Last week we met up with Dick Boushey to taste through samples of all the vineyard blocks in the Estate from Harvest 2019 to see how things are coming along. Blocks 1-3A, our 2008 planting, were tasting just as good as ever and there were a few surprises from the newer plantings, blocks 3B-12. A couple blocks in particular that stood out for their complexity and concentration were Cabernets from blocks 7 & 8 (clones 2 and 169). Now that these 2015 plantings are more mature and we're able to conduct a better comparison to the 2008 plantings, it got me thinking that we talk about the subtle differences of different vineyard partners all the time but haven't looked more deeply into the differences of the blocks within our own Estate vineyard.
The very peak of Red Mountain is around 1,400 ft and slopes down to about 600 ft as the bottom of the AVA boundary approaches the Yakima River. Our Estate, which is at the center of the AVA, sits at around 720 feet from the vantage point of our back patio (looking towards the SW at the Horse Heaven Hills):
Now onto the subtle differences - here's some elevation readings from different points around the Estate:
As you can see the Estate follows the gradual South-Western facing slope, with a slight dip in the middle at blocks 2 through 3B, similar to the main part of Red Mountain and is steeper on the Southern blocks, 7-12.
In fact in some areas the slope is more true Southern facing like we see in some of our favorite blocks on Red Mountain that go into our Quintessence Cabernet and offer some of the most concentration of flavor and color of any wines we make.
View from the middle of the vineyard looking back at the tasting room:
View from the Merlot block looking back at gentle SW slope towards the tasting room:
View from the back of Block 7 (Cab Sauv, Clone 2) looking South:
Looking South at Block 8 (Cab Sauv, Clone 169), note the gradual slope which gets steeper as you get further South. Both blocks 7 & 8 stood out in our Estate tasting for their depth and concentration. We're excited to see how these wines mature for blending later this year and the future harvests off these blocks!
While we begin to pour the 2017 vintage, Charlie is gearing up for the upcoming 2020 harvest, letting the 2019’s receives some much-needed beauty sleep, and considering blends for the 2018 vintage. I sat down with Charlie earlier this week and picked his mind about the importance of blending, the newest releases, and the process.
"A blend is the truest form of the best wine you can make." Charlie always looks for what he likes. “I don’t necessarily make blends for an end consumer; I make blends that appeal to my palate and hope others like it- apparently, they do. In Bordeaux, it’s always a blend and you’re not asking what it's a blend of. But if there’s any artistry in winemaking, it’s blending. Another winemaker could take the exact same fruit and create a completly different wine."
The 2017 ‘Blends’
The only wine made in 2000, and every year since- the Optu Red Mountain. This is the 17thvintage, and the 18threlease of this wine. What started out as the Meritage, eventually became Optu. "There is no recipe, but it’s always Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, with a few vintage exceptions." Charlie shoots for 75% Cabernet. He adds "Merlot for depth and length, Petit Verdot for concentration and structure, and Cabernet Franc for finesse and softening."
Charlie tries to differentiate our Cabernets by not only vineyards, but clones. The 2017 Red Mountain Cabernet is a blend of vineyards (62% Quintessence Vineyard + 38% Estate Vineyard) but a singular clone. With his favorite varietal, Merlot, he experiments with different vineyard sites, including Blackwood Canyon’s newer plantings to the north of the tasting room. He also blends fruit from Red Mountain Vineyard, Kiona's Estate, and Quintessence for this wine.
The Blending Process
Blending begins over Christmas break, when the cellar is empty. Every single barrel is then laid out across the entire cellar floor, two barrels high. Then Charlie, Mitch, and Will taste everything, and Charlie starts piecing the blends together in his head. Charlie admits that although they can have different perspectives and opinions on some of the wines, someone has to make the final call and that's him.
Over about three days, Charlie and the team spends hours tasting through everything. In about 2 hours, they’ll taste through 20-30 wines before their palates become fatigued. Because the cellar crew isn’t around, they aren’t shy about spitting in the drain that runs the length of the cellar floor.
Everything is separated not only by varietal and vineyard site, but by fermentation vessel used, and oak treatment. There are a lot of variables, but everything is accounted for. With this, Charlie and the team can tinker with what juice they prefer in each. For example, the team has learned that Clone 169 Cabernet in a roller barrel leads to over extraction. This is because the ‘cap’ of the wine is constantly submerged. The fermentation kinetics lead to the wine being overly tannic. Even when a wine that is being poured in the tasting room is labeled as a single varietal, single vineyard, there is still a ‘blend’ of fermentation styles and oaks that needs to be determined. He works at refining the fermentation and barrel program while also determining the blends that will come to life.
