice and 1% Headbanger American Gold whiskey, aged in French oak for a month. With no added sugar, the original finishes like a dry prosecco, but new flavors have cropped up, like Cherry Boom (apple, black cherry, Meyer lemon) and Cinn-delicious (aged with cinnamon sticks).
Oenophiles bond with his wines that are collaborations between Hoffman and musicians. The Bull God XR Red Blend, Lodi was inspired by Kid Rock’s song “I Am the Bullgod.” Notorious Zinfandel ($25) honors Adelitas Way. The Butcher Babies’ red wine is $25 per bottle, and the Gray Gunz cabernet sauvignon was created specifically for their wedding, which was postponed to Halloween from the spring due to COVID-19.
“Both of them are super nice,” Hoffman says about Gunz and Gray. “We did a launch for that. When their tour ended (in Phoenix), they stayed for an extra day and came up and did a bottle signing for the launch.”
Recently, he expanded his Headbanger brand to include cider-based seltzer.
“It’s just another extension of the Headbanger brand,” he says. “We’re really trying to build that brand across wine, spirits, ciders, seltzers and vodka sodas.
“Unlike most of the commercial ones that add flavoring to it, we actually started out by fermenting the flavors. It is completely natural. For the cran-apple lime, we use fermented apple juice, fermented cranberry and then we add the key lime.
“It’s a lighter version our ciders and we’ve had that in Total Wine for almost a year now, but it’s been in bottles in a seltzer market. Now, everyone wants cans. That’s when we started looking into the canning line.”
Hoffman is moving the entire cider and seltzer line over to cans because it’s easier and more profitable.
To celebrate the fall, Hoffman recently acquired a permit for a deck, which he says will be well utilized when the weather cools.
Hoffman feels fortunate in that Desert Rock Winery didn’t take too big of a hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was able to keep his business open because Desert Rock Winery is licensed winery and federal licensed distillery. A party to celebrate the opening of the distillery will be held in September. Check out his Facebook, facebook.com/DesertRockWinery, for more information.
“The new laws allow us to stack a winery license and a distillery license on top of it. This is considered a tasting room for retail sale,” he says.
He knows that others aren’t as fortunate. He wanted to lend a hand to fellow small businesses, so he reached out to food-truck partners to bring them to Desert Rock Winery. He publicizes the appearances through social media to bolster the economic impact.
“I said, ‘Hey, I know you guys got kneecapped by COVID. Spring training, it’s gone. Festivals are gone. You can’t just pull up on the street and have a food truck. Come utilize us every weekend,’” he recalls.
Hoffman grew up in Red Bank, New Jersey, with Jon Bon Jovi as a neighbor and his uncle is the head of security for the state’s favorite son, Bruce Springsteen.
“I was immersed in that whole thing,” Hoffman says.
In 2006, he founded Desert Rock Winery. Hoffman has a long history of exceling when presented with an industry challenge. He went from a bar back to managing hotels. At the age of 20 he was thrown into a beverage supervisor position, and by 21 he was writing wine lists for a four-diamond resort. After running a distribution company in the Virgin Islands for six years, he went on to work for Mondavi.
“The learning process of understanding wine—that no one is an expert, and that there’s always something to learn—has always been super intriguing to me,” Hoffman explains.
Desert Rock Winery & Distillery, 7302 E. Helm Drive, Suite 1002, Scottsdale, 480.400.9955, desertrockin.com.