First off, I'd like to give a shout out to our cellar crew and specifically my dad and Mitch who were awesome teachers this harvest (with no shortage of sarcasm) and with many loooong days in a row, made Fidelitas' 20th harvest a success.
Look at how chipper and well-rested we look
As I sit here writing this on October 29th it marks (almost exactly) 2 months since we picked and pressed Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc just before Labor Day Weekend to get Harvest 2019 kicked off. We noted that the sugar levels were notably lower than what we had picked it at in previous years, but it tasted ripe and we didn’t think it would benefit from more time on the vines, so we decided to start bringing stuff in. Little did we know, this theme of ripeness at lower sugar levels would carry on into almost every one of our vineyard blocks.
Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc - the base of our Optu White
Klipsun SB was shortly followed by all of our other white blocks Klipsun Semillon, Artz SB, Artz SM, and Quintessence SB. Early September weather was perfect grape-ripening weather with highs in the high 80's and 90's and nighttime temperatures in the low 50's. Things kept moving along like clockwork with Quintessence Merlot, our first red every year, picked on September 4th, followed by other Merlots from around the mountain, Cabernets, Malbecs, and so-on. Working with the same blocks year-after-year my dad has "his rhythm" figured out knowing the order that our fruit tends to ripen in and can work his daily vineyard visits accordingly. In 2019 alone Fidelitas had 13 different vineyard partners that we worked with resulting in 85 individual lots, sometimes as small as 2 barrels, which will stay separate from one another until blending (i.e., a single varietal from a single vineyard block, fermented in a specific way: oak tank, roller barrels, upright barrels, etc...) That being said, even an individual lot is split further into different fermenations like our Blackwood Cab, which was split amongst 1 oak tank and 6 individual roller barrels. A perfect example of the attention this attention to detail: after years of experience on Red Mountain we're now able to match individual clones of Cabernet from certain vineyards and match them with our favorite fermenters, barrels, and winemaking techniques that we think they'll work best with in that particular vintage. It's something that makes for long days throughout every step of the winemaking process but results in wines of amazing quality and classic "Red Mountain" characteristics that we love.
Roller barrels and upright barrels tucked into a corner of the winery during the peak of harvest
One thing I touched in an earlier blog post is how "bright" and lively on the palate all of the wines were as we were tasting samples out of the tanks and press before going into barrel. I think what happened is we didn't have an extremely hot summer, only a few days reaching 100+, followed by mild/warm fall which allowed the wines to ripen at a higher acid level resulting in wines that should have great structure and ageability. My dad reflected on the harvest as being one of those magical harvests you get every so often if you stay at it long enough: "The quality level of this vintage is exceptional and reminds me of 2009 and to a certain extent, 1999. Both of those vintages turned out to be incredible years. We are consistently able to reach the flavors we are looking for at lower than normal Brix levels, leading to slightly lower alcohol levels and higher natural acids. My theory is that with more moderate summer temperatures, we had less days when the vines shut down to protect themselves from the heat. We were able to accumulate sugar at a more even pace and thus, a great year. It might be a bit premature to declare 2019 the vintage of the decade but it does show tremendous potential."
Filling tanks on his birthday
When we look back at this vintage one thing that will sadly be one of the defining moments is the mid-October frost that affected most of Eastern WA. We got hit around October 8-9 which shut down most vines that had fruit still on them and forced a lot of winemakers to pick earlier than expected. Luckily for us we were about 90% of the way done at the time being on Red Mountain which is one of the earlier ripening areas. Looking back, we noted that it was really only a couple bad days that changed things as the weather warmed up immediately after and remained pretty mellow for the rest of October. But that's what happens in agriculture and what makes winemaking so unique in that each vintage and bottle of wine has its own memories both good and bad attached.
Red Mountain the morning after a hard freeze
Other reflections/things I learned/things I was reminded of this year:
Quintessence Merlot #nofilter
Cheers to 2019!
I’ve been saying this since the first day we brought fruit in: 2019 is just a great year. Again, it’s a unique year in that we’re able to ripen fruit with lower than usual brix. The flavors that we’re finding out in the vineyard are just incredible, and we’ve been able to make the decision to follow a picking schedule based on tasting instead of waiting for certain sugar levels to show up.