Charlie is constantly improving the production of Fidelitas wines. This continuous improvement, always leads us and Charlie to the affirmation that our best vintage is yet to come.
There are many beautiful wines being made here in Washington state – the compilation of so many talented wine makers using fruit from various Washington AVA’s. But in my opinion, the combination of Charlie Hoppes, our winemaker, and Red Mountain is a union that simply can’t be beat. Here’s why.
Charlie has been making wine in Washington state for over 33 years but his passion for Red Mountain all started in 1989, the very same day his first daughter was born. He was pouring wines at Kiona’s Lemberger days for Langguth Winery. There he tasted his first Red Mountain Cabernet from Kiona – the structure, that intense fruit and distinctive minerality! It was extraordinary and that started his love affair with Red Mountain. In those early days there simply was not enough fruit grown on Red Mountain to start a winery sourced solely on that fruit. But that didn’t stop Charlie from ultimately pursuing that dream. It took him a few years, but Fidelitas now sources ALL it’s fruit from Red Mountain vineyard partners, and most notably, our Estate vineyard that yields more and more fruit for our lineup of wines.
Today, Charlie takes his years of experience in the cellar and combines that with relationships he has built over these 33 years with people like Marshall Edwards (Quintessence Vineyard Manager), Dick Boushey (of Boushey Vineyards in Yakima and our Estate manager) and the Holmes family at iconic Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. All those relationships are key to sourcing the BEST fruit on Red Mountain, which Charlie usually designates block by block and sometimes row by row. Being a talented wine maker simply isn’t enough to make impeccable wine – it takes extraordinary fruit and knowing exactly where that is on Red Mountain and having the handshake relationships to source it.
So that leads us to Red Mountain and what makes it a World Class AVA. Red Mountain is located NOT in Walla Walla, but about 15 miles west of Richland, WA. Spread the word, Red Mountain is ON THE WAY TO Walla Walla, not IN Walla Walla and deserves a detour off I-82!
Want to visit tasting rooms actually in the vineyards? Google Maps to Fidelitas Red Mountain. You can thank me later. Red Mountain is getting worldwide attention for good reason. It produces killer fruit showing wines with great depth, structure and ageability. Here’s why:
And that my friends is why Red Mountain is at the heart of Fidelitas. It just doesn’t get any better than this. So, stop in at either of our tasting rooms in Woodinville or on Red Mountain, and we’ll happily pour you some of the best wine in WA. Not in our wine club family yet? That’s a shame because many of the wines being released this year are from one of the very best vintages for Fidelitas and only available to our club members. Come join us!
Yesterday, I was interviewed on what we call custom clubs or user choice clubs. Basically, the style of the Fidelitas Wine Club, where we are encouraging our members to select the wines that will go into their allocations. Once I got off the call, I sat back and thought about why this is such a unique model and how it truly does benefit our members.
Touting the benefits of custom clubs is nothing new on this blog. We wrote about it just last November and again back in 2018 when we brought our third Club with the most members over to this Club style. My apologies if it is getting redundant. We are JUST THAT EXCITED about giving our members the option to select their own allocations. Top reasons we love selling wine via Custom Club:
Our members get what they want.
We used to have members we would hand-customize their shipments because they didn’t want the Merlot (which is crazy because Charlie’s Merlots are out of this world) or even Cabernet (which might be even crazier). We’ll always release a variety of wines that are available to customize with so members can still get a variety, but only with the wines they really like.
The selections go beyond just varietals, though. I recently realized that this gives people the power to buy wines how they want to drink them. If you like to drink your wines sooner than later, and love a sampling of different things, grab one bottle of each new release. If you have an awesome cellar, go all in on your favorite one for your allocation and then round up to a case with a few more plus some daily drinkers for variety. Charlie and I both love to check in with one wine year after year just to see how it’s maturing in the bottle.
We also realize that what a lot of people want is to not make any choices at all, and we can totally do that. You know you like the wines, and we are more than happy to build an allocation for you.
We can design wines with the Club in mind.
This is one of my favorite things about Fidelitas. Many wineries may be scared of selling via Custom Club because it doesn’t fit with the wines that they are already making. However, we are making wines that we know our members are going to love, no matter the amount of cases produced, and allow these small lots to be sold via Club allocations because it is first come, first served. Once those 48 cases of Clone 191 are gone, they are gone but the members who really wanted them made sure to get them!
