As we come in to the end of April, I thought I’d take the time to talk a little bit about what’s going on here at the winery and in the vineyard.
We’re working hard in the cellar. Already, we’ve bottled some of the 2017 whites, including Quintessence Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, which came out of the Ovium Barrel, and later this week will be the Semillon. With the Optu White Wine, we are going to let things age out a little bit longer. We have equal parts of the Sauvignon Blanc for this blend in our new concrete egg, and in the standard French Oak that we’ve used in the past. We want to see what each component is like and can bring to the blend and will either use one or the other, or maybe a mixture of both in the final blend. Overall, we like to give the Optu White just a little more time to pick up some creaminess and a bit more flavor.
On the reds side, we’re doing some testing with letting the 4040 spend some time in the oak upright tanks before bottling. That blend doesn’t get a bunch of oak aging otherwise, so we’ll see what this ‘flashing’ at the end does as far as boosting the final product. This is another example of how we aren’t ever following the same recipe and are always willing to try new things to make excellent wines. Beyond that, in June we’re planning to start bottling some 2016 reds, including that 4040, as well as some Malbec, and Merlot, and then the Cabernets and bigger blends will fall later in to the summer.
4040 spending it's final days in Oak Upright tanks, prior to June bottling
Out in the vineyard we’re starting to see some bud break, and it’s like we’re starting anew. Like in the fall, when we’re in the cellar and starting to make wine again, you feel like you’re starting a new vintage. Really, that vintage starts right now when you’re starting to see some growth and are starting to prune things a certain way. I think one of the things that is great to see is that there is a lot of new planting on Red Mountain. A lot of the fruit we take, and wines that we make, are from these newer sites. This includes Quintessence, which was planted in 2010, and we took the first crop in 2012. Same thing with The Canyons Vineyard, that was planted in 2009, and we took our first crop in 2012 as well. As these vineyards age out, I think that these wines are going to settle and even out, and we’re excited to work with them long term.
Bud break in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
The other thing that is exciting for us to see is getting to third leaf in our new planting of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard. These are the 9 acres we planted in 2015, that we will now be coming in to perhaps half production this year, based on what we’ve seen so far. This is really going to give us the chance to see what the wines might be like. Not only with some new Cabernet Sauvignon clones that we planted out there, like 412, 33, 169, but also some clones 2 and 6 in addition to the original planting of 2, 6, and 8. We’ll also be looking at how the Merlot is going to come on, as well as the Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. We’re really looking forward to seeing how those are going to start turning out and are thinking about the next chapter of the vineyard.
Exploring the new plantings of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
Overall, on Red Mountain, things look good. We’re maybe a little bit behind a normal year, but as we know, a nice little heat boost along the way can push things forward really quickly. Already, we are scheduled to get to 86 later this week, which is really warm for the end of the April, and believe me, will push shoot growth and get us closer to a normal year.
As far as newly released wines, we are focusing a lot on Quintessence Vineyard right now. I really think that this is a great vineyard. The main blocks we take from give us extreme southern aspect, we are working with some great clones, and probably the most essential part of the vineyard, is the human factor on the terroir and what a great job they are doing there. The Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon are all tasting great upon release.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas:
2017 proved to be a great year for Fidelitas. The Fidelitas Estate Vineyard is continuing to develop, and the other vineyards we source fruit from on Red Mountain are outstanding. The future looks bright for the wines we will continue to make.
This fall, in addition to pulling fruit from the 2009 planting, we were able to harvest a little bit from our 2015 Estate Vineyard planting. We are eager to see how these young wines mature over the months ahead. Also in September, we released our third Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2014. If these first three vintages are any indication of the future of our Estate, then the future looks good. I have been very happy with the wines we have made from our own vineyard. With 2014 being one of the warmest vintages on record, we really looked to make these wines very consistent and a true reflection of Red Mountain.
We also released our last wine ever for Fidelitas from Champoux Vineyard, closing a long term working relationship with Paul and Judy Champoux. With Paul’s retirement following the 2014 vintage, we decided this would be the last Champoux Vineyard wine we would make. This is, to say the least, the end of an era for Fidelitas. We made our first Champoux Cabernet Sauvignon in 2002. In total, we made 27 wines from 13 vintages from Champoux Vineyard. Many of you enjoyed these wines over the years when we expanded our offerings to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 1 and our Cabernet Franc based blend we called Magna. Paul and Judy have been great to work with over the years and we all will have lasting memories every time we open these wines from our cellars. Check with any of our team members to see what might still be available from Champoux Vineyard.
