(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
Over the past couple of years Fidelitas has taken a couple of days during the peak of the growing season and brought together all of our tasting room and wine club personnel The main function of these two days together is to continually educate our staff on everything related to Fidelitas. We recently completed our 2015 staff retreat on Red Mountain on July 7th & 8th.
Our goal at Fidelitas, is to provide to you as a consumer with a great experience each and every time you visit us either at our home on Red Mountain or at our location in Woodinville. We often discuss having an authentic experience when you visit us. In order for this to occur the people that are pouring our wines need to have a level of knowledge that makes them Fidelitas experts. Our tasting room employee’s become the face of our winery and are responsible for telling the authentic Fidelitas story. When our story is shared with each and every one of you as consumer’s then the wine that you are tasting takes on a whole new meaning.
Over the course of the two days we spend together we hope to enlighten our people with information that will hopefully, make them not only experts on Fidelitas but have a more than average awareness of Red Mountain and the factors that make it a unique place to grow grapes and make wine. We expect our people to know what a clone is and what clones we have planted in our estate vineyard. We expect them to know what makes Red Mountain such a great place to grow grapes. We expect them to know where different vineyards are that we make wine from. The list goes on and on.
The two days we spend together here on Red Mountain are invaluable in educating the people that each of you meet when you visit Fidelitas. Hopefully this provides a more authentic experience for you as a consumer of our wines. Hopefully it also makes for a more interesting place for members of our team to work.
I first started working with Red Mountain fruit in 2005, initially from Red Mountain Vineyard. Started with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc. I currently making, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot & Malbec from the Red Mountain AVA. For Fidelitas. I am currently using 7 different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon in the various wines we make. Those clones being 2, 4, 6, 8, 21, Entav 169 & 191. In addition to these we will be planting this coming spring in our estate vineyard Entav 421. So in total 8 different clones of just Cabernet Sauvignon. We are buying grapes from eleven different vineyards, twelve if you count our own estate vineyard, and in 2015 we fermented 20 different lots of just Cabernet Sauvignon for Fidelitas. We keep every clonal selection wine separate usually through the entire first year to allow us to see the expression of each individual site and clone that we are buying. Needless to say we are creating a whole lot of components to work with when it comes time to put blends together. For other varieties we are also using some different clonal material but at the most maybe two clones.
It would be easy to say all of Red Mountain is homogenious, but it is not. Each individual site has unique attributes. Soils can be different, slope, aspect and elevation. In addition let’s not forget that component of terroir we all sometimes forget, the human element. We have excellent viticulturists, owners making decisions everyday that shape the vineyards of Red Mountain.
I think a common expression of all Bordeaux style wines on Red Mountain is for me structure and concentration. The depth of concentration, for me what is unique to Red Mountain. Also, I believe tannin structure from wines lend to great structure and ageability. These tannins must be managed specifically during fermentation to result in wines that are age worthy yet drinkable upon release.
Look for our wines to continue to evolve and improve. The best of Fidelitas may still be a new vineyard planting.
It’s always an interesting exercise for a winemaker to have to size up a vintage and compare it to what has gone before it. Keep in mind that as a winemaker, I am now focused on what we are going to do in 2015, as far as ordering barrels and securing our fruit source. We are also taking care of the 2014 vintage in barrels that has been racked post malolactic fermentation. We are also in the cellar starting to put blends together of the 2013 wines in anticipation of bottling those wines throughout the spring and summer. It’s an interesting perspective, one that I enjoy but when I have to jump back to a vintage like 2012 to draw some conclusions I really have to think about it a bit. After all, these wines were bottled last summer and to be honest I had not thought much about them until we started tasting for some of the events for our Fidelitas Wine Club.
So, what do I think of these 2012’s that we are starting to release ? First of all, I do need to point out that we did release our new Red Mountain 4040 blend in September, so the wines being released are not the first wines being released. The reaction to the 4040 has been great, so we had some indication what the wines were like. The 2012 vintage comes right after what could be considered two of most challenging vintages in Washington, those being 2010 & 2011. I do not think we have seen back to back vintages with so few heat units. At least not in my twenty seven vintages in Washington. As it turns out, 2012 was somewhat of a normal vintage in terms of Growing Degree Days. The weather in the fall of 2012 was nearly perfect, and we were able to ripen the fruit perfectly without any rain at all. This turns out to be a very important factor.
