Fidelitas fans made this year one to remember. We launched a brand-new way for our members to buy Fidelitas wines; allowing the Club to select from our newest releases and create their own, unique allocation. Through the loyalty and dedication of our Club, we have now (nearly!) sold out of every wine we released in 2018. These faithful, loyal, and true members push us to keep ‘making our best wine yet’ as we look for new ways to surprise and delight them in vintages to come.
Magna Dinner, Red Mountain, July 2018
Summer in the City, Seattle, August 2018
Charlie is what makes our jobs easy. Obviously, he makes amazing wines, and that is the best part. But he’s also just an amazing guy to work for and work with.
This year, Charlie was awarded 2018 Vintner of the Year by his peers at the Auction of Washington Wines. This recognition gave credit to the 30+ harvests he has committed to making wine in Washington. Charlie’s effort and dedication, along with that of his peers, is what continues to advance the Washington wine industry.
Charlie Hoppes, Honorary Vintner, and Marshall Edwards, Honorary Grower, at the Auction of Washington Wines, August 2018
Skye, Jess, Will, Charlie, and Michelle at the AWW Picnic and Barrel Auction, August 2018
We call this tiny AVA home. At just 4,040 acres, with nearly every plant-able acre now under vine, this is a really special place. Charlie often remarks that there are only a few growing regions in the world where you can stand in one spot and see the whole AVA, block by block. The unique terroir, devoted growers, and outstanding neighboring wineries, have established Red Mountain as one of the most premium wine producing regions in the world.
Fidelitas Estate Vineyard on Red Mountain, September 2018
Estate Vineyard Dinner, September 2018
We’d be nowhere without our staff! On a very personal level, I am so grateful to have such a dedicated, positive, and all around great team representing Fidelitas every day. They tell our story and share the wines with our customers, sweep the floors, pack boxes, haul wine, make dinner reservations, throw parties, and SO MUCH MORE.
Team Fidelitas Staff Vineyard Tours, July 2018
Team Fidelitas at the Mariners, June 2018
Team Fidelitas of the Future: Charlie and Brynn, January 2018
Seems simple enough. As a winery, you make wine, you pour wine, you sell wine. But our wines were somehow extra special this year and I am thankful for that.
10 of the 19 wines we released in 2018 were sold exclusively to our members in Club allocations, meaning they never even made it into the tasting rooms. We had exceptional releases such as varietal Malbec from Quintessence Vineyard, intense Cabernet from Blackwood Canyon Vineyard, old vine Merlot from some of the oldest blocks on Red Mountain, found in Kiona and Ciel du Cheval Vineyards, and of course our own Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Washington wine is growing. Red Mountain wine is growing. But, Charlie’s longstanding relationships with growers allows us to select fruit from specific blocks to make exceptional wines for our members, and this is what sets Fidelitas’ wines apart.
Fidelitas 2018 Releases, start to finish!
I got a text from Charlie at 6:15 this morning with picutres of him doing pump overs. At that hour, I'm still dragging and dealing with the kids. Charlie's picture, however, showed him smiling, looking at the soon to be wine, while it's still dark outside. Is he a little bit insane? Maybe. But I'm starting to realize that is what harvest is all about.
Here are some memories of harvest over the years from both Charlie and his wife, Terri. Raising 4 kids and being a small business owner is no joke. Throw in some 14 hour work days, 6 days per week, and that's just fun for the whole family.
What were some of your first impressions those first few harvests, starting in 1988?
CHARLIE: It’s always been intense. My first few vintages were crazy, super busy at a big place like Langguth. I was thrown in to the mix quickly, running the crush pad before I really knew what I was doing. That’s Mike Januik’s fault…it was really overwhelming and exhausting. 12-14 hours per day with just Sundays off. After the first few years, I was much more comfortable. Especially being at Ste. Michelle, where the staff works like a machine to make it all happen.
Harvest this year seems like a constant juggling act. I’m thinking about 10 days out while Mitch is trying to figure out where we are putting the grapes that are coming in tomorrow. Hillary is constantly focused on the day to day…getting each wine through fermentation. On any given day, we’re doing 70 lots at a time. Pump overs started at 6 today, and at 9:30 he’s still going. We’ll start this all again at about 2:30 this afternoon.
I’m looking at the new guys and they really don’t know what they are getting in to. Not only is in physically exhausting, but mentally. But, they all come out with a greater appreciation. And I think it gets in to their blood. Some of the guys are turning around to do southern hemisphere harvest too.
TERRI: Was it intense? Yes! You put your life on hold during harvest. Not only is he gone physically but also mentally, but yet he was always there if we needed him to be. We felt like he was here and were his priority. Intensity for me was the worry of his long-distance commutes throughout different harvests - from Walla Walla, Mattawa, Wenatchee, etc. Once I heard him come through the door my prayers were answered - driving with so much fatigue isn’t the best!
Langguth/Saddle Mountain in 1988
Did you ever think that Charlie was insane for making a career shift from Boeing?
TERRI: Never - even if fall can be bittersweet each year. My wish to experience a fall foliage trip in New England with Charlie someday will just have to be a trip to the vineyards!
