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.
This June, we are releasing a special set of wines, and with the temperatures (already!) so warm, I cannot imagine a better duo for the season. Around my house, we’ve already hosted backyard dinners, utilized the kiddie pool, and picked raspberries a full month before usual. This weather has me craving white wines that are crisp and refreshing, and reds full of flavor and concentration for those steaks from the grill. Before we get to enjoying, however, we have been learning about why these are such fun additions to the Fidelitas line up.
To start – we have the 2015 Klipsun Vineyard Semillon. This is our 3rd vintage of white wines from Klipsun Vineyard, with each selling faster than the previous vintage. In the Fidelitas line up, we make just two dry white wines, using Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, as these are two of the white wine varietals that would be found in the Bordeaux region of France. White grapes make up less than 5% off the total crop on Red Mountain, and being one of the hottest regions in the state, we think it is quite the feat to produce a quality white wine from this notorious red wine region.
Klipsun Vineyard gives us all the fruit we need for our whites. Not only is it one of the lowest elevation vineyards in the small, sloped, AVA, it is one of the most established and has excellent cooling winds from the Yakima River. Charlie told me: “older vines like this are sort of self-regulating. They produce the right yield and crop, we just have to know when to pick.” In the hottest vintage on record, picking earlier than usual (like my raspberries) was the key. This wine has me dreaming of buffalo mozzarella and peaches.
Our next release comes from a brand new vineyard for us. The Canyons Vineyard lies along the western border of the AVA, just north of Klipsun. The name comes from the deep ravines within the vineyard, that funnel air up from the river below. Currently, Fidelitas is sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon (clones 4, 6, and 21) from blocks planted in 2009 and not too far from our own Fidelitas Estate Vineyard, so Charlie is watching these vines with great interest as our own site develops. In addition, we are pulling a unique clone of Malbec, clone 9, from one the blocks that dips way down in to one of the vineyard’s ravines. (side note: last summer, I drove the staff through this block in a rented SUV. They were all quite nervous, but we’re here today to tell the story.)
2013 The Canyons Vineyard Red Wine is 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Malbec. In my house, it’ll be our go to for summer grilling and casual nights with friends. It’s approachable, fruit forward, and great with food. Following my fancy buffalo mozzarella salad, I’m going to do some nice burgers with Skillet’s bacon jam (make sure to try it at Summer in the City!) and settle in to my summer evening with this red blend.
Cheers to you all. I hope your summer is full of great wine and friends.
If you haven't already, check out everyvine.com. Cool stuff. This shot shows the steep canyons cutting through the middle of the vineyard. Our Malbec clock is in orange. The Cabernet Sauvignon is the dark green in the lower right. The Fidelitas Estate Vineyard is just beyond that, to the southeast.
Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon. "The Winemakers Clone", planted about 400 yards from the Clone 6 in our 2015 Estate planting.
And they didn't trust me to drive on these roads... Malbec in Block 11, tipping into one of the canyons. Charlie says, "check out that slope!"
View of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the north blocks of Merlot.
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.
From Jess: this is a repost from last February. However, as we are entering Taste Washington Wine Month and releasing our 14th vintage of Optu Red, I felt like it was worth sharing again.
Last fall I heard Kathleen in the tasting room introduce the Optu Red Mountain as "the wine that started it all." I love that phrase because it really does stand for everything that is Optu and Fidelitas. A product that has grown with Charlie as a winemaker and Fidelitas as a Red Mountain focused winery, while always representing the best fruit and vineyards in a given vintage.
Each year at Taste Washington, we feature the Optu Red Mountain, and it never fails to delight all that visit our table on that busy weekend. We hope to see you there to taste the newest addition to the legacy of the wine that started it all.
I came to work with Fidelitas in 2008, just as we were releasing the 2005 vintage reds. The tasting room on Red Mountain had been open for a year, but everyone had their stories of where they had experienced Fidelitas before then. For me, I first met Charlie at Canon de Sol (years before starting with Fidelitas), and then again in the Sandhill building. At one point in time, I was lucky enough to get a tour of Red Mountain with Charlie before so many of the great vineyards of today were even planted.
I’ve noticed that most stories have Optu woven in somewhere. My aunt recalls when she ordered some wine as a gift and Charlie delivered the case of 2002 Optu Red Wine to her door, case perched on his shoulder. The 2005 and 2006 vintages were very popular in distribution and so we picked up several new Fidelitas fans who had the wine at their favorite wine bar. This is the wine that has been with us from the beginning, representing our optimum blend of vineyards and varietals from each vintage.
And so now, a brief history of our signature blend, which started as Meritage, became Optu Red Wine, and now represents the region we call home as Optu Red Mountain. Optu first debuted in the 2000 vintage, and is now being released in its 13th variation as the Fidelitas 2012 Optu Red Mountain.