We only have about 20 tons to go in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard. We’re going to pick the remaining blocks between Saturday and Monday of this week. This is all Cabernet, and mostly our older blocks, 3a, 2, and 1, and then block 5 on the northern half of the vineyard. At that point, we’ll be about 80% done for Fidelitas, only still needing to bring in Cabernet from Blackwood Canyon Vineyard and The Canyons.
This is the first year I’ve had my son, Will, in the Cellar with us. It’s been just great having him and Mitch working together on the same shifts, and he’s learning everything from the floor up. He’s digging tanks, filling barrels, everything.
We haven’t taken a day off since September 3rd, so we’re working towards 30+ days in a row…and it’s great. Each day I’m writing pump over orders that take place at 6am and 1pm each day. Currently, it’s taking us about 4 hours to complete pump overs, so we basically do one round and then start all over again. Mitch, Will, and I sit down at 10am daily to taste through the wines in each of our fermentation vessels. This is invaluable for Will to start building his own database with his palate. It’s natural for Mitch and I and we’re able to make decisions based on a quick taste, and Will is learning quickly.
I generally consider Halloween my first day ‘off’ from Harvest. I remember looking forward to it when the kids were little, getting to go home and see their costumes and just spend time with the family. While I don’t have little ones at home anymore, I still think we’ll be on track for that Halloween day off, although still with plenty to do in the Cellar. Harvest keeps us busy, but it’s the best kind of busy.
winemaker in training, Will Hoppes, sporting a lovely blond wig
The first white grapes were picked and pressed from Klipsun Vineyard, starting August 29th. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon were all completed and to barrel, Ovium barrel, or concrete egg by September 5th. We got started on reds with our first pick of the year being Merlot from Quintessence Vineyard on September 4th. Now, all Merlot from Red Mountain is complete along with Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, which will be completed by next week. I imagine we will be finished with fruit for Fidelitas by the end of the week of October 7th. Things move quickly on Red Mountain.
Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Block 75 Merlot in the Cellar
The quality level of this vintage is exceptional and reminds me of 2009 and to a certain extent, 1999. Both of those vintages turned out to be incredible years. We are consistently able to reach the flavors we are looking for at lower than normal Brix levels, leading to slightly lower alcohol levels and higher natural acids. My theory is that with more moderate summer temperatures, we had less days when the vines shut down to protect themselves from the heat. We were able to accumulate sugar at a more even pace and thus, a great year. It might be a bit premature to declare 2019 the vintage of the decade but it does show tremendous potential.
Clonal Cabernet from the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
We're now heading in to the time of year where I barely see Charlie and am happy to get quick texts from him and pictures from Will. Harvest is underway! Here is what we're hearing from Charlie: "We picked our first reds on Wednesday: Merlot from Quintessence Vineyard. The fruite seems to have more, riper flavors this year but at lower Brix than normal. I believe it is from having nice warm weather but not having super hot days exceeding 100F during the growing season. All of the whites we have picked have been lower brix than normal but have had great flavors. Things are looking great so far!"
pick schedule looks easy to start
Sauvignon Blanc in Artz Vineyard
out for the first pick: Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc early on August 29
first day of harvest...still smiling
the pick schedule is getting fuller...but he's still smiling!
Merlot in Quintessence Vineyard, consistently our first red block of the year
Quintessence Merlot coming in to the cellar
and then finding a rest spot to ferment in a Boutes tank
On Monday, August 26th of this week I found myself needing to know what the latest number and flavors were on our Sauvignon Blanc block at Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. With that thought in mind, I grabbed what I needed and headed out the door, into my truck for the drive to the vineyard. Once I arrived, I paused briefly and thought to myself: it’s good to be here getting to start anew with this next vintage. In other words, I am excited to get going with harvest this year. It also made me reflect on how long I have been doing this and how fortunate I have been to be able to do something that I am passionate about for this long.
Winemakers measure their time in the industry by how many vintages that they have worked harvest. Since harvest is when a big chunk of winemaking takes place, it only seems appropriate that our year starts around September 1st. This year is no exception with our first grapes coming in the door, tomorrow, August 29th. We will be bringing in both Klipsun and Artz Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.