Before I give you my conclusions, let me talk a little about the wine media and what they think of 2012 in general. Keep in mind, these ratings are an overall score for Washington Red Bordeaux varietals. The large publications do have what they call vintage charts, which compare the wines from vintage to vintage.
Robert Parker’s publication, The Wine Advocate gave the 2012 vintage a score of 94. This is the highest score it has given a vintage since Fidelitas has been in existence starting in 2000. it also gave the same score to the 2005 & 2007 vintages.
The Wine Spectator gave 2012 a score of 95. Only one other vintage rated by the Wine Spectator has been rated higher since 2000, that being the 2007 vintage which they gave a score of 96. They also rated 2008 as 95 as well.
The Wine Enthusiast publication has rated 2012 a score of 97. This is far and away it’s favorite vintage from 2000 forward. Only 2005 is close and they rate it a 95.
I think the 2012 vintage is one of the top three vintages that we have ever made in the thirteen red wine vintages that have been released. I would put it right up there with 2005 & 2007 as far as comparing vintage to vintage. Both the 2005 & 2007 are drinking beautifully right now. I recommend drinking those wines of Fidelitas if you have them in your cellar.
The other thing to keep in mind in comparing vintages, is how much our product line up has changed since we first started. The 2012 vintage will have our usual array of Boushey & Champoux wines, but will have an expanded selection of wines from Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard and more selections of Red Mountain specific wines. If possible come by and taste the latest releases of the 2012 Red Mountain merlot & Optu blend. Optu is the only wine we have made since our first vintage in 2000.
you can also read this blog post on Charlie's NEW winemaking blog: https://charliehoppesredmountainwinemaker.wordpress.com/
Just when you think you have seen all that Mother Nature would send our way, with 2013 being the warmest vintage on record, 2014 topped it. Our home, Red Mountain, had a record 3599 Growing Degree Days. Growing Degree Days are a measure of the amount of heat/sunshine, one gets over the course of a growing season. This warm vintage led to almost perfect growing conditions for ripening fruit throughout the state. Red Mountain was no exception with harvest starting right after Labor Day and continued until the first week in October.
If I remember correctly a year ago in this letter I was talking about 2013 being one of the warmest vintages on record, especially early on in the year. Those 2013 wines are shaping up quite nicely in barrel and we look forward to bottling those wines soon for release in the future. I would not hesitate to say that some of the best wine we have made to date, are still in barrel. Both 2013 and 2014 should be great ones for us in the future.
Our current releases are still focused around the 2010 and 2011 vintage. I’ve had the time to see how these wines have developed, and could not be happier with both for drinkability now and future ability to cellar these red wines. 2013 is our first vintage for white wines from Red Mountain. We made Semillon and Optu White, which is blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. We have been pleasantly surprised at the great quality from Klipsun Vineyard for our Red Mountain white wines.
Starting with our first release of the year in January, we will begin rolling out many of the new vintage 2012 red wines. We have done some initial sneak peeks at these wines and the response has been very positive from both critics and consumers.
A very big milestone to look forward to from us for the coming year is the release of our first Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has been many years in the making, going back to our purchase of the land in 2007, and now finally getting to the point where we have a wine bottled and ready for release. We currently have a little less than three acres of three different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in our Estate Vineyard. The wine we bottled was a selection of the very best barrels and clones. The quantity of this inaugural wine is very limited, so do not hesitate to purchase once it is released.
We are very excited about the release of another new wine from Red Mountain: the 2012 Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard site, just east of Col Solare, shows much promise and we look forward to the wines from this vineyard.
We are also expanding the number of Red Mountain focused wines with addition of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and a Red Wine from Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard. These wines will join our current offerings of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from this famous Red Mountain vineyard.
If you have been to our home on Red Mountain, you may have noticed the great amount of land being developed through the appellation. These new vineyard developments are a result of the new irrigation district formed on Red Mountain in conjunction with the Kennewick Irrigation District and the availability of water. This is a project many years in the making and will literally change the face of viticulture on Red Mountain. We will be part of this new viticultural development as we plan on planting nine acres ourselves in the spring of 2015. Many other acres will also go into production within the appellation. Currently there are about 1500 acres planted in the appellation. Within a couple of years the AVA will see around 3000 acres planted in total. Needless to say, we are in for some major changes on the mountain.
