In preparation for this Sunday’s Preview Tastings, Team Fidelitas sat down with Charlie to taste through the upcoming releases of 2017 red wines. As always, it was an awesome time to hear Charlie’s honest thoughts on each wine as he tasted through each one and fielded the questions from our staff.
side note: we started our tasting time with a 2006 Columbia Valley Malbec, generously shared by Therese from her cellar. All of us were floored by the fresh, bright fruit tones that appeared in the wine! I’m not going to lie: 2006 was a warm (not hot…warm) vintage. I vividly remember Charlie’s comment on that vintage when we released it: “sure…you can age them, but why? they taste great now.” This wine was amazing, fresh, and surprisingly bold upon opening but wasn’t as stunning when I tried it three hours later. It’s Malbec…not Cabernet…so don’t risk it. If you have it in your cellar still: it tastes great now.
I was in the tasting room recently, and someone asked me, “what is the plan of attack on the Preview Tastings?” and I honestly had a hard time coming up with the answer. To me, you taste the wines, you decide which you really like, and then you mark them down on your sheet and go. But what if you like them all or can’t make up your mind or are honestly overwhelmed by the whole thing?
I think that as a taster, you need to think about your drinking habits. If you know that you are going to drink your wines in the next few months, maybe you want to get one of each offering for your allocation (quick! try them and reorder any that are still available!). If you have a good storage system (cellar, garage, or cases stacked against your dining room wall) maybe grab 4-6 of those awesome, cellar worthy Cabernets and then round out your add-ons with daily drinkers. Charlie says he never buys a wine in a quantity less than 6 bottles because he wants to taste it over the years.
If you’re like me, you’re going to play the inventory game. I’m only able to grab 2-3 bottles of each wine at a time, but you know that I’m going to get the ones that will disappear the quickest. Get those first, then maybe 1 bottle of the others so I can check in on it in a month or two and order more before it runs out. Since I’m the one who gets to count Fidelitas inventory on a weekly basis, I’m going to share my thoughts on which wines to grab first. Watch for full tasting notes on each wine to come next week!
2017 Red Mountain Merlot: When we asked Charlie what he liked about this wine he grinned and nearly shouted “it’s Merlot! it’s just fun!”. My whole team could not stop making yummy noises about this wine. We’re Merlot fans, but this is one that you’re going to want as a daily drinker in your house. If you’re looking for a wine to round out your case with, this is the one. Remember: you get an extra 5% off mixed case orders.
2017 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: We’re so excited to see this as one of our first releases of the year, versus one of the last. This means that we’ll hopefully be able to keep it in stock for a bit to enjoy over the summer. However, don’t assume it’s going to be around forever. This is such a lovely blend of Quintessence and Fidelitas Estate Vineyards that I don’t anticipate it will last too long.
2017 Optu Red Mountain: *currently sipping this wine and blogging at the same time* This is the one wine that we have produced in every single vintage since our first one, way back in 2000. About a year ago, I got the technical info from our winemaking team on this vintage of Optu, and had so many questions. It was an amazing lesson for me in looking at a wine by the BLOCK (i.e. individual rows of grapes within a vineyard) versus the name of the vineyard itself. Charlie told us that he has this wine on his mind through the growing season. He’s constantly tasting and testing each site to decide what will make it in to Optu. While this, like the Red Mountain Cabernet, is a higher volume wine for us (still less than 700 cases), I really doubt it will make it past the summer months.
On to the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard releases. If you haven’t already, read THIS BLOG POST on why we moved Ciel du Cheval wines to a spring release time slot. During the course of our tasting, Charlie said “Ciel du Cheval Vineyard has a tremendous reputation. If Washington state had Grand Cru designations for our vineyards, Ciel du Cheval would definitely be one of them.”
