Dear Friends of Fidelitas:
2018 proved to be a banner year for Fidelitas. We recently completed our 19th vintage in Washington and have had a retail presence on Red Mountain now since May of 2007. Our first planting of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard took place in 2008 and the future continues to look great for us.
In 2018 we released a few new products that proved to be highly sought after by you, our friends. Specifically, we released our Old Vines Merlot and our Quintessence Malbec. In the future, we will continue to offer these products along with a wide range of wines from what I believe to then finest AVA in Washington that being Red Mountain.
Looking forward to 2019, and the release of the 2016 vintage reds, we will introduce three more new wines. A new red blend that we will call Montis is a Red Mountain specific blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a tiny bit of Malbec. We realize the popularity of blends and will add this blend to the Optu Red Wine and Ciel du Cheval Red Wine. This is a very exciting wine from some of my favorite vineyards, with great concentration and layers of flavor. We will also offer two new wines from Quintessence Vineyard: a varietal Merlot and a clonal specific Cabernet Sauvignon (ENTAV 169) in very limited quantities. These new vineyard specific wines show what an outstanding vineyard site Quintessence is.
We continue to try and find ways that we can continue to improve the wines that we make for Fidelitas. Continuous improvement is a constant theme for our winemaking team made up of me, as well as Hillary Sjolund and Mitch Venohr. Areas that we are looking at include fermentation vessel size and shape, as well as the use of more wood during primary fermentation. We also continue to look at fermentation itself and how we can up our game and take our wines to new heights.
The Estate Vineyard from Fidelitas continues to progress with time. We now have nearly 12 acres of vineyard planted to five different red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. Although we were able to get a small crop off our new planting in 2017, from the second leaf, 2018 was our first sizeable crop. Every single block was kept separate during fermentation and we are evaluating the wines as they continue to age. Clonal Cabernet Sauvignon is big theme for our Estate Vineyard with six different clones planted. We are very happy with what we are seeing so far and how we will mesh these wines in to our current lineup. Many thanks to Dick Boushey and his entire team who farm this property on a daily basis. We could not ask for a better partner.
I cannot say enough about how great our staff is at Fidelitas. The people that interface with you as customers on a daily basis see this and share it with me whenever I have a chance to talk with you at our tasting rooms or many events. I feel very blessed to have such a great team lead by Jess Zander.
I would like to simple say thank you to each and every customer that continue be so supportive of Fidelitas. Needless to say, we could not exist without your Faithful, Loyal & True support.
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!
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.
“We are gathered here today, celebrating Jess and Ben, at a winery who’s name not only translates to ‘faithful, loyal, true’, but at a winery who’s owner, and our host tonight, embodies these words. And I cannot think of a better way to start a marriage.” Those are words that my uncle spoke during a toast at my wedding. And while I’ve pondered the meaning of the name ‘Fidelitas’ many, many times, the weight of it really struck me as I was sitting there, surrounded by the most special and important people in my life, marrying my husband.
That was 8 years ago this month, and while I seem to be attending more baby showers than weddings these days, wine is still my favorite gift for newlyweds. Here are my favorite three ways to share Fidelitas:
A bottle for now and a bottle for later.
This one is super easy. Grab a cute, reusable tote (I love my BUILT bag) and add a bottle of Red Mountain Malbec, which can be enjoyed this summer with BBQ, and a bottle of Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which could be opened on the lucky couple’s 5 or 10-year anniversary.
This is kind of similar, in that you’re encouraging people to hang on to the wine to open for a special anniversary down the road. Even better, grab a couple big bottles and have friends and family sign well wishes right on the bottle with a metallic sharpie. My brother and sister-in-law did a 750ml, 1.5L, and 3L, (for one year, five years, and ten years) used this as their guest book, and then have opened the bottles with friends in the years since. (pro note: contact us for current availability on large formats. we may be able to find something amazing!)
A Wine Club Gift Membership is a great way to give a gift that will last a while. We can give you a gift certificate to include with your card now, and then will send bottles to the couple throughout their first year of marriage. If they live locally, they can come out to the winery to pick up or join us at our upcoming events!
Let our Club Concierge team help you put together a wedding gift that celebrates faithful, loyal, and true, and a happy wedding season to you all!
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.
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.
Earlier this month, the Red Mountain AVA Alliance hosted a group of trade personnel from around the country for a Cabernet Summit. The purpose was to show these wine professionals what makes Red Mountain unique as a wine grape growing region. I was lucky enough to tag along for most of the 3-day adventure, as I had the role of ‘van driver’ for much of the time, toting our guests of honor around the Mountain.
Fidelitas' Bagel Bar
The Summit was a blend of activities: a geology lecture, tastings led by a Master Sommelier (who I knew from my old ISG days!), vineyard tours, winery visits, and amazing meals with paired wines. Through all of this, there were a few key points that stuck out to me. Maybe they are different than what our visitors took home, but they are the ones I am choosing to share today.
I pulled up to dinner #1 – my favorite tacos on the patio of Kiona – after a grueling 6.5 hour drive from Seattle to Red Mountain (more than 2x the normal drive time). Everyone was sitting in the evening sunshine, enjoying the most amazing tacos, drinking awesome Red Mountain Cabernet, catching up on wedding plans (congrats Kasee and Mitch!), kids’ activities, winery parties, and how to get Uber into the Tri-Cities. Being just 4,040 acres, this is a tight knit community where everyone is excited to see one another and truly cares about each other’s lives and well-being. That terrible drive was quickly forgotten.
