California wines with Old-World inspiration

“Troublemaker” was a moniker Charles Austin Hope acquired early in life.

The Californian’s propensity to stir things up and create his own path helped him drive his family’s vineyard and winery in new and interesting directions.

By the fourth grade, Hope was known for his insatiable curiosity and classroom antics. His father grew so tired of being called to school that he withdrew his son from his Paso Robles classroom and set him to work hoeing weeds in the family vineyards for $3 an hour.

The elder Hope thought a few days of manual labor would chase the boy back to his books. Well, the plan backfired when the younger Hope found he loved being in the vineyard and working outdoors.

The experiment lasted two weeks and Hope returned to school.

But he never lost his affinity for wine grapes, which his family grew for various area winemakers. By 1996 the younger Hope, who goes by Austin, convinced his family to take the next step and become winemakers.

The family once owned 400 acres of grape vines but sold much of the acreage to finance its fledgling wine operations. Hope Family Wines occupies 70 acres today, but its grapes are gathered from much farther afield.

“We were one of the area’s largest Cabernet Sauvignon farmers, but my father was never interested in the wine business,” says Hope, now 43 and president of the business. “But I was interested and we now have 55 families that grow grapes for us that we use in our wine blends.”

LEARNING FROM THE OLD WORLD

Hope gained much of his prowess in the field of winemaking on the fly, spending time at Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards and talking to any other winemakers willing to answer his questions.

But it was the weeks he spent in France’s Rhone Valley that set him on course to make the kind of blends for which the winery is known.

“Their approach to winemaking was completely different, especially compared to what I learned when I was younger,” Hope says. “My wines are definitely from California, but the reds especially take a very Old World approach.”

Hope Family Wines
On-site at Hope Family Wines in California.

California wineries often live and die based on their distinct varietal grapes, as much for their customers as themselves. Wine drinkers can anticipate the flavors a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but their knowledge becomes less certain with blended wines, which is very much an Old- World approach.

FLAVOR AND WEIGHT

Hope has embraced the blend in his lines of wines, which include Liberty School, Candor, Austin Hope Wines and Treana, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Hope’s wine esthetic looks first and foremost for consistency in flavor and mouthfeel, all of which come from a well-mastered blend.

“Consumers like a lot of flavor and weight to their wines, and that can be measured in the amount of alcohol and sugar present,” Hope says. “But tannins can also do that, adding a lot of what I call ‘plaquing’ to the wine, and I’m not even sure that’s a word.”

The wine’s fullness, or plaquing as Hope says, creates broader, more consistent flavors across the palate that more fully bring out the wine’s characteristics and nuance. Once that is achieved, he adds, the next step is to integrate those flavors for a smooth delivery. The right blend can remove the peaks and valleys on the tongue and palate, eliminating the “choppiness” that plague some wines’ flavor profiles.

“We’ve done that with our Treana Blanc,” Hope says. “We blended it with 45 percent Vognier grapes, which act like a firecracker to spark the palate, then added 45 percent Marsanne, which rouses the mid-palate and has a sort of honey nutty quality. Finally, with 10 percent Roussanne in the mix, I found the finish that I had been looking for 20 years.”

The 2014 Treana Blanc ($30) earned 92 points from Wine Enthusiast, further testimony to Hope’s overall approach.

The Treana Red ($45), Blanc’s heavyweight counterpart, achieved a similar level of success. In fact, Hope’s attention to tannins may have paid even greater dividends in his blend of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent Syrah.

The big wine washes the palate with a rich mix of currant and blackberry flavors, with notes of toasted oak rounding out its finish.

But even Hope steers way from the blend now and then to produce varietals when the fruit warrants it. With the ability to choose grape stock from the various Central Coast microclimates through careful purchasing, the veteran winegrower can coax the precise flavors he wants to put into the bottles.

The 2014 Treana Chardonnay ($24), made entirely from its namesake grape, arrives with a nose of peach and citrus, with a distinct minerality to the aroma. The citrus caries over to the palate braced by vibrant acidity and notes of peach, caramel and vanilla.

Hope’s newest release in the series, a 2014 Treana Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), follows threads similar to those of Chardonnay in its mastery of an individual varietal. Intense from the start, the wine pours a deep, almost black color with notes of dark fruits, pomegranate and spice. Velvety tannins carry the flavors of those fruits, along with notes of coffee and cocoa in its long, well-integrated finish.

The fourth-grade troublemaker never forgets his roots and, in fact, Hope has labeled one of his wines after his “notorious” past.

Hope’s Troublemaker Red Blend ($20) captures many of the Central Coast’s best varietals into a single mashup. A 50 percent Syrah base gives the wine its rich, robust backbone, with Grenache (15 percent), Mourvedre (10 percent) and Petite Syrah (8 percent) each adding different flavors notes to the blend. The winemaker topped off the mix with 17 percent Zinfandel to add those rustic notes and further zing to the wine.

“I love to blend and mix things together,” says Hope, who also is the family chef for his wife and two daughters. “In cooking, it became a passion for me as a child to create a complex dish and I want to do that with my wines as well.”