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.
A lot can happen in 10 years. In 2007, I was just starting to date my now husband, exploring a transition from education to the wine industry, and paying $800 rent for a condo with a water view…in Seattle (I don’t want to even think about what that place goes for now). Since then, I started with Fidelitas, got engaged, bought a house, got married, had a kid, expanded my role with Fidelitas, and have accomplished a million things I wouldn’t have thought possible 10 years ago.
10 years ago this spring, Fidelitas was also on the brink of something new. The doors were about to open at our new home on Red Mountain. Prior to this, Charlie’s family-owned winery had spent its first six years relying on tasting tables in the back of other tasting rooms and home deliveries by Charlie himself. I’ve heard countless stories of Charlie hauling a case of wine on his shoulder to this house or that, or people finding our wines in the “Sandhill days”. To have his own tasting room open, fulfilling a decades old dream, must have meant so much.
It took a lot of hard work to get the Red Mountain tasting room to open, and a bunch more to keep us open for the past 10 years. It’s beyond Charlie, beyond me, and our staff, and our families. We’ve had support from growers, fellow winemakers, neighbors, Club members, and extended friends and family that we maybe didn’t even know we had.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing our stories on how we came to be on Red Mountain, what we’ve learned in the past 10 years, and our vision for the years that lie ahead.
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.
I recently sat down with my staff to think about the real benefits of being a Club member, beyond just what we print in the Club brochure. Every member of Team Fidelitas contributed their ideas, and we came up with over 2 pages of notes. From that exercise, one of the items that stuck out to me most is that we truly make wines just for Club members.
Now – that is an easy thing to say for some. “Club-exclusive” is a common thing to see at wineries. However, I realized that it is so much more than that at Fidelitas. One of part of my job is to work with Charlie and design how our releases will look up to 3 years in advance. Already, we are talking about which wines we want to make from grapes that will be harvested this upcoming fall. That means, we are having discussions about how much fruit to buy 5 months from now to make a wine that won’t be released until 3 years from now. We are looking at spreadsheets, and forecasts, and weather patterns, just to determine what wines we’ll make for just our Club members. This isn’t an after the fact decision. Your Club allocation is truly chosen by Charlie 3 years before you will take it home. Over the course of those 3 years, Charlie is ensuring that wine in your allocation is “one of the best we’ve ever made” (one of our favorite Charlie-isms).
Our 2013 Red Heaven Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is exactly one of those wines. We make this wine in exceptional vintages, where the fruit is just perfect to make a vineyard designated wine. After much fussing, we settled on making just 96 cases - not even enough to include in a Club shipment, but still special enough to make sure that it is a Club only wine. Designed, starting in spring of 2013, with the Club in mind.
Charlie, walking the vines in Red Heaven Vineyard.
The upcoming release of our 2013 Malbec opens a new chapter in our effort to move closer to only making wines produced from grapes grown in the Red Mountain AVA. In years past we have been able to source Malbec from a wide range of sources from throughout he Columbia Valley. 2013 will be our inaugural Red Mountain release and I think you will see a notable change from our previous style.
Don’t get me wrong, I like our previous Malbecs from the Columbia Valley but I think you will see a change that will be a reflection of Red Mountain. What is that change, you ask? Our previous vintages of Columbia Valley Malbec go back to the 2004 vintage. I remember getting a little bit of fruit in to play around with and to see if it would work in our Optu blend. Optu is a blend we have made from every vintage going back to 2000. I liked it so much that we decided to do a small bottling from that vintage of 96 cases. I had worked with some of the first plantings of Malbec in Washington when I was the winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle from 1990 to 1998. That fruit came off of Canoe Ridge Estate, planted in 1993, near Paterson and I knew it could add a new layer to the wines we were making. One of the noticeable characteristics of most Malbec is an inherent peppery or spice component. This has been a common component throughout our Malbec from 2004 to 2012.
