Austin Hope is a visionary. A very young visionary. He talks about wine the same way that Al Gore talks about global warming -- with understated passion and conviction. He's a winemaking man on a mission; to make and sell great wine for a fair price. So far so good.
Austin was born, coincidentally, in my own hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., into a farming family. At the young age of 7, Austin's family pulled up roots (literally) in 1978 and moved 90 minutes due west, to the town of Paso Robles, where Austin was put to work in the vineyards and apple orchards that his father, Chuck, bought. Chuck sold one piece of land, then bought a few more, and continued the practice until the Hope family became one of the largest suppliers of bulk wine in the state.
In 1987, the Hope family opened a tasting room to sell wines made from their grapes. But their biggest business was selling bulk wines -- and a lot of it went to the legendary Chuck Wagner (of Caymus fame) for his Liberty School brand, which was beginning to lose a bit of luster in the early nineties. So, in 1995, the Hope family built a state-of-the-art winery, took over the Liberty School label and moved the brand down to Paso Robles. Soon after, the family added Treana (whose name is derived from a "trio" of natural elements) to their portfolio. Austin brought his own vision to bear in 2000 when he introduced Austin Hope Wines as an upscale label. And now, Candor Wines -- a multivintage concept -- is the latest addition to the Hope family of wines.
Of course, the star of the show is Austin himself. A graduate of Cal Poly San at Luis Obispo with a degree in fruit sciences, Austin learned the art of winemaking literally on the job. He was fortunate to spend time at the side of the aforementioned Chuck Wagner as well as work with wineries in the Rhone Valley in France, where he developed his love of syrah, mourvedre, roussanne, viognier and other Rhone varietals.
As a third-generation farmer, Austin understands wine from the grape up. He knows that it takes great fruit to produce great wines, and he is passionate about making sure that he delivers great quality at a fair price. But while he takes his winemaking seriously, he wants consumers to enjoy wine.
"Don't believe all of the hype associate with wine. Drink what you like. Try new things and don't ever be intimidated," advises Austin. He knows how to bring "hope" to wine lovers. Retail prices are approximate.
2007 Liberty School Chardonnay, Central Coast, Calif. ($10)
This is a straight-forward effort that provides great value for an everyday-styled white wine. The pretty nose features scents of apple and white nectarine while the palate is rewarded with flavors of pear, pineapple and citrus notes on a bright, crisp frame.
2007 Treana White, Central Coast, Calif. ($17)
The almost equal blend of viognier and marsanne produces an incredibly fragrant nose of tropical fruit and floral scents. Bright acidity provides a wonderful counterbalance to the ripe fruit flavors of nectarine, pear and pineapple, combining for structure, elegance and depth.
Candor Zinfandel Lot 2, California ($20)
Don't look for a vintage date on this wine, you won't find one. Austin is dedicated to producing wines that have the depth of aged wines while retaining the freshness of younger ones, so he developed a multivintage blend where he can bring the best of both worlds together. The Lot 2 is a blend of zinfandel wines from 2007 and 2008 vintages and it is a fresh, well-rounded expression with luscious berry fruit up front and notes of vanilla, spice and pepper on the persistent finish.
2007 Treana Red, Paso Robles, Calif. ($50)
A lovely blend of cabernet sauvignon (70 percent) and syrah (30 percent) provides a bouquet of cherry, dark plum and cocoa. This wine has remarkable balance, with layered flavors of black cherry, cassis, plum and dried spices. Hints of vanilla and cocoa expand on the lengthy finish. Definitely age-worthy.
2007 Austin Hope Grenache, Hope Family Vineyards, Paso Robles, Calif. ($40)
Austin's vision for grenache is "a more masculine version of pinot noir," and that's exactly what this is, full of dried cherry and smoke on the floral-like nose. The fruit flavors of cherry, red berry and red plum are on the brighter side and lead to a soft, round finish where notes of dried spices and pepper linger.
2005 Austin Hope Syrah, Hope Family Vineyards, Paso Robles, Calif. ($40)
Austin loves Rhone varietals and you can tell by this prodigious effort. Scents of green olive and smoky meats dominate on the nose and in the mouth. Additional flavors of dark fruit and spices permeate throughout the palate where they are supported by soft tannins and great acidity. The lengthy finish commands your tongue's attention.