As we’ve been celebrating Charlie for the last several months as this years’ Honorary Vintner we finally had the chance to celebrate with a week’s worth of festivities. We kicked everything off last Wednesday with the Annual Kick-Off Party that took place over in Woodinville.
Then on Thursday, we participated in the Annual Picnic + Auction. Our Team was representing Fidelitas as we featured some of our favorites, the 2016 Optu White Wine and the 2015 Red Mountain Malbec. Then for the Barrel Auction itself, we featured our 2017 Quintessence Malbec which happened to be what we were auctioning off for the evening and five lucky bidders snagged a case each of this unreleased wine.
On Friday evening we hosted an intimate gathering for Charlie’s family and close friends at our Woodinville Tasting Room. This might have been one of the more fun events, we had the chance to all get together chat, and open some of our favorite vintages, including a few bottles of bubbles to aid in the celebration. It was a lovely evening as we celebrated Charlie’s 30th Harvest. One thing Charlie recently said to all of us was, “I’ve only had 30 tries’ at making wine.” And that really resonated with all of us, for someone who’s been apart of the industry for so long, it’s humbling to know the recipe is always changing and we are always trying to make the best wine yet!
Saturday was the big Auction of Washington Wine’s Gala at Chateau St. Michelle, and it was a beautiful evening. We all gathered together for the big event which raised nearly $4.1 million for Seattle Children’s Hospital and WSU Viticulture and Enology Program. Our piece of Red Mountain: Vintner’s Experience, which we hosted along with the Honorary Grower, Marshall Edwards was auctioned off for $25,000. We are all so thrilled to have been a part of the festivities this year and to have had the opportunity to celebrate Charlie!
When it comes to Red Mountain fruit, both our winemakers and grape growers alike, must show nerves of steel, tenacity, and faith in our soils. Today, while walking through the vines of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard the truths of the harsh climate, and nearly impossible conditions have become even more evident. Stepping into August we’ve already seen brutally hot days peaking at 111° F, ceaseless winds, all without a drop of precipitation to allow relief. August will take us through version and straight into ripening with an eye on September for harvest. We walk a fine line between insanity and triumph with some of the state’s hottest years and earliest harvests setting record on these 4,040 acres.
This month I wanted to reflect and give credit where its due to our wonderful growers, industry wildcards who challenged the status quo giving possibility to this land, and gusty winemakers such as Charlie who possess the technique and talent to handle our unique region. I’d also like to share with you a few of the challenges tackled regularly on Red Mountain by our Winemaking and Viticulture Team going forward as harvest looms ahead.
Red Mountain’s dry and chalky soils are a very important part of what gives life to our wines. By regulating how much water reaches the roots we can determine the fruit set and corresponding weights and sugar content when we go to harvest. Determining how much water to give the vine is a dangerous game- too little and the vine becomes overstressed, too much and the water weight bulks up the grape diluting the flavors and sugar. Temperatures here can spike dramatically (as we saw these last two weeks), and having a team that can act quickly and decisively to calculate what that means for the vine and fruit is exceptionally important. Signs of over stressing can be seen in the canopy, which Charlie pays particular attention to throughout the growing season. On any given morning you can usually see Charlie driving through our Estate Vineyard looking at the leaves, feeling the soil moisture, and tasting the grapes. Rolling into September, the decision to harvest each lot of fruit will be primarily driven by Charlie’s taste buds- a talent developed over 31 harvests!
A special thanks is always in order to Scott Williams and Jim Holmes who have always supported and influenced the advancement of the AVA. Both of whom were kind enough to supply the fruit going into our Old Vines Merlot set to be released this fall to our club. It’s lasting relationships such as these that allow Charlie the opportunity to source from the top vineyards on Red Mountain.
Changes are happening quickly now! Take a look at the changes our Fidelitas Estate Vineyard, 2008 planting has gone through in only seven days! This fruit will be harvested this year, and the wine will be released in 2020. If you find yourself wanting to learn more about our Estate Vineyard, our Red Mountain Team hosts our Fidelitas Estate Experience tours on select dates this fall. Its our opportunity to share and explain the magic happening in our very back yard. Mark your calendar guys- this fruit is already looking exceptional.
This week, we are celebrating Charlie as the Auction of Washington Wines’ 2018 Honorary Vintner. And, in the midst of our excitement and party planning and wine coordination, Charlie is keeping on as his steady self, preparing for another harvest in Washington…his 31st to be exact.