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Franc: Charlie says, “of all the varieties grown on Red Mountain, Cabernet Franc probably has the most finesse. We don’t go out of our way to make Cabernet Franc from other sites because they just don’t show quality like the fruit from Ciel du Cheval”. Only 142 cases produced on this guy…you’re going to want to GET IT NOW.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Merlot: Another very low production wine from Ciel, but with less volume allocated to Club selections. Basically, add-on with this wine because you can’t customize with it. While tasting, our team was nothing but joyous giggles as we envisioned drinking velvet. That is basically what it's like to drink this wine.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine: Do we all love Charlie’s Merlots? His Cabernets? His blends? Ciel du Cheval Vineyard? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. There is a reason that Team Fidelitas loves this wine. It is fully a blend of all things good about Fidelitas. By the time our members grab their allocations, there will be very little, if any, left of this wine.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Petit Verdot: Spoiler alert – we’re releasing our first ever Red Mountain Petit Verdot later this summer. It’s a multi-vineyard blend that is so much fun. We tried them both and I loved that each one was so different. The Ciel du Cheval, by comparison, was rich, floral, and focused. We’re finding that Charlie’s Petit Verdots are highly age-worthy, so definitely grab this if you have that storage system…whatever your style is.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Cabernet Sauvignon: I am hoping that by the time we are done with the Club allocation, we might have 30 cases available of this wine. That isn’t much. Someone in our tasting mentioned that Ciel du Cheval has been nicknamed the “Queen of Red Mountain”: a perfect balance of elegance and power. We all agreed that this could be called Queen Cabernet. So powerful, present tannins, loads of fruit, yet delightfully…feminine. Don’t tell Charlie.
We can’t wait to see so many of you this weekend! For those of you who are coming, take advantage of our Team, and ask them questions as you taste through the line up. For those who cannot attend, we look forward to helping you customize your selections when the allocation season opens next Tuesday! Finally, for those who are not yet members…you really might consider joining.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas:
2019 was another banner year for us at Fidelitas and would not have been possible without the incredible support of each and every one of you, our loyal customers. Not a day goes by where I am not completely humbled by the continued support we receive from all of you who buy and consume the wine that we make. Simply put, thank you.
This 2019 vintage we just experienced in the fall, is the twentieth vintage for Fidelitas. With humble beginnings of just one wine produced form the 2000 vintage, much has changed and evolved for us to be where we are now. In 2006 we purchased land in the Red Mountain AVA and built a tasting room that opened in 2007. In 2008 and again in 2015 we planted land to vineyard and now have twelve acres of producing vineyard. The 2019 vintage is the first vintage where the entire vineyard was in full production and entirely under our own control. Dick Boushey, a legend in the Washington wine business and his amazing team manages the property daily. The future of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard looks bright as we incorporate the fruit into existing products as well as introducing new products to our line up starting with the 2018 vintage.
I am very excited about the release of the upcoming wines from Fidelitas from the 2017 vintage. Mother nature provided an excellent year for us and I cannot wait to share these wines with you. We will be releasing two new wines in 2020, Quintessence Vineyard Red Blend and a varietal Petit Verdot from a few different vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA. Look for those new wines along with the entire lineup of great wines during the year.
The Red Mountain AVA continues to provide our winemaking team with what I think is the best fruit in the Pacific Northwest. As many of you know, we only make wine from the Red Mountain AVA and I am impressed with the improvement that we see every vintage. Some of this comes with the maturity and consistency of the vineyards, but also, the grape growers who we source fruit from on Red Mountain have really worked at improving in every vintage. This makes our job as winemaker so much easier and will continue to do so in the future.
We continue to make small changes to what we are doing in the winemaking process so that we are continually improving. Fermenting in various shapes and sizes of wood fermenters seems to be a something we not only continue to do but have increased the amount of wood we are using during fermentation. Another area of fine tuning of the process would be matching clonal Cabernet Sauvignon with what we believe to be the proper fermenter as well as the best barrels to age the wine in.
I cannot say enough good things about our entire team of people at Fidelitas. They continue to tell our story and offer relentless customer service to everyone of you. Again, thank you for your continued support.
