I woke up a few weeks back, read the headlines, and determined that it would be a better to stay in bed with my kids all day. The news was just too horrible, with too many lives impacted once again. I drug on like this for a day or two until my mom sent me a text: “we cannot control what happens in the world, but we can control our response”. She reminded me, there is nothing we could have done in recent months to prevent these events in the news, but we can send aid and make a conscious decision to help those in need.
Then, this week, the headlines hit much closer to home. The wildfires in Northern California are impacting members of our greater wine community. Beyond the stately wineries, there are the people that run our POS system and website, former colleagues working as winemakers and cellar hands, those who tend the vines, and those who have the exact same jobs as me and my team: selling the wines. A fire in 2017 for a winery can mean years and years of damage. Inventory lost today means nothing to sell for years to come, and all of those lives, and the lives of their families, are impacted for that span of time.
And so this October, I ask that we all give, because that is all that we can control at this point in time. We are still focusing on our Product Spotlight in the first part of October, where 10% of our website and tasting room proceeds will go to Hurricane Relief funds via Global Giving. In addition, Charlie and I feel passionate about generating additional funds that can go to those affected by the fires in Northern California.
October 20 – 22: we are joining forces with other wineries in the Red Mountain AVA to benefit relief efforts in Napa and Sonoma. Fidelitas will be donating a portion of our proceeds from the entire weekend, including the Harvest Party on Red Mountain. In addition, we ask that our guests consider making a cash donation, or contributing gift cards to stores such as Target and Home Depot that can distributed to families in Northern California so they can purchase the essentials they need to start rebuilding.
I have been fortunate enough to visit both Napa and Sonoma several times over the years, including a trip when I was very young, and again when I was just 21. Every visit, whether as a newbie, or as an industry member, I have been warmly welcomed and treated wonderfully. It truly is a special place.
“5 Cabernets? Don’t they all taste the same?” No way, man.
I love September. The month we release a whole slew of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from tiny Red Mountain. But don’t let the varietal or AVA trick you into thinking that these will be similar…they are far from it. Here are a few factors that play a role in creating a unique wine.
Seems obvious, but when the vineyards are within a mile of one another, you might not think that they’d be so different. However, if I compare just Quintessence Vineyard (which makes up the northeastern corner of the AVA) and our own Fidelitas Estate Vineyard (close to the center of the AVA, but definitely over the western ridge), the differences are remarkable. These two vineyards were even planted at about the same time but Quintessence lies further east, with intense slope, and rockier soils. The Fidelitas Estate Vineyard does not have as much slope, exhibits more silty loam, and is subject to more late afternoon. In 2015, we picked Cabernet Sauvignon a full two weeks later from our Estate Vineyard, than the Cabernet sourced from Quintessence. Red Heaven sits just between these two vineyards, with just a bit more age, while Ciel du Cheval lies further downhill from the rest, but was planted in the 1980’s…giving us some of the most established vines on the mountain.
Fidelitas Estate Vineyard (left), versus the slope at Quintessence Vineyard.
I won’t go too far in depth on clones here, but feel free to peruse previous posts for more detail on clones. Here are the basics: Charlies sources different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon to give us different attributes in the wines. While still being the same varietal, we may use one clone for more concentration and color, while another gives us bright fruit tones to lift the style of the wine. Charlie is looking for different Cabernet clones from each vineyard to create our varietal Cabernets. Quintessence Vineyard (clones 169 and 191) and Fidelitas Estate Vineyard (clones 2 and 6), contain none of what we call the “Washington Clone”, clone 8, but the Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is entirely clone 8 from four vineyard sites. It’s just another way to fiddle with the blend.
Clone 169 (left) is a special clone from France, which must be registered with the French governement. Charlie tells us it has elegance and finesse. Clone 6 (right) is what Dick Boushey calls the 'winemakers clone' because it is wonderful in the cellar and a pain in the vineyard. Those smaller berries and loose clusters give excellent structure and color.
Perhaps the most obvious way that two Cabernets may be fully different, but still worth exploring. Some wineries have a recipe that they follow, using the same oak regimen year after year or for each wine. However, for Charlie (who I swear calls me weekly to say “we’re going to try something new”), there is no formula that will work for every wine he creates. Every year is different, every clone is different, and he likes to create a perfect pairing for grapes and barrels that may not be determined until the fruit is in fermentation. Comparing the 2013 Cabernets, two received 100% New French Oak, one received an 80/20 blend of New French and New American, there is a 35/26 blend, and the last is 47% New French with the remainder being neutral wood (coincidentally, that wine was 100% New in last year…what a difference a vintage can make!). Then, even if a wine is 100% New French, there are a bunch of different decisions in the brands of barrels, the toast, and the time in barrel. But – that is a different conversation for a different day.
Harvest means I get text messages from Charlie at 6am on Monday morning. Still - so many beautiful barrels and fermenters.
I could go on and on about how wonderfully unique these wines are, but you are going to have to try them yourself to believe me. Join us for a Friday Evening Tasting in Woodinville, schedule an Elevated Tasting at either location, or let us send you some wines with notes on hosting your own specialized tasting. I’d love to hear any notes you come up with as you try these wonderful new releases!
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.
Fidelitas is all in on Red Mountain. We are dedicated to producing the highest quality, Bordeaux-styled wines from the smallest growing region in Washington state.