Looking forward to 2018, we have many great wines we are extremely excited about from the 2015 vintage of red wines as well as some very unique 2017 white wines to look forward to. As many of you know, we make wines from many sites on Red Mountain, giving us a great cross section of what the mountain has to offer. A few highlights of exciting new offers we will have in the upcoming year will include a 2015 Old Vine Merlot from Ciel Du Cheval and Kiona Vineyards. This wine comes from some of the first plantings on Red Mountain from both the Holmes and Williams families from the mid-1970s. We feel fortunate to have been able to source this fruit and look forward to sharing this with all of you. 2015 will also be the first vintage of Malbec sourced from Quintessence Vineyard. We currently make a Cabernet Sauvignon for this vineyard as well as limited release Sauvignon Blanc. Having the Malbec will be a nice addition. I have had a chance recently to go back and try some of the upcoming 2015 vintage releases and am looking forward to sharing some really stellar wines.
As always, we aim to continually try and improve our wines from Fidelitas. We continue to experiment with oak fermentation, use new barrels we have never worked with before and pushing the envelope in winemaking to continually improve.
Fidelitas exists as a winery because of our faithful customers. Thank you for your continued support. Many of you have been with us from our very first vintages and we truly appreciate your loyalty. We are All in on Red Mountain!
Harvest is in full swing on Red Mountain, with fruit coming in quickly to find it's place in the cellar. Here is where we are so far:
We are 80% completed with Merlot. We have a new block of Blackwood Canyon Merlot along with the old block at Kiona remaining.
Fidelitas Estate Merlot, picked September 21
Quite a bit of Quintessence Cab Sauv has been picked and in tank or barrel already. We have completed block 7 (clone 169), block 9 ( clone 191), Block 10 ( clone 8) and block 47 (clone 2)
Tasting fruit in Quintessence Vineyard
The white wines are progressing nicely through fermentation. There is distinct difference in the “ovium” barrel and just regular barrels. The Ovium barrel will be the limited release Quitessence Sauvignon Blanc. The Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon are really nice as a result of a little cooler vintage.
The Ovium: one of a kind in the U.S., made specifically for Sauvignon Blanc
We are enjoying a little cooler weather than in the most recent vintages. Last week we had several days with the high’s of the day in the 60’s. That trend will change slightly this week to a few days in the lower 80’s. This should move ripening along nicely. The quality of the vintage shows promise and reminds me a lot of 2012. This is a somewhat of a normal vintage, we just have not seen one for a while.
New signage in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
The plan is to continue to harvest and ferment all the new estate blocks separately and see how each block expresses itself. We do have Estate Merlot fermenting in a tank and we will keep you up to date on its progress.
We should start to see some Malbec and other Cab Sauv coming in the next 10 days.
More to come as more fruit arrives!
This upcoming harvest will be my 30th, and I can easily say that I’ve seen night and day differences in the Washington wine industry over the last three decades.
I was hired out of UC Davis in 1988 by Mike Januik to work at FW Langguth, just outside of Mattawa. Our emphasis was definitely on white wines: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and some Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. We did a few reds (Cabernet, Merlot, and Lemberger) but they were somewhat of an afterthought, and 90% of our production at that facility was sweet, fruity whites that would be released by Thanksgiving of each vintage.
|At FW Langguth with daughter Emily, who called the grapes "peas", in 1988.|
At this point in time, the industry was still fairly small, and grapes were somewhat hard to come by. Chateau Ste. Michelle was dominating the industry, with a few small others starting to emerge, like Preston and Hogue. There were probably less than 35 wineries in the industry at that time. There weren’t as many opportunities or money in the industry, employment wise, but it was a great start for initial perspective.
This probably puts me in the realm of someone who is a veteran in Washington. There aren’t many of us who have been around that long who are still at it now. Maybe David Forsyth, Mike Januik, Joy Andersen, Doug Gore, Gordy Hill, and Brian Carter to name just a few. Not too many people!
When I reflect on 30 years in the industry, and think of where it has been and where it is going, I feel optimistic for our future. We’ve accomplished a lot in the time it has been going on, but I think we’re in a great place and poise to make an impact on the world of wine. Today, it’s easier than ever to enter the business in Washington, and we’ve found a lot of great grape growing sites over the decades. There are new opportunities, that even California wineries are taking advantage of by moving to the Northwest. We still make a lot of white, but often those are lower price blends from larger companies. At Fidelitas, 90% of our production is red wine. We’ve been able to find some really nice white grapes on Red Mountain, but our focus is really on the reds, as evidenced by what is planted in our own vineyard. This is really a trend for Red Mountain as a whole, and different from where I began, with 95% of its planted acres dedicated to red grapes.