I’ve talked about this many times over the years. Charlie, like pretty much any winemaker I’ve ever met, is a sort of mad scientist. And he looooves making wines. Like, wants to make little tiny lots of everything and has an amazing knack for knowing what people are going to want in three years. This is how we end up with 48, 96, 142, 244 case lots. Allowing members to put these tiny production wines in their Club allocations guarantees that Charlie gets to make those amazing wines and members don’t necessarily have to buy above and beyond their allocation to enjoy them (although, as stated above, you should get more because once they are gone, they’re gone).
Further, “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. The wines available in your Club selections are 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).
Custom Clubs allow us to interact with our members in all new ways.
This is kind of a unique topic that I’ve been exploring. However, in 2019 we sold 75% of all wine to members and roughly 14 products never made it beyond the Club to even the tasting rooms. So – if a wine isn’t being poured in the tasting room, how do we know if people will like it?
Running Custom clubs for a few years now means that our team has really gotten to know our Club: their likes and dislikes, and how much they are wanting to take in each offering. Skye spends hours a day on the phone chatting with members to hear how past vintages are tasting now and helping them to select the wines that they’ll be taking home. In the tasting rooms, Team Fidelitas is sitting down with members to chat through each release to ensure that members are securing the want, and then diligently getting those orders fulfilled and sent home weeks later. It’s a little different than the traditional tasting room model, but gives our members a much more personal experience.
I can’t wait to release these new wines and will be spending next week on Red Mountain making sure that the exact right selections are making their way to their forever home. Enjoy them once they arrive!
There are too many reasons to love Red Mountain. Not only is it our home, but it’s a place that offers a wide variety of complex flavors for all palates, beautiful sunsets, and passionate wine loving people who could spend their days sharing Red Mountain stories. Did I mention beautiful sunsets?
In the month of February, we release a set of wines that encompass everything which makes this little AVA so special. Sipping on these wines you taste those complex flavors, see those beautiful sunsets, and remember the amazing Red Mountain stories you heard in the tasting room.
Our members are currently customizing their allocations with this set of new releases. My recommendation? Snag them all! You have enough variety in this line-up to please all of those around you.
released in January – available to all!
releasing in February
releasing in February
releasing in February
Fresh off 2019 Harvest and in the midst of putting the 2018 blends together it's been perfect timing to taste through the first batch of our 2017 releases seeing what we loved about each vintage, things we want to tweak in our winemaking for 2020, and be able to sit down and enjoy some "finished" wine out of the bottle. It's also been difficult to rack my brain figuring out the type of growing season 2017 was so I thought I'd do a little research on the 2017 Vintage for Fidelitas and how it affected our upcoming releases:
My Dad, Mitch, and I putting together the 2018 Estate Cab over the holidays
Here's what Team Fidelitas had to say in 2017:
2017 was a year of extremes. We had a cold winter with higher snowfall than average. This continued into the Spring and as a result we had a much later bud break and bloom than usual. We were initally thinking that we were in store for another 2010 or 2011-type vintage. But as is tradition, temperatures on Red Mountain shot up and the heat accumulation for the Summer months was actually higher than average - canopies were growing like weeds and not much irrigation was needed as the ground had held onto a lot of moisture. Heading into the fall we could tell that because of the cooler Spring that the fruit set was smaller and that yields were going to be down. Temperatures cooled way down in September & October and we were able to let fruit hang and let flavors develop without the threat of frost. The 2017's have great concentration and power to them because the of short/extreme ripening period and low yields, classic ripe Red Mountain tannin structure, with nice acidity and complexity offered by the longer hang times. We were able to control our pick dates, sugar and acid levels well in the winery to offer wines that taste great on the tasting bar but will cellar for 10+ years if that's your preference.
Resting on Roller Fermenters, September 2017
Quintessence Cab, Block 9, 2017 Fermentation Trials
In preparation for this Sunday’s Preview Tastings, Team Fidelitas sat down with Charlie to taste through the upcoming releases of 2017 red wines. As always, it was an awesome time to hear Charlie’s honest thoughts on each wine as he tasted through each one and fielded the questions from our staff.
side note: we started our tasting time with a 2006 Columbia Valley Malbec, generously shared by Therese from her cellar. All of us were floored by the fresh, bright fruit tones that appeared in the wine! I’m not going to lie: 2006 was a warm (not hot…warm) vintage. I vividly remember Charlie’s comment on that vintage when we released it: “sure…you can age them, but why? they taste great now.” This wine was amazing, fresh, and surprisingly bold upon opening but wasn’t as stunning when I tried it three hours later. It’s Malbec…not Cabernet…so don’t risk it. If you have it in your cellar still: it tastes great now.
