With our first releases of the year coming up in a matter of days, I need to take a moment to publicly recognize and honor a wine that is absolutely as good as one of our Cabernets and can stand up to our Bordeaux style blends with the best of them. I’m talking about our Red Mountain Merlot. “It’s just Merlot,” you say? This isn’t your classic Merlot that movies like Sideways put down back in the day.
Did you know that Charlie says Merlot is actually his favorite grape to make wine out of and fun fact: it’s also the most planted variety in France? Merlot is what put Washington on the map. When Charlie works on creating his various Merlots, he fondly remembers his early days as a winemaker, working with Merlot in the early 90s and wowing fellow producers from neighboring regions with the quality of Washington wine.
Most of the Merlots that we will release this year will be club only and highly limited including vineyard-designated Merlots from Quintessence and Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, plus the super sought after Old Vines Merlot. But first, in February, will come our 2016 Red Mountain Merlot which we intentionally make enough of to have in stock for most of the year. It's so good, we don't want to run out. Red Mountain Merlot is a wine we can relax with, enjoying bruit red fruit tones, and a bit of a spicy, dusty quality that we expect from Red Mountain wines.
This isn’t just Merlot, this is the Merlot that you can have in your cellar all year and never get sick of. To be released on Friday, February 8th. Click here to reserve yours.
With the first couple 2016 red releases now available in the tasting rooms and much more to come in February and April (see Jess' most recent post) I figured now is a good time to take a look back at what all went on in the 2016 vintage and how it affected what went into the bottle.
What team Fidelitas was saying in the midst of 2016:
When we look at the differences in vintages the biggest factor on Red Mountain is heat; there are many other influential variances such as rain-fall, humidity, damaging frosts (*knocks on wood), etc..., but air temperature at different times of the year drives the ripening cycle. The main way we look at the difference in heat between vintages is growing degree days (GDD):
One of the main factors of grape development or the "ripening cycle" is air temperature. The running total of cumululative GDD during the "growing season," deemed to be April 1 to October 31 in Washington, is used to compare different vintages in the same region and different regions around the world. A base temperature is 50 (Farenheit) is chosen by WSU based on their experience that when the average temperature > 50 vine development/sugar development takes place.
Quote from the Washington Wine Commission which perfectly sums up the chart above:
"2016 continued the trend of warm growing seasons in Washington marked by an early start. Bud break and bloom were significantly advanced from historical dates, with bloom occurring in some areas as early as the third week of May, a good two-plus weeks ahead of average. By the end of May, 2016 was easily on pace to surpass 2015 as the warmest vintage on record. To everyone’s surprise, beginning in June, temperatures swung back toward normal. “As we all know weather is very unpredictable and we did not see the cool second half coming,” said one winemaker. These cooler temperatures persisted throughout the majority of the summer."
Here's a summary of a few conversation I had with my dad about 2016 on Red Mountain:
2016 started out warm, extremely warm, and some were predicting a vintage that would break the previous heat records of 2014 and 2015. We had an early April bud break which made us a little nervous, luckily with Red Mountain being one of the warmer areas we aren’t at as high of a risk for Spring frost as others (once it starts to get warm on Red Mountain it stays warm). The fruit set beautifully and we could already tell that yield was going to be on the high side. The summer cooled way down compared to previous vintages and the final ripening stages into the fall were drawn out to aid with flavor development and giving us the opportunity to let the fruit hang for some of our later ripening varietals without having to worry about sugar delevelopment or over-ripening. Expect more age worthy wines in 2016 – with acid levels a little higher – somewhere between the cooler vintages, 10 and 11, and the warmer 14 and 15. These wines may need a little more time to open up especially for bigger/bolder releases like Esate Cabernet or Quintessence Cabernet but we’re excited about the balance and age-worthiness of these wines. With more "normal" weather our single varietal wines are going to be more "true to their traditional varietal characteristics" - you won't taste the warmth of the vintage as much in these wines.
Also, we’re seeing year after year just how incredible fruit is coming off Red Mountain as some of our younger vineyard partners are continuing to develop and we continue to work with the same blocks year after year – always fine tuning our winemaking techniques to get the most out of the fruit.
(above) Charlie's view at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday. This is the 2016 Quintessence Merlot that will be released in April!
(below) My similar view of early-morning pumpovers - Willamette Valley, 2016
Selling wine can be so hard.
Before we can present a new wine to our customers, there is so much preparation that goes in to the release. I’m not talking about the effort that the growers put in to each vine, or the work that Charlie and his team dedicate to carefully crafting each product, or even the hours I log deciding on glass and labels and all of the other packaging details. I am talking about all of the wines that we HAVE to taste and information we gather prior to release to make sure that they are just perfect.
Below are a handful of (unofficial, personal opinion) notes on the releases we have coming out the first half of 2019, in order of their release.*
Tasting this recently with Charlie we asked “where are all of those new flavors coming from?”. He explained that compared to 2014 and 2015, which were so toasty on Red Mountain, the 2016 vintage was a tad cooler, and that really allowed for the flavors of the varietal to come through. Charlie has been cited as “Washington’s top Malbec producer” by a number of authors, and with good reason. This Malbec has the power you’d expect from Red Mountain, along with the elegance I expect from a Charlie Hoppes Malbec.