Washington is differentiated from the old world, really by the market forces. Unlike France, there is no one telling us what we can plant where, and that has opened us up to being able to adjust with the marketplace demand without having to ask permission first. We can always plant, and pull, depending on what works in a vineyard site, and in the market. On Red Mountain, we are seeing that the plantings are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, and probably 90% of the red grapes Bordeaux varietals. There are some other varietals planted as well, but in smaller quantities. Right now, I think that shows us the demand and where that is leading us in the future.
I, and now Fidelitas, was drawn to Red Mountain based on the wines that we were making, and wanted to focus on more. I always knew that I wanted to make Red Mountain wines, but the access to the fruit was so limited. We had to look elsewhere for fruit when we first started, and before I could ever make the wines that we are making today, I was tasting wines from other wineries who were able to get Red Mountain fruit. In the early 2000’s, that meant that grapes were sourced mainly from Klipsun, Kiona, Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain Vineyard, and a bit of Hedges Estate.
|More than just Red Mountain has changed since 1989.|
I’ll always remember my first visit to Red Mountain, and it’s a story I’ve told many times, because it was the day my daughter Allison was born. I was at Lemberger Days at Kiona, on June 11, 1989, pouring Lemberger for Snoqualmie winery. That day, we drove around with my wife, Terri, her mom, and my first daughter, Emily. It was a warm day, with just a small crowd, maybe 50-60 people, and Don Mercer gave a long speech about the benefits of Lemberger and how great it’d be in the future. Ali was born later that evening.
In 1988, Red Mountain had just a pothole infested gravel road that went up the mountain and was otherwise inhabited by just apple orchards, sagebrush, rattlesnakes, and just a few vineyards. Still, I thought this could really be something someday. Trying the wines from this region, I could see they were different, intense, and special.
I worked at Chateau Ste. Michelle beginning in 1990, and as head red winemaker starting in 1993, and by 1998, found myself at a crossroads in my career, ready to try my own style. With a big winery like that, you can become a career winemaker and retire with the company, or decide to create something on your own. At that time, it wasn’t as common to have a label within the company, so I ventured out with the encouragement of family to start my own brand.
I feel like the first 30 years of my career could be called a pioneering stage. I made a lot of great wines from a lot of great vineyard sites, and growing regions, but now that we’ve been making Red Mountain wines since 2005, I’ve decided to completely focus our line up on Red Mountain. When I look at Red Mountain, I know that this is a region that can stand the test of time, and that is evidenced by the wines made by those 40+ year old vines. Everyone in the state gravitates to Red Mountain to make a really great, concentrated, tannic wine. That’s the style I thought I wanted to make, and although I couldn’t access Red Mountain fruit for our first vintage in 2000, we did find some great vineyards like Weinbau, Windrow, and of course, Champoux Vineyard. By 2005, we were able to add Red Mountain fruit to the line up and are now all in on this one region.
I still feel like we are just touching the tip of the iceberg on the potential of Red Mountain. I say that with a biased Red Mountain or Washington palate, but have tasted wines from all over the world, with Bordeaux and California as our competitive framework, and really feel like what we can do on Red Mountain can be every bit as good as those wines. Certainly, they are different, but I’m bullish on the future, and know that Red Mountain will be thought of in the same sense as all of those great growing regions of the world.
Today, our product line up - outside of Ciel du Cheval, and some anomalies like the old vines of Blackwood Canyon Vineyard, and Kiona Vineyard – is sourced from vineyards that are fairly young, including Quintessence Vineyard (planted in 2008), the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard, and the Canyons Vineyard (both planted in 2009). For the most part, we are just starting to see how these vineyards will show in the future, including our own Estate. It’s an exciting time. The winemaking style is constantly evolving, and I don’t feel like it’s ever totally figured out or dialed in, like you may see in California where blocks and barrels are determined without a ton of variation each vintage. Our own style is still emerging somewhat, and at least until the Estate Vineyard is totally up and going, and we continue to move forward with other vineyard sites on the mountain.
On the winemaking side, we’re constantly evolving as well. One of our newer focuses is fermentation in the presence of oak, which started in 2011 and 2012 vintage reds with oak uprights and roller fermenters. This year, we’ll add a few closed top oak fermenters, that will be used in the 2017 vintage, and enable us to have at least 50% of our reds fermented in wood. Over the years, our product line up that once included Chardonnay and Syrah, has been focused on Bordeaux varietals. In 2007, our physical presence on Red Mountain, and then the planting of our Estate Vineyard in 2009, guided that focus. It’s what I’m most comfortable and familiar with after my 30 years, and seems to be a natural fit for Fidelitas.