The 2000 Fidelitas Meritage debuted as a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Merlot. Our first vintage was limited to just 375 cases of this one wine. We kept the Meritage name and this bottle through the 2001 vintage (a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Malbec) and gave the wine a friend with the addition of Columbia Valley Syrah.
2002 is perhaps our most exciting vintage by packaging standards, and the origin of the name OPTU. I also happen to LOVE this vintage and was lucky enough to hoard some for several years. A blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, and 9% Malbec. I believe that this is the first wine we included some Red Mountain fruit in, with 10% of the make up coming from Red Mountain Vineyard. We bumped the line up to a total of 6 products in this vintage, most notably with the introduction of Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
By 2003, we came up with a design for the bottle that has stuck with us through the 2013 white wines. This is a great time for a shout out to our tireless designer, Joe Farmer of Whizbang Studio. He does awesome work and is a truly nice guy. Back to the wine…2003 Optu Red Wine is comprised of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc. We basically exploded to 9 products in this vintage with the addition of 2 white wines: the Columbia Valley Semillon and Elerding Chardonnay!
2004 sticks out in my mind as one of my favorites during the 10 Vintages of Optu dinner (also known as the flying salad dinner). 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec…our first blend using all 5 Bordeaux varietals.
In 2005 we introduced the linebacker bottles. Big shoulders, heavier than anything, and could only fit in 6-packs. It seemed like a fun idea until people complained about the bottles not fitting in their cellars. This only lasted us through 2 vintages… 2005 Optu is still showing fabulously now (as evidenced by my 05 Party), as a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Merlot. In this vintage, we also debuted our first Red Mountain dedicated wine, the 2005 Red Mountain Merlot, and created the Boushey Red Wine as a tribute to Dick Boushey’s 25Th anniversary.
In 2006, Optu was made up of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 9% Cabernet Franc. My fondest memory from this vintage was Charlie saying…"sure, you can lay them down, but why? They’re great now!” We also introduced Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in this vintage.
2007 brought another packaging change for some of our wines, thinner bottles, and one of Charlie’s favorite vintages. 07 Optu showcased 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 9% Malbec, and 6% Petit Verdot. We were at 15 products by this point in time with the addition of Red Mountain Red Wine, Red Mountain Merlot, and Red Mountain Cabernet Franc. We also gave Charlie the challenge of focusing just on Bordeaux varietals, and so Syrah fell away from the line up after 2006. 2008 stayed in the same bottled with 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec. 2009 also got to stick in the same bottle (that’s a record!) and is made up of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec. This still stands out as one of my favorite vintages and I am squirrling away as many bottles as possible.
2010 was a turning point for Fidelitas, and for Optu. In this vintage, we released the Optu Red Mountain…a blend dedicated just to the region we call home. Still a blend, this vintage also favored Merlot with 53%, then 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. Love this wine. We got to keep the Merlot dominance in the 2011 vintage of Optu Red Mountain with a blend of 50% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, and16% Cabernet Franc. This vintage sold out in about 2 months. Lucky for those in the Wine Club!
And so now, we end with the current release, our 13th vintage of what is now known as Optu Red Mountain. A big, bold wine at this point in time, that is worthy of time in the cellar for sure as a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. By this point in time, we have 18 red wines and 2 white wines: all Bordeaux-varietals, and 90% Red Mountain grown with the exception of some lasting vineyard relationships that are too good to pass up.
This blog post took me way longer to compose than I intended, but I think it’s because I truly do feel a connection to Optu. It was fun to go back through the vintages and remember different times that I’ve had the wines myself. If anyone has an Optu memory to add, I’d love to hear it.
FAITHFUL, LOYAL, TRUE.
Where do these words come from?
Translated from Latin, Fidelitas means faithful, loyal, and true. Think about the word fidelity and it starts to make sense. Ponder our logo, realize the circle is not an O, it’s a ring or circle of fidelity, and it makes a bit more sense. Know Charlie Hoppes and it all comes together.
Charlie and his wife, Terri, have been married for 33 years. They started their family as Charlie started his winemaking career. When they launched their own family winery in 2000, Charlie looked to Terri’s family for the name, settling on Fidelis (extended to Fidelitas). Like his winemaking style, Charlie’s approach to life is simple and pure. Honor those who are important to you, respect everyone, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Knowing him is knowing what it is to be faithful, loyal, and true.
Charlie, Terri, and their first daughter, Emily. Photo taken within the year Charlie first discovered Red Mountain fruit.
I don’t say all of these nice thing about my boss because my annual review is coming up, but because these 3 words have truly permeated all aspects of our business. We are faithful to grape varieties from the Bordeaux region of France (with a particular soft spot for Cabernet Sauvignon), loyal to modern craft winemaking techniques, and true to Red Mountain’s unique terroir. My team here aims to show everyone how they are faithful, loyal, and true through the relationships we have with visitors, members, and one another.