Thank you, to all of our loyal customers who have been supporters of Fidelitas throughout the years of our existence. I can honestly say that I think our best wines are yet to come.
2013 was my 26th vintage in Washington and with each vintage comes new surprises and challenges. I think that is what makes winemaking so intriguing to me in that each year “Mother Nature,” gives us challenges to deal with in the vineyard and we try best as we may to make the very best possible wine.
2013 happened to be one of the warmest vintages on record. Historical weather data show it to be one of the warmest heat accumulation years on record, especially early accumulation of heat. As a result we started harvesting grapes for the vintage before Labor Day, which in 2013 fell on September 2nd. For only the second time since I started making wine in Washington, we picked grapes in August to get things started. One of the more unusual factors that influenced the vintage was how much heat was accumulated early in the vintage. By September 1st the amount of heat accumulated over the summer was significantly higher than any vintage I had seen previously in my 26 years. As a result, nearly everything was ready prior to October 1st. The final heat accumulation numbers ended up being lower than 2003 in total but the way in which we got the heat was very unusual. Many reviews of the vintage talk about early ripening and then a cooling period before other varieties got ripe. Most of our fruit for Fidelitas with the emphasis on Red Mountain did not experience this type of ripening.
What does this mean when we look forward to the vintage. I guess I could equate this vintage to a number of warm vintages since 2000. Vintage 03, 05, 07 & 09 were very similar in that we would consider these warm vintages and the subsequent wines have faired quite well. For Fidelitas, the 05, 07 & 09 ‘s have been my favorite vintages since our start in 2000. The wines themselves show incredible intensity and concentration on the palate. Great ripe fruit flavors, lower acids and potentially a very good to great vintage.
The current releases of the 2010 & 2011 vintage wines from Fidelitas come from two of the cooler vintages on record. For 2011, a couple of things stand out from the vintage and how they will affect Fidelitas. First of all, the harsh winter temperatures from the winter of 2011 caused the loss of fruit from the vintage over all. Total state tonnage dropped to 142,000 tons which was down from 160,000 tons in 2010. So, a significantly lower total number of tons harvested from the vintage. The second significant thing to note from this vintage is the 2011 was the coolest vintage on record with heat accumulation totals at 2312 GDD (Growing Degree Days). A normal year is around 2628 GDD. 2013 finishing at 2860 GDD for comparison.
What does this mean in terms of Fidelitas and the wines we are producing from the vintage? Keep in mind that a significant amount of Fidelitas production from 2011 came from the warmest AVA in Washington, Red Mountain. Getting the crop ripe on Red Mountain was not a problem. Getting fruit ripe from growers that we have worked with over a long period of time was not a problem at all. We did however experience a complete loss of some varietals from the vintage. We will miss the entire vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from Champoux Vineyard. Critical temperatures were such that significant bud damage resulted in no grapes being harvested at all. We did get a very limited amount of Merlot from Champoux Vineyard, so we will continue with Merlot for the vintage.
As for the wines themselves, I am looking forward to some very nice wines from 2011. The wines in general were harvested at lower than normal brix levels resulting in lower alcohols and more supple flavors over all. Higher than normal natural acids will result in very age worthy wines that I look forward to trying and enjoying upon release. The beauty of making wine in many different vintages is capitalizing on what “Mother Nature “ gives you as a winemaker.
Coming down the line, we are preparing the 2012 red blends now. The estate vineyard at Fidelitas on Red Mountain consists of Cabernet Sauvignon of three different clones. Each clone is planted to, around 1 acre each. Clones planted are 2, 6 & 8. 2012 was the first vintage that we were able to harvest fruit from the estate vineyard. The wines have been in barrel now for 15 months and are showing tremendous promise. We look forward to putting blends together in the very near future and to getting the wines bottled this coming summer of 2014.
We are at great time for Fidelitas, with renewed focus on Red Mountain. We continue to explore many new vineyard sites and varietals from those vineyards. The future is bright with hope for making our best wines yet from emerging vineyards from Red Mountain.