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.
It's hard to turn your head right now without realizing that Valentine's Day is right around the corner. I've been trying to come up with some interesting ideas to serve my sweetheart for our big night in (I refuse to wait in line to eat dinner somewhere with 5 million of my best friends). Casual searching on Pinterest leaves me feeling inadequate and in need of a heart shaped cookie cutter. Smitten Kitchen and the other foodie blogs make me wish I had more time to cook, and the big food sites and my endless cookbook selection offer me the same things that I peruse weekly. So what to do? How about use the amazing menu for tomorrow night's winemaker dinner as inspiration! Chef Andy Craig has outdone himself this time with a fabulous menu to showcase the 2012 Fidelitas Reds in their new Richland venue space, Anthology. I can't wait to share details and pictures next week. In the meantime, I'll continue to drool over this:
Salmon 2 Ways - Served on Applewood Smoked Bacon Brussel sprouts
Grilled Northwest Salmon with Chimichurri Sauce
Baked Northwest Salmon with Fire Roasted Red Pepper Coulis
Paired with 2013 Klipsun Vineyard Optu White
Garlic Roasted Beet Medley with Sautéed Kale and Fresh Thyme
Coffee & Cocoa Rubbed Smoked Tri-Tip finished with Jalapeno Remoulade
Paired with 2012 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Merlot
Wild Mushroom Risotto with Oyster, Portabella, and Crimini Blend
Finished with Fresh Shaved Parmesan and White Truffle Oil
Paired with 2012 Champoux Vineyard Magna Red Wine
6 Hour Braised Short Rib s & Crispy Pork Belly
Served on Buttery Boursin Whipped Yukon Golds finished with Caramelized
Walla Walla Sweet Onions
Paired with 2012 Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
& 2012 Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Chocolate Cake with Bacon Jam
Return to the tasting bar to choose your favorite debut wine
This week, I polled my team to see what they were thankful for. In return, I received several heartfelt, sincere, and slightly interesting responses. But best of all, Charlie’s response:
“Thankful to have her home,” he texted last night. His oldest daughter, Emily, is home for 30 days from her Peace Corp commitment in Tanzania.
“I'm thankful for a warm, loving home, a healthy body, an amazing husband, and a job I love. I'm also thankful for wine, chocolate, yoga, and bubble baths to bring me back to a happy place when I forget how much I have to be grateful for.” – Erin, Red Mountain Tasting Room Lead
“I am thankful for finding such a fantastic job working with fantastic people when I moved back to Washington :) I am thankful for being able to spend Thanksgiving filling my belly with delicious wine and great food made by my wonderful family. And also having the cutest dog ever to snuggle with when I need it!” – Skye, Woodinville Tasting Room Lead
“Well first of all I'd like to announce how happy I am that I've lasted over a year in Seattle (same goes for our new Woodinville Tasting Room)! I've moved into a cozy new place and learned some pretty essential Seattle things... such as where to find molten chocolate cake at midnight and where to pop in for a taste of bubbles. On that note, I am thankful that my job takes me back home to Eastern Washington about once a month. I get to double dip my family time and working on Red Mountain. I should also admit that I'm thankful that this time of year it's socially acceptable to add Bailey's to your coffee.” – Michelle, Wine Club Concierge
“I am thankful for my supportive family and boyfriend. I am also thankful to be working in the area I call home, my Fidelitas family, great friends, and even better wine!” – Chelsea, Red Mountain Tasting Room
And me? I’m thankful for so much this year. A supportive and loving husband who keeps me centered, a healthy, energetic toddler who reminds me I can’t control everything, a warm house, and an extended network of family and friends with whom I get to celebrate this holiday a total of FOUR times! And of course, a wonderful, fun, job that introduces me to so many interesting people and provides me with a few fun wines to throw on the table.
Cheers to you and your families!
I have really started to enjoy the holidays more in recent years. I still refuse to do the crazy mall dash, but do love the time I get to spend with friends and family. It’s always a ton of food (which I love) and wine (again…obviously, which I love) and warm cozy houses.
I just kicked off the season with a Friendsgiving at our house. Everyone brought an appetizer to share and I pulled out a few of my favorite wines for a spread. Matching wine with appetizers can be tricky. You need something with enough body to stand up to the bolder, richer, items, but definitely very light or no tannins. For the most part, appetizers are based around veggies (which have tannins themselves), or cheese (many of which can be metallic tasting with the wrong pairing), and are not our intense main course items like the steak with love with Fidelitas Cabernet.
My choices for wine were the recent release of 2013 Klipsun Vineyard Optu White wine, and a couple of library reds, 2010 Columbia Valley Malbec and 2009 Columbia Valley Merlot (which sadly does not exist any more, but 4040 would be a nice replacement!).
Our Friendsgiving spread included flatbread with pears, blue cheese, and caramelized onions, a crudité platter with endive, Persian cucumbers, tomatoes, and white bean hummus, sausage stuffed mushrooms, baked brie en croute with apples, hot spinach dip, and an amazing chocolate pumpkin bread. We wore stretchy pants and ate (almost) every last bite.
So, in a year where the holidays seem to be coming early and faster than ever (Target had trees before Halloween and Santa showed up at the mall a week ago), I wish you a wonderful season that is filled with wine, food, friends, and family.