We hosted two seated tastings during the Summit. The first focused on the ageability of Red Mountain, while the second was a blind tasting where participants compared Red Mountain Cabernets to the same varietal from around the world.
We determined that Red Mountain has the stuff to create a highly ageable wine. Good tannin structure, bright acidity, and balanced fruit all come from the specific weather trends, soil types, and terroir that is specific to Red Mountain. It’s up to the winemaker then to create a wine to last. The Hedges 1993 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was surely hanging on, and tasted great in a line-up of younger and much younger wines.
When compared to the rest of the world, Red Mountain did have some unique characteristics that set our wines apart from those around the globe. Tasting four Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons blind, and mixed with Cabernet from Italy, Bordeaux, Australia, and Napa, we found that Red Mountain showed brighter and fuller fruit, depth balanced with acidity, and less of the pyrazines (green tones) than its cousins from other growing regions.
“Some of these vines are as big as a maple tree,” Scott Williams told us, as we stood in the Old Block of the Kiona Vineyard. These are some of the most established vines on Red Mountain, and while maybe not quite the size of a maple tree, they are far larger and taller than anything else we toured. Self-regulating and lovely, this block provides the fruit for Kiona’s OLD BLOCK, which Charlie pegged as one of his favorites in the Red Mountain vs. the World tasting.
Far on the other side of AVA, we stood in Quintessence Vineyard, which began planting in 2010, and continues to be developed today. Managed by veteran Washington grower, Marshall Edwards, Quintessence is trying new clones, new planting styles, and producing some quality fruit for a number of Washington labels. We tried 4 different winery’s Cabernet from Quintessence Vineyard and each was truly different from the others.
Charlie, Brian, and Marshall discuss the clones of Quintessence.
These are both vineyards that Fidelitas sources fruit from, in addition to 7 other vineyards around the Mountain. That is a lot from such a small growing region, but Charlie would call it his spice box from which he pulls all the key components to making a strong line up of Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tasting wine and touring vineyards all day can really take it out of you.
Just this morning, I listened to feedback from those who visited us during the Cabernet Summit. We had folks from Kansas, and Chicago, and California, who all said that this trip taught them that Red Mountain really is a great, unique growing region, and that they cannot wait to share it with those around them.
Ben and I celebrated our 5-year anniversary this past week. Time flies. Since we got hitched on the slopes of Red Mountain, it only seemed appropriated to do a wine themed trip to celebrate the date. We headed to our neighbors to the south to explore the Willamette Valley. Our three days of vacation took us to 6 wineries, a slew of restaurants, and one tiny little ferry. Here is what I learned:
Willamette Valley is over 52,000 square miles, subdivided into 6 sub-avas. Most vineyard sites lie between 200 and 1000 acres, but the AVA hosts mountains as tall as 1,600 feet and is protected by the 3,500’ elevation coastal range. My point? There is a lot of variability. Some
vineyards cited sediment from the Missoula floods like we have on Red Mountain, others said they hosted marine sediment from when the Pacific Ocean covered the region. Alexana Winery told us that they have 15 different soil types in their 80-acre property, with 8 of those on display as the front of their tasting bar.
When you are essentially working with just one varietal (pinot noir) and all of that variability in the landscape, it makes sense that growers and winemakers are going to get geeky about clones. It was fun for me to see it in action since we are exploring the best clones for our own Estate Vineyard right now. (Remember, clones are genetically identical to their parent, reproduced via bud or shoot. Using clones is a way of promoting grapes that are more disease resistant, provide more or less skin to juice ratio, produced a desired yield…overall picking the right plant for the right vineyard. This is not genetically modified stuff…just natural selection with a little assistance via grafting.)
PS – I know that there is more than just pinot noir. We tasted some lovely pinot blanc and chardonnay as well :)
Willamette Valley is much more temperate than Washington’s growing regions. Higher rainfall, fewer growing degree days, cooling coastal breezes all contribute to being pinot friendly, but it also means that we can really taste the difference vintage to vintage. Just a little more heat in 2012 showed a lot more ripeness in the wines (in some cases, to a point of being uncharacteristic of pinot noir). Pretty much every winery mentioned that their overall tonnage and case production varied greatly based on the harvest year. We’ve seen a bit of this in Washington (2004 in Walla Walla, 2010/2011 in the Horse Heaven Hills) but definitely not to the same extent.
Just like Seattle and Portland. So close that to an outsider, you might not tell the difference, but there definitely is one. The tasting rooms were GORGEOUS. Most of the ones we visited were the ‘lifelong dream’ of a couple that had established their resources elsewhere then came to the Valley. The overall feeling from a visitor is that everything was just a little more palatial and polished than us Washington folks. More so than that, the stories were different. Many wineries almost justified the fact that they sourced their fruit from other vineyards and every rose we had was introduced as being an ‘intentional’ part of their line up. Biodynamic, organic, and sustainable certifications were a big part of the selling points as well. All great stuff…just different.
Yes - we work hard. But part of the fun is getting out and exploring what's around us!