What are some traditions at home or in the cellar surrounding harvest?
CHARLIE: I always work on my birthday but we always managed to have a party when I came home at night. My birthday and harvest have always been closely related for me.
At the cellar, we’re playing Shakira every morning. This started for me at Three Rivers in 2000 with Holly Turner after she had worked harvest in Mendoza. We’re able to do it with Spotify now…which we definitely weren’t doing in 2000. Nowadays, the cellar crew is requesting it to start the day.
I also try to help the crew out during harvest. Sometimes we’ll do a big bbq for lunch or even go out to breakfast, just to break the monotony. Many years, we’ll also host a lunch for the vineyard crew once the grapes are off the vines.
TERRI: I always remember when our family was young that Halloween was a big deal because Dad was finally home! Harvest was ending, and we would be normal again.
Are there any times Charlie fell asleep at the dinner table after working in the cellar all day? Any other dirt on him?
TERRI: No - no funny story to share about falling asleep. He was just always trying to stay awake once he gets home! And then always waking in middle of the night for a while thinking. He is never able to really rest until end of harvest.
Is there anything you both like to do as you finish up the harvest season?
TERRI: It’s hard to unwind at the end of harvest, especially when you are working many, many weeks with no days off. We just enjoy the time to rest and catch our breath! We’re always looking forward to holidays with family and can’t wait for a new grandbaby coming into our world in a few weeks!
CHARLIE: Just take the time to slow down. You know, in some ways Terri is the one who has really put in all the work. She takes over and raises the family, which is not easy, during fall especially.
This year, we are just really looking forward to meeting our new grandbaby.
This week, we are celebrating Charlie as the Auction of Washington Wines’ 2018 Honorary Vintner. And, in the midst of our excitement and party planning and wine coordination, Charlie is keeping on as his steady self, preparing for another harvest in Washington…his 31st to be exact.
I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary with Charlie and Fidelitas. It was so exciting for me. It was the longest job I had ever held, and I know that there is limitless growth and opportunity working with Charlie. However, I now realize that my decade is nothing in comparison to his three in Washington. And if I feel so inspired by my 10 years, there have to be so many others out there who have been influenced and taught by Charlie over the years.
Here is a bit of what Team Fidelitas had to say about Charlie:
I first met Charlie while working for Bob and Roger Gamache. I had recently completed my degree at WSU, and was eager to start my winemaking career. Charlie was always supportive and encouraging, and now 12 years later we are getting ready to start our 9th harvest together. Along the way I have had an amazing opportunity to not only learn about wine and winemaking, but more importantly how to be a good husband, father, and member of the community. I will always be thankful for all that he has shared with me. - Mitch Venohr, Associate Winemaker
There is so much to say about Charlie as a person and not just his talent as a winemaker. Having the blessing of knowing and working for him for almost eight years has given me a perspective from behind the scene as to his character; who he is on the inside. I have observed Charlie’s kindness to others, his friendly easy-going nature always respectful to a situation and people around him. He is so very generous of his time and knowledge for others and he has a funny bone that comes out with wit and ease. He also lives his life with integrity, true to his beliefs inside and out before family, friends, and coworkers. It is my honor to work for this compassionate man. - Kathleen Batchelder, Team Fidelitas
I met Charlie in 2010, sitting across a picnic table at a little restaurant in Benton City, where I boldly convinced him that I could build a laboratory in his new winery. From that moment on, Charlie has supported all of my crazy mad scientist experimentation and winemaking ideas. He understands my passion for learning and lends me the platform to develop new techniques that drive our winemaking style. I often get an eye roll and a laugh when I tell him, "I have an idea" and lead him to the white board in my office. Then he says, "ok, lets try it...." - Hillary Sjolund, Associate Winemaker
From hearing Charlie's drive to make 'the best wine yet', to traveling to various wine regions together for education, and learning how connected he is throughout the industry, or sharing beautiful bottles of wine over great meals, every experience with Charlie is awe-inspiring. I feel so honored to be a part of his Fidelitas family. Some of my favorite memories are from spending time with Charlie during harvest on Red Mountain last year, drinking our morning coffee, and listening to him talk about all of the careful and meticulous processes that he puts into each wine we make. Charlie's passion, paired with his overwhelming kindness and humbleness is inspirational for us all. - Michelle Marsh, Fidelitas DTC Manager
It's been a pleasure working with Charlie over the years, he has showed me time and time again, how meaningful and supportive the wine industry can be. His kindness and generosity reflect in every aspect of his business. It's also eye opening to work for someone who constantly has nice things to say about his peers, he is always positive and shows us daily that we can't do our jobs without the support of everyone who works in the wine industry. It all starts from the ground up! Charlie has also taught me how to enjoy wine and champagne (to never get a house palate) and to always stop and enjoy the simple things in life! His general passion for a nice bottle of wine, sharing a meal with family and friends over great conversation is what it's all about! - Chelsea Larson, Fidelitas Red Mountain Tasting Room Manager
When I first met Charlie he had been named Winemaker of the Year by Seattle Magazine just one year prior. Now, 5 years later, he has been named Honorary Vintner by The Auction of Washington Wines. In these past few years working with him I have learned that there is no one more deserving of these amazing titles than Charlie himself. I'm lucky enough to witness his profound love for Washington wine, Fidelitas, and his family. It's been an honor to say I've learned from Charlie and because of him, there is no other industry I would rather work in. - Skye Dissette, Fidelitas Club Concierge
I thank my dad, Charlie, for laying out the path for me and the many second generation Washington winemakers. His work ethic, thousands of hours spent in the vineyard and winery, determination to never cut corners, commitment to making the best wines in the world, and relentless joy for wine-making are incredibly inspiring. Here's to another 30 years of making wine in our home state! - Will Hoppes, Fidelitas Woodinville Tasting Room Manager, Charlie’s kid, and second generation Fidelitas
My own personal story began more than 10 years ago, when my interview with him consisted of driving around Red Mountain vineyard sites in his dusty pickup. Listening to him that afternoon, I saw his passion for making wine in Washington state and knew instantly that I had so much to learn. Since then, he has become a part of my family, a baby-whisperer for my girls, a mentor, and someone I look forward to awesome new ventures with. I used to dread when he called me during harvest or blending because I knew he was going to ask about making some crazy wine. But now I see that it is all a part of the amazing experience of working with Charlie. There is no recipe, no consistency…just something we call modern craft winemaking that promises to still produce ‘our best wine yet’.
