Tasting wines completely blind is one of the most humbling things you can put yourself through especially if you consider yourself somewhat of a connoisseur. When we open a bottle of wine, pull a barrel sample, or step up to a familiar tasting bar we bring all sorts of baggage with us that effects our perception of what we're about to taste and makes it impossible to be unbiased. For example, in the winery, if we walk up to a barrel that's holding our favorite varietal from our favorite vineyard site and the specific barrel producer is one that we love we've already decided our opinion of the wine before even taking a sip. We constantly go through and taste blends and barrel samples blindly to make sure that we're critically and fairly judging all of our wines.
Here are some tips for you and your friends to throw your own blind-tasting party!
This past Tuesday the entire Fidelitas management team met for our First Annual Leadership Summit to plan our attack for the rest of the year + set our big long-term goals. As is custom at these type of meetings we pepper my dad with questions about Fidelitas history, vineyard philosophy, his career, etc... Every time I hear him talk I learn new things and I'm reminded of things that I haven't heard in a while. Here's my top 5:
1. The original 400 cases of the Fidelitas Meritage had "Fidelis" printed on the corks which was the original name of the winery before we got a cease and desist letter from Safeway re: a "Fidelis" liquor brand that was in their posession. Does anyone have any of the original Fidelis brandy that they're willing to share?
2. Although his first "official" vintage in Washington was in 1989 at Snoqualmie-Langguth working under Mike Januik the first ever Washington wine that my dad made was a 1983 Riesling from a vineyard just outside Pasco, WA made in my grandfather's, his father-in-law's kitchen. His name, Daniel Fidelis O'Neil.
A young Daniel Fidelis O'Neil picture in the Seattle Times
3. He got hired on at 3 Rivers in 1999 as their first winemaker with the agreement that he'd be able to start his own wine label. He spent the 2001 & 2001 harvests there commuting from Tri-Cities everyday.
4. In 1993 he was hired as the head Red Winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle after focusing on their white wine making from 1990 to 1992. His first task was to manage the Canoe Ridge facility which was the first, modern, large-scale red wine-making facility in Washington state. He said from 1993-1998 so much was getting thrown at him that he was able to learn massive amounts in such a short period of time all while at the forefront of red winemaking in the state.
A bottle of 1993 Ste Michelle Cab that we were able to enjoy recently courtesy of Compass Wines. We were amazed at how well this wine was holding up, Mike Januik wasn't lying!
5. His first job in the wine industry was in 1985-86 as a lab tech at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma while studying at UC Davis.
For those who aren't up to date on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (bettter known as Triple D), stop reading right now, reevaluate how you spend your free time, find a way to stream the episode that aired on March 8th called "Southern to South American" featuring Richland Washington's own Porters Barbecue and you may recognize a certain winemaker chowing down on a dino beef rib:
Talking to some club members recently and helping them plan their trips to Red Mountain, suggesting food places that may or may not show up on a Google search got me thinking that I should gather all the food recommendations from team Fidelitas and create our own:
Bale Breaker Brewing Company, Yakima - if your getting mezmerized by the rows, rows, and rows of hops and need a little beer to warm up your palate
Los Hernandez Tamales, Union Gap - authentic tamales from James Beard award winning chef, Felipe Hernandez
Wine o'Clock, Prosser - wine bar and bistro located in Prosser's Vintner's Village
Miner's Drive In, Yakima - obligatory since I stopped here every away game for high school sports
Graze, Richland - soups, salads, and sandwiches, located right next to Porters for those who don't want the Dino Ribs
Tacos Super Uno, Richland - taco truck just off the highway on your way to Red Mountain from Tri-Cities, you need to have Mexican food while you're in Eastern WA. Your best bet is coming to our Feast of St. Fidelis event May 3rd for some of this:
and this view:
Drumheller's, Richland - located on the second floor of the Columbia Point Lodge overlooking the Richland waterfront, make sure someone at your table orders pasta
Anthony's, Richland - their back patio may be the best dining view in Tri-Cities
The Bradley, Richland - tapas bar
Fat Olive's, Richland - most popular after work spot for workers in the Tri-Cities research district
Carmine's Italian Restaurant, Kennewick - family-owned, it'll make you feel like you're at your Italian grandmother's for dinner
Aki Sushi, Kennewick - best sushi I've had, Seattle included
We've got a bunch of new events on the calendar for the Spring!