Each February, we celebrate the region we call home: Red Mountain. We host special tastings of our Red Mountain wines, and offer our customers the chance to stock up on some truly special releases. We hope that you’ll join us in the tasting rooms, or bring some Red Mountain in to your home so you can celebrate being faithful, loyal, and true along with us.
Join us Valentine’s Day weekend (February 13 + 14) for special Red Mountain wine flights and sweet treats. DETAILS
Club Members are invited to join us February 20 + 21 during our Release Weekend with a tasting of the new Optu Red Mountain and Red Mountain Merlot, along with a few nibbles. Please note: Woodinville will be open to Members ONLY both Saturday and Sunday. Red Mountain will be open for all visitors with a designated Club area. DETAILS
Order 2012 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, as we spotlight one of our staff favorites at a very special price. Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine we make each year to feature the unique characteristics of Cabernet from the Red Mountain AVA, using Clone 8 Cabernet from top Red Mountain vineyards. Toast your true love with Red Mountain Cabernet and we’ll toss in a couple truffles for you to enjoy as well.
Order by February 7th to have 2-Day Air shipping included in the price of a 6-bottle purchase.
During my workout this morning, the class instructor announced that she had some (a bottle) of champagne the night before. While I admired her for being so honest with us, it also made me realize that the indulgences of the holidays really do get to all of us (even those who teach fitness classes for a living rather than peddling wine, like me).
I love food. I love looking at pictures of it, dreaming about making the most complex of dishes, planning the menus, pairing the wines, and even going to the grocery store. While the food magazines and websites will tell us that this is the time of year to pull out all the stops, it’s not. They are wrong.
This is the time of year to slow it down. Pick simple, comforting, and beautiful dishes that are easy to execute, because we all know that at the same time we are wrapping gifts, wrangling sugar/gift crazed children, and zipping between holiday parties.
Here is a round up of things that caught my eye to make between now and 2016:
Renee Erickson’s Sauteed Dates (via Food 52, even though Renee’s a hometown here)
Baked Camembert with Pepper Jelly: just throw a little wheel in a cast iron, bake it, add some hot pepper jam (this one is amazing) on it towards the end and serve with baguette…so easy!
Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant
Harissa Stew for something hearty yet not so rich
Finally, I cannot bake to save my life by these Ambrosia Macaroons are soooo easy (my 2-year old pretty much made them), were fan favorites at the Holiday Party, and are exceptional with Late Harvest Semillon.
‘Tis the Season of last minute gift grabbing: heading to someone’s house, a party, or an appointment, and wanting to give something better than a regift from last year. Keep a case of easy drinkers and pretty tissue handy all season long so you never show up empty handed.*
Perhaps the most obvious, but for a reason! People work hard to throw a party at their home and always appreciate the acknowledgement of a gift. And – if you call it a hostess gift instead of a bar contribution, they feel like they get to keep that special bottle to themselves.
…are always better with a little wine. Don’t trust Uncle Jack to have enough supply to keep everyone going through the course of a family get together. Bring a bottle of your own to make sure there is enough for the duration!
I was getting my hair done 2 weeks before Christmas last year and someone popped in to give my stylist a bottle of wine. There I was, a winery employee, and totally empty handed. A nice bottle can go a long way for the people with whom you have a great relationship, but maybe didn’t make the major mall shopping list.
*Note: in no way am I suggesting that these wines should be consumed in your car, which is illegal. If you think you might be tempted, keep the corkscrew at home. Also, be careful about the weather! Wines left outside overnight when the temps drop could freeze, and that is really sad.
My husband just sent me a picture from the grocery store that already had a bunch of Christmas decorations on display. He was truly sad that “the grocery store skipped Thanksgiving!” and also confused as to why someone would want a planter in the shape of Santa’s boot. I can’t blame him on both accounts.
In all honesty, I don’t mind getting a little ahead on Christmas and gifts and whatnot (I’ll be honest…I just sent out a gentle gift pack blast to our email list…but waited until after Halloween!). It’s always been a personal goal to have my shopping done before Thanksgiving, with an extra case of wine on hand for last minute gifts. That way, I can just enjoy the weeks that follow.
However, I am not okay with skipping Thanksgiving all together. It is truly one of my favorite holidays. Good food, beautiful décor, and my best friends and family all in one place. I keep hearing people talk about serving cheap wine at Thanksgiving so one’s obnoxious uncle doesn’t get into it. However, I don’t worry about that in my house, and would like to drink good wine that pairs well with great food on this day of feasting.