I am really excited to see what the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard is going to give us. The first few vintages have been great, and we’ll see more come on line beginning in the 2017 vintage. We always felt that establishing ourselves, with a tasting room and vineyard, on Red Mountain would be sustainable for future generations to pass on. This was a goal that we discussed when we first started to build Fidelitas, and are continuing to chat about as we look towards the future.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas:
As 2016 draws to a close, I wanted to take a brief moment to thank all of you who are so supportive of Fidelitas. Plain and simple, we would not exist if it were not for all of you, our faithful, loyal, and true customers.
In the past year, we saw the release of some really great, 2013 vintage red wines. As I mentioned last year, I thought that maybe the 2013 vintage was one of my favorites since I started Fidelitas with the 2000 vintage. That still holds true after tasting these wines throughout the year. These 2013 reds will continue to improve as they age out a little more, and have not yet reached their peak by any means. The Canyons Vineyard Red and Malbec from Red Mountain were great new additions to our releases for the vintage. We look forward to continuing those wines into the future.
This coming year will see a couple of new products to our lineup. For the first time, we will make a very limited amount of Malbec from The Canyons Vineyard. Look for this wine to be released in August (with a sneak peek during Malbec Madness in January). We will also have the first release of Blackwood Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon. These vines were initially planted in 1984 and border our own Estate vineyard just to the west. The depth and intensity of this wine is incredible and we look forward to its release in April. We hope the quality of this wine is an indication of what we can look forward to in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard. One other highlight of the upcoming year will be the release of our last vintage of Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. We started making Cabernet Sauvignon from this iconic vineyard in 2002. This release will be our thirteenth and final vintage. As many of you know, Paul and Judy Champoux have retired, and we retired from the vineyard as well to focus on Red Mountain fruit.
2017 will be the first vintage we will get fruit from our new Estate planting. It will be a very small amount but we are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for us. The newest 9-acres of Fidelitas Estate has Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. We will have a total of six different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon in production, so it should be quite interesting.
I always have people asking about how our most recent vintage, 2016 turned out. I think it is one of our more unique vintages in Washington. The year started off looking like it was going to be another very warm vintage, but starting in the summer months the weather mirrored what would be a normal year. This meant less extremely hot days and a slow even ripening of the fruit into September and October. We did see a slightly higher than normal yield with exceptional quality. The uniqueness of the vintage is that even with higher than average yields, we saw above average quality. That very rarely happens.
In closing, I would like to publicly take a moment to thank each and every person that works for Fidelitas. Although I have met many of our customers over the years, all of you have had an interaction with somebody from our organization at some time or another. These wonderful people are the voice of Fidelitas. Without them telling our story we would just be another brand. Thanks again for all your support. Cheers to 2016!
Fidelitas, Owner + Winemaker
The upcoming release of our 2013 Malbec opens a new chapter in our effort to move closer to only making wines produced from grapes grown in the Red Mountain AVA. In years past we have been able to source Malbec from a wide range of sources from throughout he Columbia Valley. 2013 will be our inaugural Red Mountain release and I think you will see a notable change from our previous style.
Don’t get me wrong, I like our previous Malbecs from the Columbia Valley but I think you will see a change that will be a reflection of Red Mountain. What is that change, you ask? Our previous vintages of Columbia Valley Malbec go back to the 2004 vintage. I remember getting a little bit of fruit in to play around with and to see if it would work in our Optu blend. Optu is a blend we have made from every vintage going back to 2000. I liked it so much that we decided to do a small bottling from that vintage of 96 cases. I had worked with some of the first plantings of Malbec in Washington when I was the winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle from 1990 to 1998. That fruit came off of Canoe Ridge Estate, planted in 1993, near Paterson and I knew it could add a new layer to the wines we were making. One of the noticeable characteristics of most Malbec is an inherent peppery or spice component. This has been a common component throughout our Malbec from 2004 to 2012.
The 2013 Malbec – Red Mountain is different from any Malbec we have made previously. The biggest change to me initially is the great concentration of the wine. This is common amongst Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Petit Verdot. Malbec is no different. When I say concentration it is true reflection of tannin and fruit balance. You will see this in a lot of Fidelitas Red Mountain wines. For me another characteristic that is less noticeable is the peppery, spice flavor on the palate. It is still there but not nearly as noticeable as previous vintages.
The 2013 Red Mountain Malbec comes from three different vineyards, those being Scooteney Flats – 54%, Kiona – 29% & The Canyons – 17%. These are three well established vineyards on Red Mountain.
