Does Vintage Matter?

Austin Hope is betting that it’s of small interest to consumers, at least in California.


“Champagne has been doing this forever. We are trying to fight the stigma,” says Austin Hope of his Candor wines—the stigma
being customer (and industry) reluctance to accept wines that are blends across vintage.

Hope is the president and winemaker of Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles, California, which is the home of three brands in addition to Candor: Treana, Liberty School and Austin Hope Wines. Under the Candor label, he is producing a Merlot, Zinfandel and a rosé.

“With Candor, we are blending across vintages but also regions,” says Hope. The Lot 2 Candor Zinfandel blends fruit grown in Paso and Lodi, while the Lot 2 Merlot incorporates fruit from Paso Robles and Santa Barbara, and both wines are 50–50 blends of the ’07 and ’08 vintages. “The idea,” says Hope, “is to combine youthful, vibrant fruit with enhanced
complexity and drinkability for a sincere, true expression of each grape.”

Hope is particularly keen on achieving something distinctive with Merlot. “We recognized that Merlot has been beat up and bashed up and we wanted to reintroduce it,” he says. “It’s a great wine but when it took off back in the day—fueled by the French Paradox story—it was planted in the wrong places. It’s very site specific. It’s noble, like Cab, but we’re in California so we do everything in extremes. The wines were green, herbaceous, thin, grassy. Merlot is supposed to have tannic weight and richness. We’ve concentrated on tannin development to make a rich, pleasing wine at 15% alcohol.”

Fifty-five families farm for Hope, and he knows them all. “We use quality fruit and the most expensive wood to make the best possible $20 Merlot and Zin possible,” he says. The ’07 lots were barrel aged for 12 months, while the ’08s were in barrel for six months.

With that focus on quality, and his belief that California is less prone to vintage variation than other winegrowing regions in the world, he expects that vintage won’t matter.

“Consumers don’t care about vintage,” he asserts. “Gatekeepers are more concerned with the vintage and the traditional ways of doing things than the consumers.”

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