I was in the tasting room recently, and someone asked me, “what is the plan of attack on the Preview Tastings?” and I honestly had a hard time coming up with the answer. To me, you taste the wines, you decide which you really like, and then you mark them down on your sheet and go. But what if you like them all or can’t make up your mind or are honestly overwhelmed by the whole thing?
I think that as a taster, you need to think about your drinking habits. If you know that you are going to drink your wines in the next few months, maybe you want to get one of each offering for your allocation (quick! try them and reorder any that are still available!). If you have a good storage system (cellar, garage, or cases stacked against your dining room wall) maybe grab 4-6 of those awesome, cellar worthy Cabernets and then round out your add-ons with daily drinkers. Charlie says he never buys a wine in a quantity less than 6 bottles because he wants to taste it over the years.
If you’re like me, you’re going to play the inventory game. I’m only able to grab 2-3 bottles of each wine at a time, but you know that I’m going to get the ones that will disappear the quickest. Get those first, then maybe 1 bottle of the others so I can check in on it in a month or two and order more before it runs out. Since I’m the one who gets to count Fidelitas inventory on a weekly basis, I’m going to share my thoughts on which wines to grab first. Watch for full tasting notes on each wine to come next week!
2017 Red Mountain Merlot: When we asked Charlie what he liked about this wine he grinned and nearly shouted “it’s Merlot! it’s just fun!”. My whole team could not stop making yummy noises about this wine. We’re Merlot fans, but this is one that you’re going to want as a daily drinker in your house. If you’re looking for a wine to round out your case with, this is the one. Remember: you get an extra 5% off mixed case orders.
2017 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: We’re so excited to see this as one of our first releases of the year, versus one of the last. This means that we’ll hopefully be able to keep it in stock for a bit to enjoy over the summer. However, don’t assume it’s going to be around forever. This is such a lovely blend of Quintessence and Fidelitas Estate Vineyards that I don’t anticipate it will last too long.
2017 Optu Red Mountain: *currently sipping this wine and blogging at the same time* This is the one wine that we have produced in every single vintage since our first one, way back in 2000. About a year ago, I got the technical info from our winemaking team on this vintage of Optu, and had so many questions. It was an amazing lesson for me in looking at a wine by the BLOCK (i.e. individual rows of grapes within a vineyard) versus the name of the vineyard itself. Charlie told us that he has this wine on his mind through the growing season. He’s constantly tasting and testing each site to decide what will make it in to Optu. While this, like the Red Mountain Cabernet, is a higher volume wine for us (still less than 700 cases), I really doubt it will make it past the summer months.
On to the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard releases. If you haven’t already, read THIS BLOG POST on why we moved Ciel du Cheval wines to a spring release time slot. During the course of our tasting, Charlie said “Ciel du Cheval Vineyard has a tremendous reputation. If Washington state had Grand Cru designations for our vineyards, Ciel du Cheval would definitely be one of them.”
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Franc: Charlie says, “of all the varieties grown on Red Mountain, Cabernet Franc probably has the most finesse. We don’t go out of our way to make Cabernet Franc from other sites because they just don’t show quality like the fruit from Ciel du Cheval”. Only 142 cases produced on this guy…you’re going to want to GET IT NOW.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Merlot: Another very low production wine from Ciel, but with less volume allocated to Club selections. Basically, add-on with this wine because you can’t customize with it. While tasting, our team was nothing but joyous giggles as we envisioned drinking velvet. That is basically what it's like to drink this wine.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine: Do we all love Charlie’s Merlots? His Cabernets? His blends? Ciel du Cheval Vineyard? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. There is a reason that Team Fidelitas loves this wine. It is fully a blend of all things good about Fidelitas. By the time our members grab their allocations, there will be very little, if any, left of this wine.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Petit Verdot: Spoiler alert – we’re releasing our first ever Red Mountain Petit Verdot later this summer. It’s a multi-vineyard blend that is so much fun. We tried them both and I loved that each one was so different. The Ciel du Cheval, by comparison, was rich, floral, and focused. We’re finding that Charlie’s Petit Verdots are highly age-worthy, so definitely grab this if you have that storage system…whatever your style is.