Charlie Hoppes, Fidelitas Owner + Winemaker
It’s Thanksgiving time! Not a one of us can believe that 2019 is winding down, and that once again, we are just about to run out of wine. In the spirit of the holiday week, let’s check in with our team to find out what we are each thankful for.
I know that I have said this before, but it still holds true. I am thankful for Team Fidelitas. All the way from the production staff, which includes the cellar, lab, and winemaking team who make the wines and get it into the bottles, to the great staff people in the tasting rooms who make that final sale. Everyone has a role and they are doing a great job with it.
I am thankful for the wonderful people that I have the opportunity to work with and learn from, as well as all of the amazing club members that come in and brighten each and every day!
Where to begin!? Most importantly, I'm thankful to work with people who now double as friends. From weddings and birthdays, baby showers and trips, I have memories with Fidelitas that will last a lifetime. And to our members, I'm thankful that you have made my job so enjoyable these past 5 1/2 years! Many stories and laughs have been shared over a bottle of Fidelitas and I look forward to more of that in 2020.
I’m thankful for team Fidelitas and our Fidelitas wine club! Im alway look forward to sharing the excitement of limited release wines with our club members!! There’s no better group to geek out with.
Things I'm thankful for:
I am thankful for our hard-working winemaking team! They make our jobs easy in the tasting rooms. Every wine, every vintage is just amazing, and it is a pleasure to share their work with our guests.
I am so very thankful for all of the people I have met while working at Fidelitas. They have started out as friends and become family. I am very blessed!
Running a winery is no joke, and so it is easy for me to recognize all of the people and things I’m thankful for, knowing that there is no way I could do it alone. Thank you to...
Team Fidelitas: we have a bunch of new faces in Fidelitas leadership this year, and my newest members (Josh, Allie, and Bryce) each bring a unique quality and special talent to the team. In many ways, I feel like I’ve known them forever! Mix them with such a strong tasting room force in both locations, Stacey keeping me on track, my absolutely amazing Club team, and CHARLIE HOPPES at the helm, it’s magical.
Our Members: we started 2019 with 0 available bottles to sell and are going to be ending the year in just about the same boat. That means every wine we released this year, we sold, and almost all of that is going to our Club members. Thank you, thank you, for bringing Fidelitas into your homes and sharing it with your closest friends and families. It means to so much to us. You all are faithful, loyal, and true.
Red Mountain Wines (and the people who make them): There is no way we have such happy members or such a strong Team without absolutely incredible wines to showcase. Charlie and his winemaking team have committed to finding, sourcing, and producing the best blocks of fruit on Red Mountain, and we are all so thankful for that dedication to quality and craft.
First off, I'd like to give a shout out to our cellar crew and specifically my dad and Mitch who were awesome teachers this harvest (with no shortage of sarcasm) and with many loooong days in a row, made Fidelitas' 20th harvest a success.
Look at how chipper and well-rested we look
As I sit here writing this on October 29th it marks (almost exactly) 2 months since we picked and pressed Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc just before Labor Day Weekend to get Harvest 2019 kicked off. We noted that the sugar levels were notably lower than what we had picked it at in previous years, but it tasted ripe and we didn’t think it would benefit from more time on the vines, so we decided to start bringing stuff in. Little did we know, this theme of ripeness at lower sugar levels would carry on into almost every one of our vineyard blocks.
Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc - the base of our Optu White
Klipsun SB was shortly followed by all of our other white blocks Klipsun Semillon, Artz SB, Artz SM, and Quintessence SB. Early September weather was perfect grape-ripening weather with highs in the high 80's and 90's and nighttime temperatures in the low 50's. Things kept moving along like clockwork with Quintessence Merlot, our first red every year, picked on September 4th, followed by other Merlots from around the mountain, Cabernets, Malbecs, and so-on. Working with the same blocks year-after-year my dad has "his rhythm" figured out knowing the order that our fruit tends to ripen in and can work his daily vineyard visits accordingly. In 2019 alone Fidelitas had 13 different vineyard partners that we worked with resulting in 85 individual lots, sometimes as small as 2 barrels, which will stay separate from one another until blending (i.e., a single varietal from a single vineyard block, fermented in a specific way: oak tank, roller barrels, upright barrels, etc...) That being said, even an individual lot is split further into different fermenations like our Blackwood Cab, which was split amongst 1 oak tank and 6 individual roller barrels. A perfect example of the attention this attention to detail: after years of experience on Red Mountain we're now able to match individual clones of Cabernet from certain vineyards and match them with our favorite fermenters, barrels, and winemaking techniques that we think they'll work best with in that particular vintage. It's something that makes for long days throughout every step of the winemaking process but results in wines of amazing quality and classic "Red Mountain" characteristics that we love.
Roller barrels and upright barrels tucked into a corner of the winery during the peak of harvest
One thing I touched in an earlier blog post is how "bright" and lively on the palate all of the wines were as we were tasting samples out of the tanks and press before going into barrel. I think what happened is we didn't have an extremely hot summer, only a few days reaching 100+, followed by mild/warm fall which allowed the wines to ripen at a higher acid level resulting in wines that should have great structure and ageability. My dad reflected on the harvest as being one of those magical harvests you get every so often if you stay at it long enough: "The quality level of this vintage is exceptional and reminds me of 2009 and to a certain extent, 1999. Both of those vintages turned out to be incredible years. We are consistently able to reach the flavors we are looking for at lower than normal Brix levels, leading to slightly lower alcohol levels and higher natural acids. My theory is that with more moderate summer temperatures, we had less days when the vines shut down to protect themselves from the heat. We were able to accumulate sugar at a more even pace and thus, a great year. It might be a bit premature to declare 2019 the vintage of the decade but it does show tremendous potential."
Filling tanks on his birthday
When we look back at this vintage one thing that will sadly be one of the defining moments is the mid-October frost that affected most of Eastern WA. We got hit around October 8-9 which shut down most vines that had fruit still on them and forced a lot of winemakers to pick earlier than expected. Luckily for us we were about 90% of the way done at the time being on Red Mountain which is one of the earlier ripening areas. Looking back, we noted that it was really only a couple bad days that changed things as the weather warmed up immediately after and remained pretty mellow for the rest of October. But that's what happens in agriculture and what makes winemaking so unique in that each vintage and bottle of wine has its own memories both good and bad attached.
Red Mountain the morning after a hard freeze
Other reflections/things I learned/things I was reminded of this year:
Quintessence Merlot #nofilter
Cheers to 2019!
I’ve been saying this since the first day we brought fruit in: 2019 is just a great year. Again, it’s a unique year in that we’re able to ripen fruit with lower than usual brix. The flavors that we’re finding out in the vineyard are just incredible, and we’ve been able to make the decision to follow a picking schedule based on tasting instead of waiting for certain sugar levels to show up.
We only have about 20 tons to go in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard. We’re going to pick the remaining blocks between Saturday and Monday of this week. This is all Cabernet, and mostly our older blocks, 3a, 2, and 1, and then block 5 on the northern half of the vineyard. At that point, we’ll be about 80% done for Fidelitas, only still needing to bring in Cabernet from Blackwood Canyon Vineyard and The Canyons.
This is the first year I’ve had my son, Will, in the Cellar with us. It’s been just great having him and Mitch working together on the same shifts, and he’s learning everything from the floor up. He’s digging tanks, filling barrels, everything.
We haven’t taken a day off since September 3rd, so we’re working towards 30+ days in a row…and it’s great. Each day I’m writing pump over orders that take place at 6am and 1pm each day. Currently, it’s taking us about 4 hours to complete pump overs, so we basically do one round and then start all over again. Mitch, Will, and I sit down at 10am daily to taste through the wines in each of our fermentation vessels. This is invaluable for Will to start building his own database with his palate. It’s natural for Mitch and I and we’re able to make decisions based on a quick taste, and Will is learning quickly.