Dates: March 8, March 22, April 26, May 10, and May 24 - 6:00-7:00 p.m. - $30 members, $40 non-members
Location: Woodinville Tasting Room
How to make a reservation: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathleen provides in-depth tastings through flights of 5 wines, both library and current releases, with hand-selected food pairings for each event. Themes from the past include 5 Cabernets of Red Mountain, Vertical tasting of Optu Reds, and vineyard specific tastings featuring Ciel du Cheval and Quintessence. Come taste some of the best Fidelitas has to offer in a more intimate setting.
Dates: March 29 - opening weekend, Red Sox + July 6 - Oakland A's
Location: Suite at T-Mobile Park
How to make a reservation: email email@example.com
Tickets include VIP ballpark access, premium gametime food in the suite, quality time with owner-winemaker Charlie Hoppes, and a selection of Fidelitas Wines to enjoy while you watch the game.
Date: April 12, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Location: Woodinville Tasting Room
How to make a reservation: email firstname.lastname@example.org - Club-Only - $30
Join Charlie and our winemaking team for a special tasting and panel discussion + Q&A to follow. Each ticket includes a flight of wines and the opportunity to learn from our team with 70+ years of combined harvest experience.
Dates: April 13-14 + 20
Location: Woodinville Tasting Room
How to make a reservation: no reservations necessary!
Every time we release new wines to the club in February, April, September, and November we close off the tasting rooms for the following 2 weekends to give our members the chance to come in, try the new releases in an extended flight, and pick up their wines. Often this is the only time to sample and get your hands on limited wines after they're released!
Feast of St. Fidelis
Save the date and start planning your weekend: Friday, May 3
Location: Red Mountain Tasting Room
Watch for more information and an invitation to come in early April!
With the first couple 2016 red releases now available in the tasting rooms and much more to come in February and April (see Jess' most recent post) I figured now is a good time to take a look back at what all went on in the 2016 vintage and how it affected what went into the bottle.
What team Fidelitas was saying in the midst of 2016:
When we look at the differences in vintages the biggest factor on Red Mountain is heat; there are many other influential variances such as rain-fall, humidity, damaging frosts (*knocks on wood), etc..., but air temperature at different times of the year drives the ripening cycle. The main way we look at the difference in heat between vintages is growing degree days (GDD):
One of the main factors of grape development or the "ripening cycle" is air temperature. The running total of cumululative GDD during the "growing season," deemed to be April 1 to October 31 in Washington, is used to compare different vintages in the same region and different regions around the world. A base temperature is 50 (Farenheit) is chosen by WSU based on their experience that when the average temperature > 50 vine development/sugar development takes place.
Quote from the Washington Wine Commission which perfectly sums up the chart above:
"2016 continued the trend of warm growing seasons in Washington marked by an early start. Bud break and bloom were significantly advanced from historical dates, with bloom occurring in some areas as early as the third week of May, a good two-plus weeks ahead of average. By the end of May, 2016 was easily on pace to surpass 2015 as the warmest vintage on record. To everyone’s surprise, beginning in June, temperatures swung back toward normal. “As we all know weather is very unpredictable and we did not see the cool second half coming,” said one winemaker. These cooler temperatures persisted throughout the majority of the summer."
Here's a summary of a few conversation I had with my dad about 2016 on Red Mountain:
2016 started out warm, extremely warm, and some were predicting a vintage that would break the previous heat records of 2014 and 2015. We had an early April bud break which made us a little nervous, luckily with Red Mountain being one of the warmer areas we aren’t at as high of a risk for Spring frost as others (once it starts to get warm on Red Mountain it stays warm). The fruit set beautifully and we could already tell that yield was going to be on the high side. The summer cooled way down compared to previous vintages and the final ripening stages into the fall were drawn out to aid with flavor development and giving us the opportunity to let the fruit hang for some of our later ripening varietals without having to worry about sugar delevelopment or over-ripening. Expect more age worthy wines in 2016 – with acid levels a little higher – somewhere between the cooler vintages, 10 and 11, and the warmer 14 and 15. These wines may need a little more time to open up especially for bigger/bolder releases like Esate Cabernet or Quintessence Cabernet but we’re excited about the balance and age-worthiness of these wines. With more "normal" weather our single varietal wines are going to be more "true to their traditional varietal characteristics" - you won't taste the warmth of the vintage as much in these wines.