2017 Ciel du Cheval Cabernet Sauvignon: I am hoping that by the time we are done with the Club allocation, we might have 30 cases available of this wine. That isn’t much. Someone in our tasting mentioned that Ciel du Cheval has been nicknamed the “Queen of Red Mountain”: a perfect balance of elegance and power. We all agreed that this could be called Queen Cabernet. So powerful, present tannins, loads of fruit, yet delightfully…feminine. Don’t tell Charlie.
We can’t wait to see so many of you this weekend! For those of you who are coming, take advantage of our Team, and ask them questions as you taste through the line up. For those who cannot attend, we look forward to helping you customize your selections when the allocation season opens next Tuesday! Finally, for those who are not yet members…you really might consider joining.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas:
2019 was another banner year for us at Fidelitas and would not have been possible without the incredible support of each and every one of you, our loyal customers. Not a day goes by where I am not completely humbled by the continued support we receive from all of you who buy and consume the wine that we make. Simply put, thank you.
This 2019 vintage we just experienced in the fall, is the twentieth vintage for Fidelitas. With humble beginnings of just one wine produced form the 2000 vintage, much has changed and evolved for us to be where we are now. In 2006 we purchased land in the Red Mountain AVA and built a tasting room that opened in 2007. In 2008 and again in 2015 we planted land to vineyard and now have twelve acres of producing vineyard. The 2019 vintage is the first vintage where the entire vineyard was in full production and entirely under our own control. Dick Boushey, a legend in the Washington wine business and his amazing team manages the property daily. The future of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard looks bright as we incorporate the fruit into existing products as well as introducing new products to our line up starting with the 2018 vintage.
I am very excited about the release of the upcoming wines from Fidelitas from the 2017 vintage. Mother nature provided an excellent year for us and I cannot wait to share these wines with you. We will be releasing two new wines in 2020, Quintessence Vineyard Red Blend and a varietal Petit Verdot from a few different vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA. Look for those new wines along with the entire lineup of great wines during the year.
The Red Mountain AVA continues to provide our winemaking team with what I think is the best fruit in the Pacific Northwest. As many of you know, we only make wine from the Red Mountain AVA and I am impressed with the improvement that we see every vintage. Some of this comes with the maturity and consistency of the vineyards, but also, the grape growers who we source fruit from on Red Mountain have really worked at improving in every vintage. This makes our job as winemaker so much easier and will continue to do so in the future.
We continue to make small changes to what we are doing in the winemaking process so that we are continually improving. Fermenting in various shapes and sizes of wood fermenters seems to be a something we not only continue to do but have increased the amount of wood we are using during fermentation. Another area of fine tuning of the process would be matching clonal Cabernet Sauvignon with what we believe to be the proper fermenter as well as the best barrels to age the wine in.
I cannot say enough good things about our entire team of people at Fidelitas. They continue to tell our story and offer relentless customer service to everyone of you. Again, thank you for your continued support.
Charlie Hoppes, Fidelitas Owner + Winemaker
Is it just me, or did 2019 come and go as fast as a glass of Optu White on a hot day?
As this year comes to an end I can’t help but reflect on all of the things that happened. From bad weather trying to come between us and your wine shipments, to Charlie gaining a new employee in the cellar, you can say we pretty much saw it all in 2019. Why don’t we all sit back, sip on some Red Mountain Cabernet (slowly) and reminisce together.
This year started off on let’s say…a very chilly foot. Washington saw some record snowfall while all our friends throughout the country were buried under ice. Florida was sounding really nice wasn’t it? We had to push back the shipping dates on not one, but two club shipments. You could say that Michelle and I were dreaming of easier days. A big THANK YOU to all our members who have their wines shipped. We appreciated you hanging in there with us!
We can’t forget the time that Charlie appeared on Diners, Drive-In’s, and Dives! As Will put it, if you never watched the episode you need to reevaluate how you spend your free time. Charlie can be seen chowing down on some delicious Porters BBQ in the episode titled “Southern to South American.” Do yourselves a favor and find a way to stream it.
One of the bigger things to happen within Fidelitas this year was Will’s transition from Woodinville Tasting Room Manager to Winemaker in Training. He joined his dad in the cellar and quickly learned that days off don’t exist during harvest. Charlie got a real kick out of that! I know our west side members miss seeing him during their visits but take comfort in knowing that he is thriving and has the worlds cutest puppy who is basically Instagram famous (@griffeygoodboy).
Who can take a guess at how many new team members we have at Fidelitas?