This year, my picks for Thanksgiving are 2014 Klipsun Vineyard Optu White (quite possibly my favorite vintage of Optu White), along with 2012 Red Mountain Merlot and 2012 Champoux Vineyard Magna Red Wine. The Optu White is to serve with appetizers – a simple cheese board and a gorgeous crudité platter.
Both of the reds are perfect for Thanksgiving. They have bright acidity (good because they’ll help cut through all of those rich foods on the table), soft tannins (good because they won’t overwhelm any of the dishes), and are down right elegant wines to drink. We’ll serve these wines with the dinner itself to match all of those rich and earthy toned foods common to the Thanksgiving table. If you have people that want to drink white wine with dinner, I guarantee that Optu White is rich enough to stand up to the dinner and is going to be an awesome pairing with the turkey.
While we’re at it, I think I’ll throw in a bottle of the Late Harvest Semillon. This is a special occasion…a great time to open a special bottle! This wine is one of my favorites for any fruit based desserts, but is going to be great with that pumpkin pie as well.
Cheers! No matter what your own agenda is during these final weeks of 2015, I hope you find the time to celebrate one holiday at a time with the ones you love.
When I grow up (or don't have a 2 year old to tear the house apart), I am going to create beautiful scenes like this for Thanksgiving.
To say that we are in love with our new baby vines might be an understatement. This spring, as we planted our Estate Vineyard, the staff at Fidelitas anxiously awaited any new information and pictures coming from Charlie and the Vineyard crew. The road was marked? End posts delivered? IRRIGATION? What’s getting planted today? Are they greenhouse plants? Dormant rootings? Who knew we could be so excited.
When planning our Staff Retreat this year, visiting Inland Desert Nursery was perhaps the most requested activity. Team Fidelitas wanted to see where it all begins. We wanted to see the grafting and dormant vines, and tiny, tiny plants. To us, this was thrilling, so we were pretty excited when Ryan welcomed us in (I think we may have been the first group who actually wanted a tour). Inland Desert is a family owned and run operation dedicated to propagating and distributing clean vines (we’ll come back to that later) across North America. Based between Benton City and Prosser, they do much more than just Washington vineyards and send plants to more than 30 states.
At the risk of going on and on about baby vines, I’ll try to summarize what I learned that day:
Inland Desert works with the Clean Plant Center to ensure that all vines are CLEAN. This means that the vines they are working with have been certified as free from targeted viruses. Since wine grapes are propagated via cuttings, it is so, so important to make sure that they are virus free, otherwise these viruses can spread quickly, affecting entire vineyards.
They sell more grape varieties and clones than I knew existed. I’ve gone through my Sommelier training, plus some other wine coursework, and read a million wine books, and they have grapes I’ve never heard of before (Kay Gray?). If they don’t have it, they’ll find it for you. The catalog these guys carry around looks like a phone book. Remember, a grape varietal (eg. Cabernet Sauvignon) can have many, many clones. We have 3 Cabernet Clones planted in the original 2009 planting and 5 in the 2015 planting. Clones are genetically identical but offer different characteristics, like earlier ripening, looser grape clusters, more tannins. Think of it like identical twins but one is taller and can run a little faster.
cuttings from the mother plant
The talented staff has many ways of giving us little vines. As you know, there has been A LOT of planting on Red Mountain this year, which meant that we got to plant dormant rootings and green potted plants. In Washington, we have a low presence of phylloxera (a tiny little louse that likes to nibble on the roots and nearly wiped out France in the late 19th century), mostly due to our sandy soils, which these critters don’t like, so we can plant vines on their own rootstock. However, areas like Oregon and California battle it a bit more so they need to have vines grafted on to a rootstock that is phylloxera resistant. Here is the coolest part: to grow a new plant, they get a stick of an old plant (a mother plant) and stick it in the dirt. That stick starts growing and once it has two buds, they clip it, put that new stick into dirt, and it starts growing. That mother plant just keeps going and going and going (as good mamas do) and pretty soon you have a greenhouse full of little vines.
red mountain bound merlot
There is so much more to learn about this whole process. If you are at all interested, I’d highly recommend checking out the Inland Desert Nursery website (and searching for the amazing Charlie picture while you’re there).
This past weekend, we hosted a group of members from our Magna Wine Club for a dinner on Red Mountain. This was our third annual event, and some dared to call it the best yet!
We started the weekend with an early morning hike through the new Estate Vineyard. I'm not sure that we could call our attempt to beat the heat succesful.
Past years have allowed for dinner on the patio, but the triple digit temps forced us into the AC in the tasting room. It was cozy but the food was great and the wine was flowing! (take a peek at the awesome centerpieces: little cabernet vines!)
Guests loved doodling between courses...
...and loved the impressive display of library wines even more.
A wonderful weekend for all! Thanks to my great staff who put this on. They were working so hard this weekend, we didn't have the time to take pretty pictures of our own activities.