I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary with Charlie and Fidelitas. It was so exciting for me. It was the longest job I had ever held, and I know that there is limitless growth and opportunity working with Charlie. However, I now realize that my decade is nothing in comparison to his three in Washington. And if I feel so inspired by my 10 years, there have to be so many others out there who have been influenced and taught by Charlie over the years.
Here is a bit of what Team Fidelitas had to say about Charlie:
I first met Charlie while working for Bob and Roger Gamache. I had recently completed my degree at WSU, and was eager to start my winemaking career. Charlie was always supportive and encouraging, and now 12 years later we are getting ready to start our 9th harvest together. Along the way I have had an amazing opportunity to not only learn about wine and winemaking, but more importantly how to be a good husband, father, and member of the community. I will always be thankful for all that he has shared with me. - Mitch Venohr, Associate Winemaker
There is so much to say about Charlie as a person and not just his talent as a winemaker. Having the blessing of knowing and working for him for almost eight years has given me a perspective from behind the scene as to his character; who he is on the inside. I have observed Charlie’s kindness to others, his friendly easy-going nature always respectful to a situation and people around him. He is so very generous of his time and knowledge for others and he has a funny bone that comes out with wit and ease. He also lives his life with integrity, true to his beliefs inside and out before family, friends, and coworkers. It is my honor to work for this compassionate man. - Kathleen Batchelder, Team Fidelitas
I met Charlie in 2010, sitting across a picnic table at a little restaurant in Benton City, where I boldly convinced him that I could build a laboratory in his new winery. From that moment on, Charlie has supported all of my crazy mad scientist experimentation and winemaking ideas. He understands my passion for learning and lends me the platform to develop new techniques that drive our winemaking style. I often get an eye roll and a laugh when I tell him, "I have an idea" and lead him to the white board in my office. Then he says, "ok, lets try it...." - Hillary Sjolund, Associate Winemaker
From hearing Charlie's drive to make 'the best wine yet', to traveling to various wine regions together for education, and learning how connected he is throughout the industry, or sharing beautiful bottles of wine over great meals, every experience with Charlie is awe-inspiring. I feel so honored to be a part of his Fidelitas family. Some of my favorite memories are from spending time with Charlie during harvest on Red Mountain last year, drinking our morning coffee, and listening to him talk about all of the careful and meticulous processes that he puts into each wine we make. Charlie's passion, paired with his overwhelming kindness and humbleness is inspirational for us all. - Michelle Marsh, Fidelitas DTC Manager
It's been a pleasure working with Charlie over the years, he has showed me time and time again, how meaningful and supportive the wine industry can be. His kindness and generosity reflect in every aspect of his business. It's also eye opening to work for someone who constantly has nice things to say about his peers, he is always positive and shows us daily that we can't do our jobs without the support of everyone who works in the wine industry. It all starts from the ground up! Charlie has also taught me how to enjoy wine and champagne (to never get a house palate) and to always stop and enjoy the simple things in life! His general passion for a nice bottle of wine, sharing a meal with family and friends over great conversation is what it's all about! - Chelsea Larson, Fidelitas Red Mountain Tasting Room Manager
When I first met Charlie he had been named Winemaker of the Year by Seattle Magazine just one year prior. Now, 5 years later, he has been named Honorary Vintner by The Auction of Washington Wines. In these past few years working with him I have learned that there is no one more deserving of these amazing titles than Charlie himself. I'm lucky enough to witness his profound love for Washington wine, Fidelitas, and his family. It's been an honor to say I've learned from Charlie and because of him, there is no other industry I would rather work in. - Skye Dissette, Fidelitas Club Concierge
I thank my dad, Charlie, for laying out the path for me and the many second generation Washington winemakers. His work ethic, thousands of hours spent in the vineyard and winery, determination to never cut corners, commitment to making the best wines in the world, and relentless joy for wine-making are incredibly inspiring. Here's to another 30 years of making wine in our home state! - Will Hoppes, Fidelitas Woodinville Tasting Room Manager, Charlie’s kid, and second generation Fidelitas
My own personal story began more than 10 years ago, when my interview with him consisted of driving around Red Mountain vineyard sites in his dusty pickup. Listening to him that afternoon, I saw his passion for making wine in Washington state and knew instantly that I had so much to learn. Since then, he has become a part of my family, a baby-whisperer for my girls, a mentor, and someone I look forward to awesome new ventures with. I used to dread when he called me during harvest or blending because I knew he was going to ask about making some crazy wine. But now I see that it is all a part of the amazing experience of working with Charlie. There is no recipe, no consistency…just something we call modern craft winemaking that promises to still produce ‘our best wine yet’.
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)