Team Fidelitas has gained some amazing and awesome faces. New Tasting Room Managers were hired this spring (shout out to Josh, Allie, and Bryce!) and with all the high foot traffic came some much needed help. If you’re a regular in Woodinville or on Red Mountain you’ll be able to point them out! Make sure to say hi. They love to chat all things wine!
Preview Tastings, Feast of St Fidelis, Winemaker dinners, Summer in the City at Block 41, Harvest Party and Pick6 all made their returns in 2019. What can we say? We like to party with you. I wonder what’s in store for next year?
Check out Charlie's blog posts Vintage of the Decade or Harvest 2019 if you haven't read them already! Hint: one comes with an adorable picture of Will wearing a questionable outfit. To get the low down, take a peek at a blog post by Will titled Reflecting on Fidelitas' 20th Harvest. He has some great insights including what pairs well with Top Ramen (sleep deprivation much?). To sum it up, 2019 was one for the books. According to Charlie “It might be a bit premature to declare 2019 the vintage of the decade but it does show tremendous potential.”
Who just got excited?
And lastly, because of our stellar members in the Wine Club, we are closing down yet again for the holiday season. Turns out you really like the wine! Another year where we can proudly say we sold all of the wine we produced. We take this moment to thank our members for coming through our doors and always leaving as family with a bottle or two to bring home. We hope whenever you open that bottle it reminds you of the good times and conversations.
We’ll see you in 2020!
(note: we realize it’s a little early to be chatting about wines coming out in April, but the nature of the wine industry is that we are always thinking years ahead! And, this way, we can be thinking about sunnier days while gazing at the holiday décor.)
One thing I’ve known about Charlie for a long time, is that he does not follow a recipe. There is no formula, no strict oak regime, no doing the same thing twice in order to achieve the same results. “Our best wines are yet to come,” he has said for years, which is amazing considering he just concluded his 33rd harvest. Charlie is always fiddling with new blocks, new blends, new clones, new barrels. A word that I would use (I don’t think he ever would, being Charlie), is that he is an innovator: someone who refuses to be complacent and wants to continue trying and learning new things in order to present the best possible outcome to our Fidelitas fans.
All of that is a preface to something that we’re changing up this year. Something that makes me, the detail-oriented (dare I say type-A), planner a little uneasy. We’re releasing Ciel du Cheval Vineyard wines in the springtime. But we don’t do that! They come out in the fall! And yet, we’ve done that not because it has anything to do with the wines themselves, but because in my little planning world, it’s easier to just follow a similar release schedule each year.
So why Ciel in the spring? It actually has nothing to do with the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard wines. Talking to Charlie about those five wines, he tells me: “we know we’re going to like the wines from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. Being a more established site, with older vines, and a high demand, we do use the same blocks each year. We can count on the fruit being amazing. It’s a lower elevation site than a lot of the other vineyards we work with on the mountain, which I think gives it a little softer profile. I am now thinking that it is perhaps the most elegant of the vineyard designated Cabernets that we produce.”
So really, it comes down to the other wines. Those Quintessence Vineyard and Blackwood Canyon Vineyard Cabernets that we have traditionally released in the spring, but are now shifting to a fall release. Why the fall? These wines are getting more time in both the barrel and the bottle before they come to you in an allocation. In fact, the Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet was just being bottled this morning, in December, before the sun came up (most of our other wines were bottled back in August, before harvest started).
“What we’re trying to achieve with the Blackwood and two Quintessence Vineyard Cabernets – Clone 191 and the clone blend – is a bit more flavor integration on these big wines,” Charlie relayed. “They are so big that they could benefit from a little more barrel aging. We’ve previously dialed it in to 22 months in barrel, but what I’ve noticed is that they could go quite a bit longer. I think we’re going to see a better integration of the components with this extended aging. There are phenolic components that come from both the grapes themselves, as well as the barrels. In wines like these that are more concentrated to begin with, they could pick up some of the sweeter tannins and tame the tannins that may be harsh to being with. Of course, the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard wines are giving us the structure and complexity that we look for in that site, however we've always liked the 22-24 months in barrel and don't think they require these few extra months."
More to come soon on the 2017 vintage, as we get ready to release our first 2017 red the first weekend in January (hooray, Red Mountain Malbec!). “In general, we really like these 2017s, a lot. We source from all over the Red Mountain AVA, but really everything is in pretty close proximity. I think this AVA gave us great quality in the 2017 vintage that we are already seeing reflected in the wines.”