There’s a saying called “living the dream” and it has to do with living. If you find yourself successful doing something you love then you are “living the dream”. If you add freedom and the ability to make money to that equation then you are “living the American dream”. Third generation farmer and first generation vintner Austin Hope is living the American Dream. He manages his family’s winery in the beautiful oak tree dotted, rolling hills of Paso Robles in the Central Coast of California: a heavenly location. What better place to live the dream?
An industry veteran and still under the age of 40, Austin is a vibrant, active, mass of energy. He’s on the move with new ideas in an industry that doesn’t move quite as fast. By default, most winemakers are hip, but they do tend to be older, technical and well, a bit more rotund! Austin’s interests are varied: he hunts, practices Pilates, he is a mad chef, and he’s a huge fan of live music and will catch a show any chance he can. He’s also a family man who spends time with his two daughters when not on the road promoting his wares. He lives this wonderful life in idyllic Paso Robles in a home on the estate vineyard, with his parent’s house just over the bluff. As easy as it would be to be envious about Austin’s life, you just can’t be anything but happy for him. This is because he is down to earth and knows exactly where he came from, so you end up soaking him up and savoring him. He’s worked hard at his craft – in the winery, vineyard and in the market over the last fifteen years to build the family’s business.
Making a living off the land has been part of his family’s tradition for three generations. His grandfather was a farmer and beer distributor in Bakersfield.
Austin’s parents moved the family from Bakersfield to Paso Robles in the late 1970s and started planting grapes and apples. At the time, the region was just developing and wasn’t the viticulture powerhouse that it is today. Austin started helping with the family business at age 8, by hoeing weeds in the vineyard as part of his weekly chores. His father, Chuck Hope, is considered one of the pioneering grape growers in the
region, noted for raising the bar in the vineyards for higher quality fruit. In the 80s the family started doing business with legendary winemaker Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards. They began growing and selling Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for his Liberty School label. This was the start of an important partnership between the Hope family and Wagner family that has blossomed into a strong and healthy friendship.
In the mid 90s, while studying Fruit Science at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Austin travelled to Napa to work under Chuck Wagner. Working with Chuck was instrumental to Austin’s development as a winemaker. “That was probably my “a-ha” moment,” says Austin. “I realized that I not only wanted to grow grapes, but to manage our own label to bring our fruit directly to the market,” he says. Upon his graduation he began making wine with the family grapes. Eventually the Hope family took over the Liberty School label from Chuck Wagner and began producing the wine in Paso Robles. In addition to Liberty School, the Hopes launched Treana in 1996 and two years later, Austin became the official winemaker for the brand.
Hope Family Wines, as it is known today, is fueled by Austin and his colleagues, many who have been with him since the beginning. They are a fantastic group; making great wine at affordable prices with 5 distinct brands: Liberty School, Treana, Austin Hope, Candor and Troublemaker.
Over the past 15 years, Austin has grown the business from producing around 20,000 cases a year to over 300,000. Helping Austin is his good friend and high school buddy Jason “JC” Diefenderfer. JC came on board to help design and build the winery’s crush facility back in 1997. JC never got around to leaving after the facility was completed, and now works as a winemaker with Austin. Austin, JC and their team are proud to source grapes from over 50 local vineyards in Paso Robles and the Central Coast for the Liberty School brand.
Austin likes to live in the moment and buck tradition. In 2009, Austin released a free iPhone app called WineDJ to pair his Liberty School wines with music. The latest example is how the company released the newest wine brand – Troublemaker. The winery created a hilarious, must-see video, a parody of TV show The Office and used social media to help launch the new wine. By using their website, YouTube channel, Twitter and Facebook, they were able to get the video seen by thousands who, otherwise, wouldn’t have watched a wine video (http://youtu.be/0_zr4J75_Kk). After seeing the video you’ll get a good idea of the camaraderie and spirit of the group in addition to understanding the new wine. Troublemaker is also interesting because it’s a multi-vintage wine, another technique that Austin believes in. Blend 3 is 55% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, and 5% Petite Sirah, from the 2009 and 2010 vintages.
Richard Carlton Hacker, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the pleasures of wines, whiskies, pipe smoking, and cigars, has known Austin for the past decade. He says that what’s been really impressive to see in Austin’s development as a winemaker and businessman is his focus and
understanding of what will and will not work with the wine produced in Paso Robles. Says Richard, “Austin has gotten a very finite vision of what he wants to do with the winery”. By working with local family vineyards, making quality wines, and building brands that offer great value – year after year, Austin and his team continue to stay relevant in the exploding Paso Robles wine scene.
For over 30 years, they’ve helped build the ‘Paso’ brand and that’s something Austin is very proud of. Along the way, he’s managing to live the dream. “People tend to have this dream that it’s easy to run a winery, but there’s still a lot of hard work, sacrifice and risk,” Austin says, “we just try to have fun along the way.” I’m glad he is, because the wines are delicious.
Filed Under: Food & Wine