Grgich Hills Estate Winery

Austin E. Hills

Austin_2015Austin E. Hills
Co-founder, Grgich Hills Estate

Growing up as a member of the Hills Bros. Coffee company family, Austin’s future seemed destined for coffee beans, not wine grapes. His grandfather and grand uncle began their family business in 1878 in San Francisco. Austin acquired a strong business background, receiving his B.A. degree from Stanford University and his M.B.A. from Columbia University, before he began working at Hills Bros. Coffee, Inc. as an assistant coffee buyer. He worked his way up to Vice President and finally Chairman of the Board.

In 1975, Austin founded Hills Vineyards and developed his own label. After the Judgement of Paris in 1976, Austin came to Mike Grgich with a proposal: he had broad business experience and money to invest, since he and his sister, Mary Lee Strebl, had just sold the coffee company. Austin wanted to produce world-class wines and he was looking for a winemaker to do that. Mike had extensive winemaking and management experience and now he had the reputation as the American winemaker who beat the French.

The two men were a perfect match for success so Mike joined forces with Austin and Mary Lee in a partnership in 1977. Wanting to show the family foundations of Grgich Hills, the partners share equal billing on the label and in the lower right and left hand corners of the label through the depiction of the checkerboard crest of Croatia, Mike’s homeland, and the rearing horse of the Hills’ family crest.

Today, Austin is Chairman of the Board of Grgich Hills Estate. Besides his involvement with wine, Austin is president of Hills Vineyard, which grows and distributes Dos Colinas olive oil. He is also an active member of San Francisco society, serving on a wide variety of boards that demonstrate his eclectic range of interests, including Hills Capital Management, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and The Leakey Foundation. The next generation of the Hills family has also found a home in grapes, rather than coffee beans: Austin’s youngest son, Justin, has gained experience in the vineyards and now is in sales in the Grgich Hills’ tasting room.