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.