I generally consider Halloween my first day ‘off’ from Harvest. I remember looking forward to it when the kids were little, getting to go home and see their costumes and just spend time with the family. While I don’t have little ones at home anymore, I still think we’ll be on track for that Halloween day off, although still with plenty to do in the Cellar. Harvest keeps us busy, but it’s the best kind of busy.
winemaker in training, Will Hoppes, sporting a lovely blond wig
The first white grapes were picked and pressed from Klipsun Vineyard, starting August 29th. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon were all completed and to barrel, Ovium barrel, or concrete egg by September 5th. We got started on reds with our first pick of the year being Merlot from Quintessence Vineyard on September 4th. Now, all Merlot from Red Mountain is complete along with Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, which will be completed by next week. I imagine we will be finished with fruit for Fidelitas by the end of the week of October 7th. Things move quickly on Red Mountain.
Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Block 75 Merlot in the Cellar
The quality level of this vintage is exceptional and reminds me of 2009 and to a certain extent, 1999. Both of those vintages turned out to be incredible years. We are consistently able to reach the flavors we are looking for at lower than normal Brix levels, leading to slightly lower alcohol levels and higher natural acids. My theory is that with more moderate summer temperatures, we had less days when the vines shut down to protect themselves from the heat. We were able to accumulate sugar at a more even pace and thus, a great year. It might be a bit premature to declare 2019 the vintage of the decade but it does show tremendous potential.
Clonal Cabernet from the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
We're now heading in to the time of year where I barely see Charlie and am happy to get quick texts from him and pictures from Will. Harvest is underway! Here is what we're hearing from Charlie: "We picked our first reds on Wednesday: Merlot from Quintessence Vineyard. The fruite seems to have more, riper flavors this year but at lower Brix than normal. I believe it is from having nice warm weather but not having super hot days exceeding 100F during the growing season. All of the whites we have picked have been lower brix than normal but have had great flavors. Things are looking great so far!"
pick schedule looks easy to start
Sauvignon Blanc in Artz Vineyard
out for the first pick: Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc early on August 29
first day of harvest...still smiling
the pick schedule is getting fuller...but he's still smiling!
Merlot in Quintessence Vineyard, consistently our first red block of the year
Quintessence Merlot coming in to the cellar
and then finding a rest spot to ferment in a Boutes tank
On Monday, August 26th of this week I found myself needing to know what the latest number and flavors were on our Sauvignon Blanc block at Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. With that thought in mind, I grabbed what I needed and headed out the door, into my truck for the drive to the vineyard. Once I arrived, I paused briefly and thought to myself: it’s good to be here getting to start anew with this next vintage. In other words, I am excited to get going with harvest this year. It also made me reflect on how long I have been doing this and how fortunate I have been to be able to do something that I am passionate about for this long.
Winemakers measure their time in the industry by how many vintages that they have worked harvest. Since harvest is when a big chunk of winemaking takes place, it only seems appropriate that our year starts around September 1st. This year is no exception with our first grapes coming in the door, tomorrow, August 29th. We will be bringing in both Klipsun and Artz Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.
This year will be my 32nd vintage in Washington. I specify Washington because I worked a couple of short crush stints in California while I was going to school at UC Davis. At that time, classes did not start until the first part of October, so I was able to get some short experiences in while attending school. I guess this is technically my 34th vintage.
I have a very vivid recollection of my first work experience in the fall of 1986 in California. I was a Lab Technician on 2nd shift at Buena Vista Winery in the Carneros AVA. I rented a room in Sonoma and worked every day for about six weeks. My basic duties were taking tank readings and doing analysis on both juice and wine samples. Jill Davis was the Winemaker and one of the few woman winemakers at that time. Her Assistant Winemaker was David Rosenthal. My boss was Mary Hall-Brown. It was a grea experience and a pleasure working with the great team at Buena Vista.