The 2013 Malbec – Red Mountain is different from any Malbec we have made previously. The biggest change to me initially is the great concentration of the wine. This is common amongst Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Petit Verdot. Malbec is no different. When I say concentration it is true reflection of tannin and fruit balance. You will see this in a lot of Fidelitas Red Mountain wines. For me another characteristic that is less noticeable is the peppery, spice flavor on the palate. It is still there but not nearly as noticeable as previous vintages.
The 2013 Red Mountain Malbec comes from three different vineyards, those being Scooteney Flats – 54%, Kiona – 29% & The Canyons – 17%. These are three well established vineyards on Red Mountain.
For Fidelitas I would compare 2012 & 2103 on the same level. I know most media and trade have put 2012 up as one of the best vintages ever in Washington but I would put 2013 right up there with 2012 for what we are doing. Enjoy the latest chapter!
read more from Charlie on his blog, Red Mountain Rising.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas,
We had some great milestones this year, planting in our estate vineyard and releasing an estate wine. It's truly been a dream come true. Coming in the next year we have some amazing wines for you coming from our favorite vineyards on Red Mountain.
This year was the release of our first ever Estate Vineyard wine from our initial 3 acre planting from 2009: our 2012 Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Starting my career in 1988, I could hardly imagine not only having a family-owned Vineyard on Red Mountain, but also being fortunate enough to produce a wine from those vines. This has been a long time coming…perhaps the biggest milestone in my career to date. This wine is a representation of the premium Estate wine you can expect from Fidelitas. From hand selecting the perfect clones and using only the very best barrels, we made sure to pull out all the stops to create this beautiful wine. With only 50 cases remaining, you’ll want to be sure that you have this special bottle in your cellar before it’s gone.
The process to get water for irrigation to Red Mountain has been in the works for at least twenty years. This past spring, water became available through KID, and we were able to go forward with planting the remainder of our Estate Vineyard. My dream of owning an Estate Vineyard on Red Mountain is finally complete. We’ve been anxiously awaiting this since we initially purchased our home on Red Mountain back in 2007. Dick Boushey and his skilled crew worked hard to prepare the estate for the arrival of water. Dick and I obsessed over which Bordeaux varietals would excel in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard and hand selected a variety of grapes and clones which we know and love, along with others that we are excited to experiment with in the years to come. In total we have about twelve acres in vine just outside our back door on Red Mountain. Our first release of this new planting should come from the 2017 vintage and we can’t wait to share these premium Estate wines with you.
Looking forward, we couldn’t be more excited about the 2013 wines to be released in the year ahead. Just this last week I tasted through each one of the wines which we will release in 2016 and I am very excited about how they are coming along. You’ll be seeing more wines from some of our favorite vineyards such as Quintessence and Ciel du Cheval and new to the line up: The Canyons Vineyard. I think the upcoming 2013 vintage is as good, if not better than the 2012 vintage. Each year that we work with these vineyards on Red Mountain we gain more knowledge about them and are able improve our winemaking techniques. I believe the best could be yet to come from Fidelitas.
Fidelitas exists as a winery because of our faithful customers. To each and every one of you, thank you for your continued support. Many of you have been around since the start of our wine club, others have joined in the more recent years or months, and the loyalty from each one of you is invaluable. We look forward to sharing many more milestones with you. Thank you and happy New Year.
Charlie Hoppes, Fidelitas Owner + Winemaker
Harvest is coming to a close and new wines are being released, the signs of fall are visible around every turn.
It is a crisp October morning and the leaves in the vineyards on Red Mountain have begun to change colors for the season and what a beautiful sight it is.
The view from Antinori Road
Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
The Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
(a note from the editor...harvest is a busy time! we're lucky to get bullet points from Charlie during these months.)
Merlot grapes in the Canyons Vineyard, days before picking
The view looking west from the Canyons: smoky and warm.
Scooteney Flats Merlot: picked August 26, 2015