Also, we’re seeing year after year just how incredible fruit is coming off Red Mountain as some of our younger vineyard partners are continuing to develop and we continue to work with the same blocks year after year – always fine tuning our winemaking techniques to get the most out of the fruit.
(above) Charlie's view at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday. This is the 2016 Quintessence Merlot that will be released in April!
(below) My similar view of early-morning pumpovers - Willamette Valley, 2016
First off I'd like to apologize to our members who have their wine shipped or pick up at our Red Mountain tasting room - I promise I'm not forgetting about you and thank you for being loyal members! But as our Woodinville tasting room manager, I figured I'd speak to my strengths. Even if you aren't one of our members who picks up their wine in Woodinville there still should be plenty of good information in here.
If you haven't been to one of our Preview Tasting you need to check them out. There's one in January and one in July - available in Woodinville and on Red Mountain. Taste through the future releases and choose your club allocations as your tasting the wines. It's the best way to make sure you get exactly what you prefer for your allocations.
Preview Tasting is scheduled for January 13th in Wodinville at the Hollywood schoolhouse (a 2 minute walk from our tasting room) and January 13th on Red Mountain - keep an eye out early December for the email to make your time slot reservation
Plus, you may get the chance to meet our rockstar winemaker:
Check out our recently updated Wine Club FAQ page
Next time you're in the tasting room ask us if we have anything else open - we often have club-only pours available!
If you're finding it difficult to make it out to Woodinville we also offer flat-rate shipping on club allocations + we recommend shipping it to your business address so there's always someone there to sign
Follow us on istagram, facebook, and check our events calendar which is updated frequently
On busier days there is parking available behind Brian Carter - parking area highlighted - red arrow is a path that leads to the parking lot:
1) The uniquness of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard: Charlie and Dick Boushey are bringing 60+ years of winemaking/vineyard experience to collaborate on one 12 acre, 5 varietal, 6 Cabernet clone vineyard, with one winemaker's vision in mind. A little different than the standard Washington model where some of the top vineyard sites like Red Willow, Champoux, Quintessence, Ciel du Cheval, Boushey, etc... are selling to 30-40 different winemakers.
2) Don't sleep on the food in Tri-Cities: we had amazing sandwiches and salads from Graze and pizzas from Brickhouse for staff lunches, and (hot take alert) the best Barbeque in the state of Washington: Porter's in Richland, for our all staff dinner.
3) Ciel du Cheval is a jungle and Quintessence is groomed like a golf course - this is not meant as a slight, but as a compliment to both parties. These are some of my favorite vineyards in Washington and more than anything shows the beauty of different vineyard management practices.
CDC Cab Franc
4) Our winemaking team is nerding out about fermentation vessels more than ever . The team did a tasting in the production facility of one lot of Clone 169 Quintessence Cabernet, but fermented in 5 different oak containers: new roller fermenter, used roller fermenter, upright wood tank, etc...
5) Calling Red Mountain "one South-Western facing slope" is technically true, but is a bit of a disservice to the diversity of growing sites within the AVA
A block of Malbec from the Canyons vineyard, named after the extreme slopes and unplantable canyon that runs through the planting:
Shaw Vineyards tucked in the very northwest corner of the AVA boundaries - you'll have to take a few dirt roads to get a peek of this planting:
On the opposite corner of the AVA is Quintessence which has some plantings in rocky soils that are south-eastern facing:
None of these pictures come close to doing it justice - go out and explore Red Mountain for yourself! (just watch out for snakes and badgers)
Looking for some inspiration I decided to scroll through my camera roll to see what I was up to Father’s Day of 2017. I came across a “photo shoot” I had done for a profile picture on the website and Jess happily pointed out that I was doing the “Wine Boss” pose:
Mine's not nearly as epic, but I'll chalk it up to the black and white filter.
(our contact info is on the website if you work with a winemaker modeling agency)
These pictures are a reminder of how lucky I am to have a dad and mentor who's laid out the blueprint for me to follow, but at the same time is encouraging me to do it in my own style. He's an incredible winemaker but has always been a father first to me and my sisters.
Hope everyone has a wonderful Father's Day!
With the release of the single vineyard Quintessence Cabernet early last month (the first single vineyard Cab of the year to make it to the tasting bar), a common discussion in the tasting room has been how many different "micro-fermentations" we do here at Fidelitas.