I also had the opportunity to meet and have some interaction with the legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff, who was then working as a consultant for Buena Vista. At the time I did not really know who André was, but later realized the significant role he played in post-Prohibition American winemaking. I worked again with Andre in the early 1990s when he consulted for Chateau Ste. Michelle and I was the Assistant Winemaker to Mike Januik. André Tchelistcheff was the considered the “Dean of American Winemaking” and had a huge influence on creating the style for California winemaking after Prohibition. He also had a huge influence on winemaking here in Washington with his many years of consulting for Chateau Ste. Michelle.
2019 will be the 20th vintage for Fidélitas – my family-owned winery. Thinking of my history in the industry, I have to say that twenty years with my own label is hard to fathom. Nevertheless, it is here, and I honestly believe we have yet to make our best wines. Am I happy with the wines we have made so far? Yes! Very happy, but I still think the best is yet to come!
Cheers to our 20th!
My dad and I were checking in on the Estate Vineyard last night after we had heard some rumors about veraison starting at some of our neighbors' places. It's fun to see how much things have changed since Staff Vineyard Tours which took place only 2 weeks ago where we didn't see any signs of color change. Here are some pictures from yesterday of Block 1 Estate Cabernet:
Things are changing quickly but compared to previous years I'd estimate we're still a week or two behind. We had a late bud break due to the intense winter weather, but things quickly caught up with a warm spring and lots of letftover moisture in the soils - canopies on Red Mountain were growing like crazy keeping the vineyard crews busy.
Ciel du Cheval Cab Franc
So far the summer has been quite moderate. We've had a few days reach into the 100's but most days are sitting around the mid 90's with little rain, most of it coming in spurts from thunderstorms. We also haven't had many smoky days compared to the previous years (knock on wood) which has allowed for maximum sun exposure and vineyard crews the ability to work in normal conditions. The prevailing winds on Red Mountain aid in keeping the smoke from sitting over the hillside.
View of the controlled burn on Rattlesnake Mountain used to combat the Cold Creek fires
My early take on the vintage is that it's been mellow, which is great. Not too hot (although we had a warm spring which was looking like 2015 but cooled off) and not too cold - no extreme weather to speak of. The crop looks great so far and I'm excited to be back on Red Mountain for Fidelitas' 20th harvest which is just around the corner! It's such benefit to be here where the soils drain so well, and we're able to fine tune our irrigation to account for wet winters because there's so little rain during the growing season. + we constantly get weather forecasts that resemble this - you couldn't dream of more perfect grape growing weather!
And sunsets like this:
When I started with Fidelitas in 2008, my job was solely to work directly with the members of the Fidelitas Wine Club. Over the years, I’ve had the joy of interacting with so many of you on Red Mountain, in Seattle (remember that?), in Woodinville, and lots of time on the phone with those of you who live a little further away. I know dog’s names, locations of vacation houses, and your mom’s favorite beverage (which isn’t always wine). Members remember when I got married on Red Mountain and my kid’s names, but I still manage to confuse many on where exactly I live in the state.
Over the years, my job has evolved, and I don’t get to work with everyone on the individual level as often (shout out to Skye and Michelle on the Club Team who get the pleasure now). However, one thing remains the same since we as a company committed to the Club back in 2008: everything we do is for you. We make products designed with the Club in mind, many of which were requested by you. We’ve opened tasting rooms, hosted unique and educational events, and created a special Club just for people who live out of state.
Our vision for 2020 and beyond is to continue this trend and be even better at it. We have plans in the works to enhance the guest experience in all arenas of the Club and are so excited to share them with you. In the meantime, we’d love to know how you’re doing. Drop us a note, tag us on Instagram (@FidelitasWines), pick up the phone, or come visit us in the tasting room. We’d love to hear all about it.
Thank you for being a member. We truly appreciate your being faithful, loyal, and true to Fidelitas.
Jess Zander, Fidelitas GM
Magna Dinner, June 2019