This year’s Auction of Washington Wines’ Industry Honorees, Charlie Hoppes and Marshall Edwards have generously donated a full barrel of red wine from the acclaimed Quintessence Vineyard, but that is only a part of this amazing auction lot!
The winning bidder will become an honorary Vintner at Fidelitas. This unique experience will make their winery, your winery, not just for one year, but for years to come, as you harvest, blend, and bottle your own Red Mountain wine.
You will be invited to begin your journey during Harvest 2018. You and your guests will be involved in selecting grapes from Quintessence and Shaw Vineyards on Red Mountain, seeing them through the sorting process, and starting fermentation in the tanks. As the wines age in barrel, join us for your second trip to experience a hands-on blending trial with Fidelitas Winemaker, Charlie Hoppes. You will be able to taste barrel samples and blend with other varietals from the vineyards as the team comes up with their 2018 vintage wines.
The third and final trip will include bottling of your exclusive wines from your personal barrel. After your day on the bottling line, you will have ownership of 25 cases of wines that you can distribute as you see fit. Enjoy with friends, give to employees as gifts, or cellar to enjoy for years to come.
With each visit, two couples will enjoy hotel accommodations, meals, vineyard tours and library tastings to immerse yourself in the history of the winery and vineyard.
This lot includes:
One barrel contains approximately 300 bottles (25 cases) of wine. All Red Mountain experiences are based on a mutually agreed upon date. Transportation to Red Mountain not included.
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.
Fidelitas Owner + Winemaker, Charlie Hoppes, named
2018 Honorary Vintner
by the Auction of Washington Wines
As Charlie marks 30 years of making wine in Washington, we are thrilled to announce that he has been named the Honorary Vintner by his industry peers for the 2018 Auction of Washington Wines.
This recognition is reserved for people who have exemplified leadership in the industry, and for those who have made significant contributions to the Washington wine community. Charlie shares this honor with the Honorary Grower, Marshall Edwards, who manages Quintessence Vineyard, a favored site for Fidelitas on Red Mountain.
“Charlie and Marshall both reflect what makes the Washington wine community so special,” said Shelley Tomberg, Executive Director of AWW. “Their sincerity in building relationships is inspiring, and it results in top-notch, innovative, premium Washington wines that influence the industry on a global scale.”
We look forward to celebrating Charlie, while supporting the mission of the Auction of Washington Wines, at events coming up this spring and summer on Red Mountain and in Woodinville: LEARN MORE
Read more about Charlie's history of Washington winemaking.
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!
And just like that, the 2017 harvest is done. The grapes brought in were lovingly turned in to some top notch juice, and are now nestled in to their barrels to rest for a bit. We saw our first fruit of the season, Sauvignon Blanc and then Semillon, come in from Klipsun Vineyard just after Labor Day. Reds started to come in just after that. Mostly from the eastern facing Quintessence Vineyard, but we worked our way west with the sun, and finished up by picking our own Fidelitas Estate Vineyard in mid-October. It is wonderful and challenging to have all of our fruit from the smallest, and warmest, AVA in the state. Everything ripens at about the same time, all vying for space in the cellar. Charlie and his crew worked around the clock to keep things moving along, and just took their first weekend off a few days ago.
A special shout out to Charlie, who just completed his 30th harvest in Washington state. His first winemaking job, fresh out of UC Davis, was at the start of crush in 1988 at Langguth/Saddle Mountain, and he’s never looked back. We have just a handful of winemakers in Washington nowadays who can claim three decades, and I’m proud to be working with one of them. When I asked him about this 2017 harvest, here is what he said:
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.