Country kid, turned pharmacist, turned winemaker, turned craft brewer, turned distiller, turned rock concert venue host and beef producer, Michael Hope says it pays to be diversified.
Success doesn't always go to plan, but having a plan, not a dream, and "running hard in the footy game" have become winning ingredients in an agribusiness career which he grew from a hobby.
The name behind the Hope Estate winery in NSW's Hunter Valley told this week's NSW Farm Writers Agribuzz event his business growth owed much to the theory that if you run hard into a game there's less chance of getting hurt and more likelihood you'll be in a good position to kick a goal.
Mr Hope grew up at Young with close ties to his farming grandparents in Central West NSW, but started his business life as a pharmacist, buying into his own shop in Bathurst just three years after leaving university.
In the following six years he bought five more in Lithgow, Jervis Bay, and in Sydney.
At age 29 his frantic workload and bouts of reactive arthritis prompted him to seek a hobby farming block in the Hunter to "sort of semi-retire" and enjoy life with his young family.
However, the 100ha block at Broke included 12ha of winegrapes, which subsequently led his scientific mind to explore making his own wine, then launching the Hope Estate name in 1996 after buying Orlando's closed Saxonvale winery site at Broke.
So much for a quiet life.
Ten years later Hope Estate paid Fosters Group $9.2 million for the 160ha former Rothbury Estate winery at Pokolbin after an expanding coal mine at Broke forced the family to move.
Michael and Karen Hope's vineyard interests have since also diversified to Victoria's Kyneton district and Donnybrook in Western Australia.
However, he told about 150 Agribuzz attendees at National Australia Bank's new Sydney headquarters, while growing grapes and making wine began as a fun hobby, he needed a point of difference to make it pay, especially as Australia's wine export market had become increasingly hard work.
His solution, soon after buying the Pokolbin site, was to scale back much of his export business, including a contract with Aldi in the UK, and break with tradition in the Hunter Valley winery and cellar door tourism scene.
The Hopes built a big amphitheatre and stage at their new vineyard which has since hosted a who's who of rock and jazz performers, including the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen (three times).
"What started as a sideline idea to get our name noticed turned into a serious part of our business strategy," he said.
With big events attracting up to 20,000 thirsty music fans, Hope Estate also ventured into making its own craft beer as another sideline in 2014, then gin, and in 2020 distilled its first whisky, set to be released commercially next year.
Hope's interests also include the former Tower Estate winery, where a five star accommodation development is underway, a food and entertainment development in central Newcastle, and a 250 head Angus breeder herd on a property at Eccleston in the Hunter.
"Every step of the way it's been a case of looking at how we can spread our risk, and make the most of changing opportunities.
"We got into cattle three or four years ago because we had brewer's grain from the brewery, then my sons (Jonothan and Sam) felt we could develop something more than just fattening and trading dairy steers."
Mr Hope said he never went into the wine industry expecting to make big money.
"It's still really a bit of a hobby.
"But I like building things, and by surrounding myself with good people with good attitudes, who are probably much smarter than me, we have made it into something much bigger than we ever expected."
He still owns five chemist shops and regularly does stints behind the dispensary counter when his pharmacist employees are on leave.
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