For Fidelitas I would compare 2012 & 2103 on the same level. I know most media and trade have put 2012 up as one of the best vintages ever in Washington but I would put 2013 right up there with 2012 for what we are doing. Enjoy the latest chapter!
read more from Charlie on his blog, Red Mountain Rising.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas,
We had some great milestones this year, planting in our estate vineyard and releasing an estate wine. It's truly been a dream come true. Coming in the next year we have some amazing wines for you coming from our favorite vineyards on Red Mountain.
This year was the release of our first ever Estate Vineyard wine from our initial 3 acre planting from 2009: our 2012 Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Starting my career in 1988, I could hardly imagine not only having a family-owned Vineyard on Red Mountain, but also being fortunate enough to produce a wine from those vines. This has been a long time coming…perhaps the biggest milestone in my career to date. This wine is a representation of the premium Estate wine you can expect from Fidelitas. From hand selecting the perfect clones and using only the very best barrels, we made sure to pull out all the stops to create this beautiful wine. With only 50 cases remaining, you’ll want to be sure that you have this special bottle in your cellar before it’s gone.
The process to get water for irrigation to Red Mountain has been in the works for at least twenty years. This past spring, water became available through KID, and we were able to go forward with planting the remainder of our Estate Vineyard. My dream of owning an Estate Vineyard on Red Mountain is finally complete. We’ve been anxiously awaiting this since we initially purchased our home on Red Mountain back in 2007. Dick Boushey and his skilled crew worked hard to prepare the estate for the arrival of water. Dick and I obsessed over which Bordeaux varietals would excel in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard and hand selected a variety of grapes and clones which we know and love, along with others that we are excited to experiment with in the years to come. In total we have about twelve acres in vine just outside our back door on Red Mountain. Our first release of this new planting should come from the 2017 vintage and we can’t wait to share these premium Estate wines with you.
Looking forward, we couldn’t be more excited about the 2013 wines to be released in the year ahead. Just this last week I tasted through each one of the wines which we will release in 2016 and I am very excited about how they are coming along. You’ll be seeing more wines from some of our favorite vineyards such as Quintessence and Ciel du Cheval and new to the line up: The Canyons Vineyard. I think the upcoming 2013 vintage is as good, if not better than the 2012 vintage. Each year that we work with these vineyards on Red Mountain we gain more knowledge about them and are able improve our winemaking techniques. I believe the best could be yet to come from Fidelitas.
Fidelitas exists as a winery because of our faithful customers. To each and every one of you, thank you for your continued support. Many of you have been around since the start of our wine club, others have joined in the more recent years or months, and the loyalty from each one of you is invaluable. We look forward to sharing many more milestones with you. Thank you and happy New Year.
Charlie Hoppes, Fidelitas Owner + Winemaker
Fidelitas has completed picking both Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc from Klipsun. In addition, all Merlot from all sites in the AVA is in the door with some completely through tank fermentation & heading to barrel. We have started picking some Cabernet Sauvignon from Quintessence Vineyard and expect to continue picking both Cab Sauvignon & Malbec next week. Quality looks great so far despite it being the warmest vintage on record.
(a note from the editor...harvest is a busy time! we're lucky to get bullet points from Charlie during these months.)
Merlot grapes in the Canyons Vineyard, days before picking
The view looking west from the Canyons: smoky and warm.
Scooteney Flats Merlot: picked August 26, 2015
Over the past couple of years Fidelitas has taken a couple of days during the peak of the growing season and brought together all of our tasting room and wine club personnel The main function of these two days together is to continually educate our staff on everything related to Fidelitas. We recently completed our 2015 staff retreat on Red Mountain on July 7th & 8th.
Our goal at Fidelitas, is to provide to you as a consumer with a great experience each and every time you visit us either at our home on Red Mountain or at our location in Woodinville. We often discuss having an authentic experience when you visit us. In order for this to occur the people that are pouring our wines need to have a level of knowledge that makes them Fidelitas experts. Our tasting room employee’s become the face of our winery and are responsible for telling the authentic Fidelitas story. When our story is shared with each and every one of you as consumer’s then the wine that you are tasting takes on a whole new meaning.
Over the course of the two days we spend together we hope to enlighten our people with information that will hopefully, make them not only experts on Fidelitas but have a more than average awareness of Red Mountain and the factors that make it a unique place to grow grapes and make wine. We expect our people to know what a clone is and what clones we have planted in our estate vineyard. We expect them to know what makes Red Mountain such a great place to grow grapes. We expect them to know where different vineyards are that we make wine from. The list goes on and on.
The two days we spend together here on Red Mountain are invaluable in educating the people that each of you meet when you visit Fidelitas. Hopefully this provides a more authentic experience for you as a consumer of our wines. Hopefully it also makes for a more interesting place for members of our team to work.