By this I mean both:
a) the methods: different oak vessels, metal vessels, different types of yeast, etc... and
b) the numbers: we have lots of unique tiny lots of different varietals and vineyard sites from all over Red Mountain which we crush, ferment, age separately + even within some lots of the same fruit, "Estate Cabernet" for example, we'll separate the same fruit into what I like to call micro-fermentations which only result in about a single barrel of finished juice (1 barrel = approximately 25 cases).
I specifically remember tasting the 2016 Estate Cab during last Christmas break, of which we have about 14 barrels - those 14 barrels are first broken down by the 2 different clones we use for our Estate Cab: 7 barrels of Clone 6, and 7 barrels of Clone 2. Within the 2 groups of clones, each barrel was fermented on its own in a different vessel, meaning we'll have 14 different "wines" which will need to be taken care of separately for the entirety of its 2 years of aging until it's finally blended together at the end with the other Estate Cabs!! Wouldn't it be so much easier to just throw all of the Estate Cab in one big stainless steel tank and call it good? It would certainly make for shorter days during harvest.
However, our winemaking team has found that the micro-fermentation method is well worth the effort: it adds a great deal more complexity of flavors and texture and gives us a more intimate hands-on approach with our fermentations. I liken it to a craftsmen spending time meticulously working on the individual pieces before putting the masterpiece together.
Another thing I'm reminded of when having discussions like this is how easy us second generations winemakers have it. Winemaking is all about experimenting and learning from your results - trial-and-error. However, unlike a chef who can make a new dish, try it, throw it out and immediately start over; winemakers only get to make wine once a year. The learning window is around 2-3 years until you have finished wine or even 5+ years depending on how much bottle time. Or even a decade if you're experimenting with planting differnet clones of Cabernet and how those result in a finished wine!! Lucky for guys like me, I have winemakers like my dad who have been doing this trial-and-error, and continuous gathering of data and experiences for multiple harvests who can pass their knowledge along. And for this I am truly grateful.
- Will Hoppes
Back in 1988 as a recent graduate from UC Davis' Viticulture and Enology graduate program, my dad was hired by Mike Januik (a fellow Davis grad) at Snoqualmie/Langguth near Mattawa, WA for his first winemaking job. After doing a harvest at Waterbrook in 1990, he rejoined Mike as a part of the winemaking team at Chateau Ste. Michelle, and worked alongside him for just under a decade, becoming the head red winemaker in '93 as Mike was serving as the head winemaker. They worked on the the first few vintages of the Col Solare project together from '95 to '98 and helped push Washington onto the world scene with the wines they crafted together during their time at the Chateau. Itching to start their own projects they both left around 1999, Mike staying on the west side of the state and creating Januik and my dad starting Fidelitas on the eastside. But you probably know this already, it's been well documented and touted by us throughout years.
What you may not know is that Mike's son, Andrew, who apparently I spent a lot of time hanging out with when I was too young to remember, has stepped into a winemaking role at Januik, and has his own "Andrew Januik" label since 2011. He started working part time at the winery when he was 13 and shortly after started working full time during the summers - a sentence that sounds all too familiar to me.
Since starting to manage our Woodinville tasting room about a year ago I reconnected with Andrew - which felt natural to say least with how much we had in common with our lives following very similar paths. After many glasses of wine, nights at karaoke bars, times spent dog-sitting for him, and quests to find the best beers in Seattle we became good friends and thought it'd be and awesome idea for me to join him for a Malbec project he had going in the famed Uco Valley region of Mendoza, Argentina. Not wanting to pass up on the opportunity to travel and learn from a talented winemaker like Andrew it was a no-brainer. Below are some highlights of past few weeks spent harvesting in Argentina:
We flew into Buenos Aires after a layover in London (this is what happens when you buy tickets at the last minute) and spent 1 night there before heading over to Mendoza. We spent hours and hours exploring the city with plenty of stops to drink beer and play cards:
Then over to Finca Agostino in Mendoza to check in on Andrew's 2017 Vintage:
Checking our fruit the day before the first pick:
Note how high these Cabernet vines are planted
First day of crush at O Fournier
Early Morning Pumpovers with a view
If it weren't for the snow-capped Andes in the background you'd think this was Eastern WA
Before and after pumpovers
With plenty of breaks for empanadas
Thanks to Andrew for letting me tag along.
There's so much I can take away from this trip to help me in my winemaking journey.
Make sure to go taste his wines if you haven't yet!
Come see me in the tasing room this weekend!