Why the specific focus? While we know that exceptional wines can come from every region in Washington, we also know that there are certain geographical features about Red Mountain that make it truly one of the best growing regions in the world:
A SOUTHWESTERN FACING SLOPE
The southwest slope of the Red Mountain AVA provides the vineyards in the region with a directional aspect to the sun that is ideal for prolonged sunlight exposure and warmth. These highly desirable conditions allow for a ripeness in tannins that is recognized as a primary characteristic of Red Mountain fruit.
WARM SUMMERS AND WINTERS
Red Mountain experiences more growing degree days than any other region in the state. The high latitude (N 46*) and topography contribute temperature swings experienced during the growing season, with daytime temperatures averaging 90 °F and night time temperatures dropping below 50 °F. These heat accumulation days create ideal temperatures for highly marketable grapes, exhibiting ripeness and concentration. The cooler evenings help to retain acidity levels which allows for the exceptional balance and structure found in Red Mountain grapes, and the wines crafted from them.
Red Mountain gathers less than 8 inches of rain per year, requiring irrigation in the vineyards. The use of drip irrigation provides ideal grape growing conditions through canopy management. Additionally, Red Mountain vines experience dramatically lower mold and mildew pressure compared to most other vineyard regions.
SMALLEST AVA IN WASHINGTON STATE
Red Mountain is the smallest recognized American Viticultural Area in Washington State, with 4040 acres. Of that, about 2700 acres have been determined plantable, and only 1700 is currently under vine. Red Mountain is defined by natural borders, with the ridge of the mountain to the north and the Yakima River to the west. Red Mountain resembles a growing region more like the Old World, where one can see each block of each vineyard from a single vantage point.
AVA SPECIFIC SOILS
The predominate soils of Red Mountain are not found anywhere else in the state. Wind blown Loess (Warden, Hezel, and Scooteney) were brought in by pre-historic floods. The high alkalinity and calcium carbonate content of the soil, along with its granular consistency, allows for each vine to form a well-established root system. In soils with this composition, root systems are able to reach deep to obtain the necessary nutrients and moisture.
The prevailing winds come out of the Southwest and are notable for their frequency and velocity. The regular gusts of warm air flow through the AVA’s vineyards during the growing season, keeping the grape clusters small and concentrating the flavors of the fruit - which contributes to their richness and intensity.
This is a post from last year (add a year to the marriage ticker). However, as we come in to the season of love and fidelity, it seems like a wonderful time to share the story of Fidelitas once again. May your Februarys be full of someone who is faithful, loyal, and true, tasty wines, and a few paper hearts.
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.
Full disclosure...this is a post from years past. But, still relevant, so sharing again!
‘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.
Charlie and I attended the Auction of Washington Wines back in late August. In the midst of the nervous and excited attendees and bidders, was an even more nervous and excited group of individuals: the Washington winemakers. Cell phones in hand, they were arranging trucking, and cellar space, and barrels for the first of the crop to arrive. Not even a full week later, we had Sauvignon Blanc from Klipsun Vineyard in the cellar. Harvest 2016 was fast and furious, and providing high yields of quality fruit, and now that we’re on the other side, we might even consider it fun.
August 24, 2016: Sauvignon Blanc is picked from Klipsun Vineyard. We love the lower elevation and proximity of this vineyard site, which helps to maintain crisp acidity in a warm growing region. This vintage, the Sauvignon Blanc is being aged in French oak barrels specifically designed for Bordeaux-style white wines.
August 29, 2016: by the end of August, we had brought in Merlot from Quintessence Vineyard and Red Heaven Vineyard. Charlie even sourced a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon from some specific sites before Labor Day.
September 10, 2016: Quintessence Vineyard Merlot gets some time in our open top wood fermenters. Charlie keeps me on my toes, trying new methods each year. “It’s possible our best wines are still yet to come,” he tells me from time to time. We’ll see, Charlie.
September 10, 2016: We host 50 of our closest friends in the Fidelitas Estate Dinner. Probably one of the most lovely evenings I’ve spent on Red Mountain.
September 13, 2016: In some ways, I wish I could just share screen shots of my texts with Charlie during harvest. After he sent me this picture, I ask “Oh! Is the cellar full?” His reply (an hour later) “It’s been full. Second round on all the tanks.” Sorry for asking, Charlie. Keep up the good work.
September 16, 2016: Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 169, is picked in Quintessence Vineyard. Charlie, feeling funny, tells me that Brown Mountain can be seen in the distance.
Sunday, September 25, 2016: “These fermenters don’t know it’s 6AM on a Sunday,” Charlie texts me…at 6:11AM on a Sunday.
October 1, 2016: Cabernet Sauvignon is picked in Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. These are some of the most established vines in the Red Mountain AVA
October 4, 2016: Cabernet Sauvignon is picked from our own Estate Vineyard. This is several weeks later than last year, and nearly 5 weeks later than the first Cabernet to come off of Red Mountain. People question me on how such a small AVA can produce different fruit. Well, if it ripens 5 weeks apart from each other, that is a huge indicator. Slope, aspect, elevation, and so many other factors are going to have a giant impact on the final profile of the wine.
October 22, 2016: We kick up our heels with the Harvest Party. The fruit is off the vines, and most of it is tucked away in the barrels where it will spend the next couple of years. Tacos and red wine are enjoyed by all!
Until next year!
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.