Ask a Winemaker: Austin Hope on California, Cabernet, and Connecting to the Land

Hope Family Wines & Sharp

When Austin Hope was growing up, his hometown was far from synonymous with the world’s best wines. Paso Robles, California, located some 250 miles south of Napa Valley, was a sleepy community where Hope learned how to work the land in apple orchards and vineyards on the family farm. Although he briefly dabbled in racing cars and motorcycles, he returned to Robles at 23 after getting hooked on a viticulture project at California Polytechnic State University. Less than two decades later, he was turning out world-class wines, like his Austin Hope Cabernet 2017, which last year was named Wine Enthusiast’s 10th best wine in the world. And what’s good for Hope is good for Paso Robles, the central California underdog region that will be the next big thing.

What’s it like to land in the Wine Enthusiast Top 10?

Our Cabernet brand was a bit of a dream — one that was seven years in the making. I wanted to figure out if you could make a Cabernet Sauvignon with complex tannins that was also soft. So we researched exactly where Cabernet Sauvignon would do its best and developed new vineyards. It’s pretty exciting, knowing they tasted about 24,000 wines that year and put us at number 10.

What makes Paso Robles such a great place to make wine?

One of the reasons it’s so special is the diversity of the region. I can grow a Syrah in Templeton Gap and it will come out like a northern Rhone with the meat and the leather aromatics, except maybe a bit bigger because of the California sun. You can also grow it in the Highlands District and it’s more fruit-driven, less tannic, less structured, with bubblegum-type characteristics — like an Aussie shiraz.

Is Paso Robles going to be California’s next big wine region?

Oh, absolutely. I would say the next big wine region in the world. Until recently, people knew Napa, and they knew France and Italy — and that was it. Over the past five to 10 years, the way people have learned about wine has changed, and now, especially younger people are looking for new regions and less intimidating wines that tell a story about where they came from.

Moving away from pretension in wine has always been important to you, right?

For so many years, wine was a stuffy industry. It was intimidating. One of the biggest things I tell everyone that works for us is to never be arrogant about wine. Wine is a beverage that people get together and enjoy with food and you should never take it so seriously that it looks intimidating.

You have deep roots in Paso Robles. Has that informed your approach to sustainability?

The Austin Hope Cabernet is 100 per cent sustainable and, by next year, we’ll be at 100 per cent with all the other wines, too. That excites me because it’s what all the humans on this earth should be doing: figuring out how we can make each place better and protecting it and preserving it. It’s not just the ground and the animals, it’s the humans that are working with you. Do you treat your employees properly? Do they have health insurance? Are they paid fairly?

What’s your favourite pairing with the Cabernet?

Good people. Wine is one of the few products in the world that brings people together in happiness, in sadness, and in times of need.