Tom Homewood and Sean Hopkins already were making music and award-winning wine together when this winter they found a home for Awen Winecraft at The McCully House in historic Jacksonville.
The move provides these guitarists with a stage they’ve never had, pandemic notwithstanding, yet that hasn’t stopped their wines from going gold and Platinum, earning them some buzz as Wine Press Northwest magazine’s 2021 Oregon Winery to Watch.
“It’s so much fun to be able to share our passions with people,” Homewood said. “We’ll pick up our guitars and play music for people who enjoy our wine and want to learn about what we’re doing. And we’ll go anywhere from Portland to Ashland. For example, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve taken our guitars and our wines and gone into retirement homes. People really seem to enjoy what we do, and it’s always fun. We’ve missed doing that.”
The personal preferences of the two high-tech workers with clients around the world could be seen as a bit divergent. Homewood’s tastes tilt toward big Zins from California, the classic rock of Rush and funk metal from Primus. Hopkins is more into bluegrass, the blues and the wines of Provence, yet their intuition and talent as winemakers has allowed them to steadily grow from 500 cases in 2016 to 1,500 cases last year.
Their entries into the Oregon Wine Competition have left a remarkable impression on the Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers from across the U.S. who judge that event. In 2018, the Awen Winecraft 2017 was voted as the Best White. Their Grenache Blanc program has been celebrated at each of the past two competitions.
Last year, the 2018 Grenache Blanc went on to win Best White at the 2020 Sip McMinnville judging. That wine and the Awen Winecraft 2018 Albariño earned Platinum awards from Wine Press Northwest.
“I don’t mind winning medals, and it does make me proud as a winemaker,” Hopkins said.
For their brand, they arrived upon the Celtic symbol “awen,” which is pronounced “ahhh oooo whennn” — just as the druids would have chanted. In a roundabout way, it serves as another tie-in with the synergy between Homewood and Hopkins.
“Awen is the divine spark of creativity, flowing spirit and symbol of all creatives, poets and musicians,” Hopkins says. “The ‘W’ reflects three bottles of wine pouring into three wine glasses.”
It began in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2006 with Hopkins, his brother-in-law, and six barrels of wine.
Homewood, who worked with Hopkins at various start-ups in the Silicon Valley, hopped on in 2007. Four years later, Hopkins moved to Southern Oregon.
“I came up in 2009 and again in 2010 for a high school friend’s wedding,” Hopkins said. “I went wine tasting with my wife and fell in love with the grapes, the wines and the scenery.”
In 2016, Homewood also fled the Bay Area for Southern Oregon, so they turned their notion into action by launching Awen Winecraft.
“One of the great things about this area is that you can do pretty much any variety that we wanted to work with,” Hopkins says. “We tend to decide based on how the vintage is going.”
And it is the Barrel 42 custom-crush facility in Medford — owned and operated by Herb Quady and Brian Gruber — where the magic happens.
“Brian helped us not fall into the pitfalls when you are crossing that chasm from amateur to commercial winemaking,” Hopkins says. “It’s just been great. We couldn’t have picked a better partner.”
For Homewood, making their wine at Barrel 42 has allowed him to renew a friendship with Gruber.
“We were in the Air Force Academy at the same time, and I’d guess we were in about 20 classes together. Brian never got in trouble. I did,” Homewood says with a chuckle. “And Barrel 42 has allowed us to do the things we want to do, but I don’t think there’s another client of theirs who has asked to crush grapes and leave them on the skins 15 hours.”
And while their original business plan didn’t include it, the Awen Winecraft empire includes managing a 1.5-acre vineyard off Camp Baker Road in Medford, giving them tiny lots of Viognier, Zinfandel, Primitivo and three clones of Syrah to play with.
On any given year, their lineup will include Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Vermentino, Bordeaux reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, Chardonnay, Albariño and Grenache Blanc. There’s even a sparkling Grenache Blanc in the works.
“We decided to plant our flag with Grenache Blanc,” Homewood says.
During the past decade, Hopkins also developed an affinity for Albariño.
“I worked for a Spanish technology company and spent a lot of time in Spain,” Hopkins said. “I learned about the Galician wine industry, Albariño, Tempranillo and the beautiful wines of Spain.”
The growth plan for Awen Winecraft is to top out at 5,000 cases. The McCully House will boost sales, particularly when the acclaimed Britt Music & Arts Festival reopens for concerts just a few blocks up the hill.
Awen’s tasting room hours are what you might expect from a pair of wine-loving guitarists. Saturdays, for example, are “noon to 9ish,” so there’s a jam karet concept of closing time, last call or an encore.
“It’s a pretty cool location, especially in the summer and fall months when people are going to the Britt Festival,” Homewood said. “We’re really excited about this.”
And it’s a natural fit with the brick tasting room for Quady North directly across the street. In 2012, Quady North was named our Oregon Winery to Watch, so the corner of California and Fifth now serves as an intersection of greatness in the Rogue Valley.
ERIC DEGERMAN operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.
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