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.
Jess and Charlie hosted a wonderful group in Suite 25. Fidelitas wines were flowing and the Mariner's played an awesome game! (if you squint, you can maybe see Michelle just above the scoreboard)
How great are our members, James and Kristi?
Erin took her husband for a suprise Father's Day game.
Chelsea chose wine over baseball and checked out our neighbors.
And Skye got to do a little babysitting...
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!
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to sit in on the Red Mountain Seminar that was a part of Taste Washington weekend. We gathered in one of the conference rooms at the Seattle Four Seasons and were lucky enough to watch ferry boats come in and head back out while listening to the wise words of the panel before us. Our moderator was Sean Sullivan, who has his own blog, Washington Wine Report, and is a contributor to the Wine Enthusiast, reviewing wines from Washington and Oregon. I love Sean because has this never ending thirst for knowledge, meaning he asks real questions and honestly wants detailed answers. In an industry that seems to be changing daily, that type of inquisitiveness is a perfect fit.
When I first sat down to write this article, it quickly turned in to an 8-page essay. Knowing that will never be read in the world of small, winery blogs, I decided to revise and just add a few amazing (paraphrased) quotes that I heard that day.
Only the upper 200 feet of Red Mountain was showing during the Missoula Floods, meaning that the portion underwater received some great rocks from all over. In addition to the basalt, sand, silt, and gravel you find all over Red Mountain, there are some “weird rocks” like marble and granite mixed in.
What he looks forward to in the next 5 to 10 years? Jumping in more pits as vineyards are developed.
So much good stuff. The first people on Red Mountain were geeky and passionate about quality. They embodied the culture of terroir. Wines from Red Mountain can be picked out of a line up because they are richer/thicker/darker yet balanced/fresh/fun. People looking for a good wine story get “I went out, smelled the air, stomped the ground. That’s it.”
In 5 to 10 years? Jim sees new adventures, which makes farming constantly exciting. His definition of success is making what you’ve already done even better.
Fidelitas is currently sourcing from 11 Red Mountain vineyards and producing 17 different Red Mountain wines from a wide array of clones. Charlie loves Red Mountain for the intense fruit, tannic structure (which is managed in the cellar), and great variety within such a small region.
Charlie sees that there is still a lot to learn in the next 5 to 10 years, with new plantings and new clones bringing new flavors to experiment with.
Red Mountain brings so much to a wine, which can been seen in the phenolic make up of that wine. The chemical compounds that add to the flavor, color, and mouthfeel of Red Mountain wines are almost exaggerated (my word, not Bob’s) in Red Mountain wines, making for some pretty intense stuff. 2012 is what could be considered a “Goldilocks Vintage” with 2011 being too cold, 2013 being too hot, and 2012 being just right in between.
Bob believes that in the next 5 to 10 years, the coming development will add to the dynamics and awareness of Red Mountain, but there are naturally acreage constraints in play as well.
If Rhone can do it, why can’t Washington? Paul took the vineyards on Red Mountain literally to new heights with the Force Majeure planting, where elevation and slope are drastically different from the rest of the AVA. Additionally, he brought in more Rhone varietals (Syrah, Mourvedre) to otherwise Cabernet dominated region, and has been pleased with the results.
In the next 5 to 10? An increased presence in the AVA, means more marketing, meaning national and international recognition. The people will be the ones who balance quality and passion.
In addition to hearing these five experts speak about the region, we got to taste through six incredible wines and hear from these wineries as well. The room was truly jam packed with people passionate about Red Mountain. All sourced from the same 4,040 acres, these wines could not be more different from one another. What a great way to start day 2 of Taste!
(62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot)
(85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 4% Syrah)
In just a few weeks, I’ll be attending my 9th Taste Washington. Wow. Of the eight I’ve been to (worked at) so far, I have been on the restaurant side twice, and the winery side eight times. I have met amazing people who are genuinely interested in learning more about the restaurant, the winery, or just wine in general. I’ve chatted with Club members from as far as Tennessee who came to Washington just for this event. We’ve met new people who have become dedicated Fidelitas fans as a result of finding us at Taste. It is truly an amazing weekend.
This year, I get to bring a few newbies with me who have yet to attend Taste. I’ve been thinking about how to prepare them and decided to share my thoughts…
There is so much wine at this event. Spend some time perusing the event program in advance and highlight some wineries that you might want to visit. Don’t worry about tasting every wine that a winery might be offering…just go for the one that really interests you. Think about what you want to gain. I’ll encourage my team to seek out wineries they have not tasted from before and to come up with two brand that are really comparable to Fidelitas and two that are really different so they can speak to the great variety that Washington wine country has to offer.
Water. And lots of it. There are water stations everywhere. Grab a bottle and stick it in your purse or swag bag. Chug a bottle between every couple winery visits. If nothing else, it helps to clear the red off of your teeth. Also remember…unless your glass is getting really funky, there is no need to rinse your glass between tastes. Residual water in your glass will dilute the next wine you taste. I always offer to rinse with wine prior to a taste to clear out a white or red or sweet that you had before.
You’ll also note that there is a bunch of beer at the event. I’ll tread lightly here because I know there are some mixed feelings on this. However, remember that beer (like wine) has alcohol in it and that polishing off a pint glass is only going to get you to your finishing point that much earlier in the day.
Similar words here as with the wine plan. Our wonderful Kathleen prints off the map of the venue in advance and circles the restaurant booths that she wants to visit. She has always been better than me on this and ends up eating some wonderful food, where I often just grab things as I see them. Plan on having a big breakfast before you show up and maybe stick a protein bar in your bag if you don’t think you can fill up on little bites.
This is new for me! I’ve always heard great things about the seminars and I get to attend my first one this year when Charlie sits on the panel of the Red Mountain AVA spotlight. There is a great line up of subjects this year where you can really enhance your knowledge of Washington wine.
Watch for it. There will be someone in an all white suit that gets red wine down the front of them, and there will be someone limping over crumpled carpeting in heels. I don’t want to be critical of anyone, but do want to advise that people remember this is a standing event where almost everyone is bumping around with red wine in their glass. I’ll be in black and flats.
Please! Get an uber, call a cab, hop on the bus. Even better, take advantage of one of the hotel packages the Wine Commission has set up and make a weekend out of it. You bought the ticket to taste wine, so taste and have fun! But, with this much wine, it’s really hard to say “oh, I’ll just have a little and then be okay to drive home”. I have to get out on the road with everyone at the end of the day and want to make it home safely to my baby.
I look forward to seeing my friends at Taste this year!
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.