Associate Winemaker, Hillary Sjolund, working on tasting notes for the 2016 reds.
2016 Red Mountain Merlot
Red Mountain Merlot is the first AVA-designated wine that Fidelitas made on Red Mountain. For years and years, this was a favorite around the Zander household. I have to admit, these recent warmer vintages (2014/2015) threw me a little bit on the Merlot but tasting this 2016 vintage has me right back on track as a favorite in the line-up. The wine is bright and cheery, bursting with red fruit tones and enough structure to make it exciting but not too bold to be saved for special occasions. I’m excited to pair this with some quiet time on the couch after the kids go to bed.
Oh Optu, you lovely wine. At last weekend’s preview tasting, members kept asking for my favorite wine in the room. And while I would NEVER play favorites, my heart kept tugging towards the Optu. Perhaps it’s the Cabernet-dominate blend. Or the heavy role that the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard plays in the make up (a first with this vintage!). Or maybe it’s the fact that I know Charlie actually does put a little extra love in to this blend. It’s the ‘wine that started it all’. The one we have made in every vintage since we began in 2000. And as our optimum blend, it’s perfectly yummy right now and so age worthy for those who can wait.
Happy Optu + Magna members at the January 2019 Preview Tasting in Woodinville.
2016 Blackwood Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon
This is our third vintage released from Blackwood Canyon Vineyard. Many are familiar with this landmark Red Mountain vineyard and have stories to share from over the years. What we know is that the fruit is AMAZING. This is old vine Cabernet from the AVA, using grapes that were originally planted in 1984. The vineyard went through a few years of neglect but were lovingly brought back to full glory in the past decade. The result is a rich, dense Cabernet with exceptional structure and depth. We are so excited about this vineyard site as it sits adjacent to the blocks of our own Estate Vineyard that were planted in 2015. To think of what we’ll have to work with in 30 years!
The Canyons Vineyard is aptly named for the deep ravines that cut up the side of Red Mountain from the Yakima River below. The gives us vines growing on crazy sideways slopes up and down each canyon. We source Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot from this site and put all three together to make this blend. I think it’s a perfect summertime blend and can’t wait to enjoy a bottle on the deck with some BBQ as soon as these temps warm up. (dreaming of warmer days on this super cold morning in Seattle…)
Now, Charlie doesn’t play favorites either, but we all know he is a HUGE fan of Quintessence Vineyard and really loves to work with Merlot. Any chance he can get, Charlie is telling us stories about when he first started making wine in Washington, and that Merlot is really what put Washington on the map as a growing region. This is our first vintage of Merlot from Quintessence Vineyard and we all agree that it’s an awesome way to start! Across the board, we see a bit more structure to the wines from Quintessence. This Merlot provides much darker fruit tones than the Red Mountain Merlot, and has some added aging potential as well.
During our team meeting last week, we tasted through the whole line up and Skye refused to keep tasting after the Quintessence Malbec. “I’ll just spend the rest of my day with this wine,” she said. Like the Merlots, this vineyard designated Malbec provides a deeper, richer, more complex profile than the Red Mountain counterparts. Quintessence is a relatively young site and Charlie actually got to give a little input on what he’d like to see planted. Malbec was high on his request list with dreams of making exactly this wine, just for Fidelitas Club members.
Will tasting the 2016 Quintessence Vineyard Malbec.
2016 Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
We’ve been working with Quintessence Vineyard fruit since the 2012 vintage, and it has been so great to see it evolve over the years. We use two French ENTAV clones, 169 and 191, in the Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. That means, these are grapes that are registered with the French government and might be found in some of those lovely wines from Bordeaux. To me, it gives the wine a multi-dimensional profile that has the earthiness we’d see in Old World wines, coupled with the bold tannins and bright fruit tones are icons of the Red Mountain AVA. This is definitely worthy of some time in the cellar and I cannot wait to see how each vintage continues to evolve over the years.
Fair warning: at the time of writing this blog post, we have 4.5 cases left of this wine. If you are reading this on January 16, and want this in your allocation…do it now! The other 43 have been allocated in less than 48 hours…
Charlie called me during his blending trials last year and said “we HAVE to do 2 single clone Cabernets from Quintessence”. I told him he was crazy and called Michelle who told me it was the coolest idea ever. So, I countered by asking him to choose just 1 clone and 2 days later he settled on the Clone 169. Why? To him – it just has the most unique qualities that stand out. Tannic structure, depth, complexity are all big markers of the ENTAV Clone 169, and those surely show in this wine. If you can’t wait to try it once you get it home, please pass it through a decanter or let it breathe in the bottle for a bit first. It’s a big guy that opens up so beautifully with a little time.
*a note about release dates: the actual date will vary based on Club level. Many wines are Club only and will not be seen in the tasting rooms.