• January 2016

Michael Hope on How He Created a Successful Winery

A Q&A by Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor and Publisher
Be Inkandescent Magazine

I first stumbled on HOPE Estate wine, by Australian winemaker Michael Hope at Arrowine, a shop in Arlington, VA, near Washington, DC. I was with my friend Paige Rhodes, who said, “If I was quicker and more clever. I’d have hidden it from you and given it to you as a gift.”

Although Paige is both clever and quick, the cat was out of the bag. I immediately bought a bottle of Hope shiraz and chardonnay, both of which proved delicious. Thanks to the name tie-in (doubly fun because my husband’s name is Michael,) I now buy it by the case and give it as gifts to clients and friends.

Indeed, this wine is lovely for sipping or pairing with food. The shiraz is light and flavorful, and the chardonnay has a bit of a citrus finish. With the name connection being so appropriate, I was inspired to reach out to Michael Hope and learn more about his business.

Following is a Q&A with this winemaking Aussie. Cheers!

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What made a successful pharmacist want to get into the wine business?

Michael Hope: I sought to become a farmer to allow my kids to grow up in the country. So we moved out of Sydney to the Hunter Valley in 1994. The property I bought had some grapes, and the plan was to be a grape grower. I had no wine industry background apart from enjoying wine. I simply wanted to be a farmer and enjoy growing the best grapes I could.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What were the first steps you took?

Michael Hope: I started with the existing 30-acre vineyard and learned all I could about grape growing, then planted some more vines over the next few years. Three years later, I purchased an old rundown winery to have a bit of fun trying to make some wine and see how good our grapes were. Selling them to other wineries felt a bit hollow after all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into growing them.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: How has your vision and / or expectation changed over the years?

Michael Hope: Initially, I naively thought that if you made good wine, it wouldn’t be hard to sell around the world. So my vision was to just sell what we grew and have fun doing it.

I always wanted a fun lifestyle for my three boys (now 10, 13, and 15), and I wanted to spend my life doing something I loved. This has not changed, except that we now host concerts and events at the winery as a way to highlight and differentiate the wines of Hope Estate. The fundamentals have not changed, though, in that we still only use grapes from our own vineyards.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Where around the world do you sell your wine?

Michael Hope: In Australia, of course, as well as the US, UK, Germany, Norway, China, Japan, Singapore, Czech Republic, Belgium, France (very satisfying!), Fiji, New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: How did you penetrate the US market? By connecting with a US distributor? If so, was that a challenge?

Michael Hope: I was lucky to get into the US market by meeting up with our importer, Winesellers Ltd, at a Wine Australia trade event in Melbourne in 1998.

They came looking for an Australian supplier and we were seeking an importer and we hit if off. The founder of Winesellers, Yale Sager, is also a pharmacist and we treat each other like family.

It took years for me to realize how lucky we were to find such a reputable importer when I hear horror stories from other Aussie wineries. A classic case of being in the right place at the right time, but we gave ourselves the opportunity by exhibiting at Wine Australia with the objective of finding a US importer.

Winesellers Ltd. covers the total US market for us and sells to our distributors in each state as well as some of the major accounts such as Sam’s Club, Cost Plus World Market, Costco, and Whole Foods.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What are your goals for this year? Three years? Five years?

Michael Hope: My goals have not wavered in that I want to sell all the wine that we are growing, develop a fun environment for my family and staff, and keep hosting great concerts. We hosted Fleetwood Mac late last year with a crowd of 19,000 and the buzz was amazing.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What is the best thing about owning a winery?

Michael Hope: The satisfaction of growing grapes, making wine, and then seeing it consumed in New York or London restaurants. It spins me out to visit New York and walk into a restaurant and see people enjoying my wine. What’s the worst? The huge capital requirements and exposure to currency fluctuations in export markets.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What is the winemaking business like in Australia?

Michael Hope: Probably not much different from California, where there is a great emphasis on winemakers and a plethora of good wines on the market. You wouldn’t want to be trying to sell below average wines at the moment.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Have you achieved celebrity status?

Michael Hope: No — and no desire to! I’m just a middle-aged farmer trying to have some fun growing the best grapes I can.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Do you come to the US often?

Michael Hope: I used to visit about five times a year, but now I’ve cut down to one or two visits annually. The fun has gone out of flying, with airport security being such a drag, and I miss my family too much when away.

So when in the US I try and see as many customers as I can. Every day is crammed with meetings, lunches, dinners, tastings, or customer visits.

I love the DC area — it’s like home with water and seafood nearby, and I find the White House, Pentagon, and other government attractions to be really fascinating. The restaurants, bars, and people are also great, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland is so close. Plus, The Inn at Perry Cabin is a rare luxury to visit.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into the wine business?

Michael Hope: Go to a major trade fair such as Vinexpo, Prowein, or London Wine Trade Fair to get an appreciation for how much wine is produced around the world. Do not go into it for money — just do it if you have a passion for it. You tie up too much capital to justify it to your bank or accountant!

Be Inkandescent Magazine: How many cases of wine do you make each year?

Michael Hope: We have 460 acres of vines around the country and produce about 70,000 cases annually. We have about 40 employees, but it grows to hundreds during a concert week.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Thank you so much for your time, and for sharing information about your incredible business with us. We’ll look forward to drinking more HOPE wine, and to visiting your estate sometime soon.

For more information about HOPE ESTATE WINE, visit www.hopeestate.com.au