This year will be my 32nd vintage in Washington. I specify Washington because I worked a couple of short crush stints in California while I was going to school at UC Davis. At that time, classes did not start until the first part of October, so I was able to get some short experiences in while attending school. I guess this is technically my 34th vintage.
I have a very vivid recollection of my first work experience in the fall of 1986 in California. I was a Lab Technician on 2nd shift at Buena Vista Winery in the Carneros AVA. I rented a room in Sonoma and worked every day for about six weeks. My basic duties were taking tank readings and doing analysis on both juice and wine samples. Jill Davis was the Winemaker and one of the few woman winemakers at that time. Her Assistant Winemaker was David Rosenthal. My boss was Mary Hall-Brown. It was a grea experience and a pleasure working with the great team at Buena Vista.
I also had the opportunity to meet and have some interaction with the legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff, who was then working as a consultant for Buena Vista. At the time I did not really know who André was, but later realized the significant role he played in post-Prohibition American winemaking. I worked again with Andre in the early 1990s when he consulted for Chateau Ste. Michelle and I was the Assistant Winemaker to Mike Januik. André Tchelistcheff was the considered the “Dean of American Winemaking” and had a huge influence on creating the style for California winemaking after Prohibition. He also had a huge influence on winemaking here in Washington with his many years of consulting for Chateau Ste. Michelle.
2019 will be the 20th vintage for Fidélitas – my family-owned winery. Thinking of my history in the industry, I have to say that twenty years with my own label is hard to fathom. Nevertheless, it is here, and I honestly believe we have yet to make our best wines. Am I happy with the wines we have made so far? Yes! Very happy, but I still think the best is yet to come!
Cheers to our 20th!
My dad and I were checking in on the Estate Vineyard last night after we had heard some rumors about veraison starting at some of our neighbors' places. It's fun to see how much things have changed since Staff Vineyard Tours which took place only 2 weeks ago where we didn't see any signs of color change. Here are some pictures from yesterday of Block 1 Estate Cabernet:
Things are changing quickly but compared to previous years I'd estimate we're still a week or two behind. We had a late bud break due to the intense winter weather, but things quickly caught up with a warm spring and lots of letftover moisture in the soils - canopies on Red Mountain were growing like crazy keeping the vineyard crews busy.
Ciel du Cheval Cab Franc
So far the summer has been quite moderate. We've had a few days reach into the 100's but most days are sitting around the mid 90's with little rain, most of it coming in spurts from thunderstorms. We also haven't had many smoky days compared to the previous years (knock on wood) which has allowed for maximum sun exposure and vineyard crews the ability to work in normal conditions. The prevailing winds on Red Mountain aid in keeping the smoke from sitting over the hillside.
View of the controlled burn on Rattlesnake Mountain used to combat the Cold Creek fires
My early take on the vintage is that it's been mellow, which is great. Not too hot (although we had a warm spring which was looking like 2015 but cooled off) and not too cold - no extreme weather to speak of. The crop looks great so far and I'm excited to be back on Red Mountain for Fidelitas' 20th harvest which is just around the corner! It's such benefit to be here where the soils drain so well, and we're able to fine tune our irrigation to account for wet winters because there's so little rain during the growing season. + we constantly get weather forecasts that resemble this - you couldn't dream of more perfect grape growing weather!
And sunsets like this:
When I started with Fidelitas in 2008, my job was solely to work directly with the members of the Fidelitas Wine Club. Over the years, I’ve had the joy of interacting with so many of you on Red Mountain, in Seattle (remember that?), in Woodinville, and lots of time on the phone with those of you who live a little further away. I know dog’s names, locations of vacation houses, and your mom’s favorite beverage (which isn’t always wine). Members remember when I got married on Red Mountain and my kid’s names, but I still manage to confuse many on where exactly I live in the state.
Over the years, my job has evolved, and I don’t get to work with everyone on the individual level as often (shout out to Skye and Michelle on the Club Team who get the pleasure now). However, one thing remains the same since we as a company committed to the Club back in 2008: everything we do is for you. We make products designed with the Club in mind, many of which were requested by you. We’ve opened tasting rooms, hosted unique and educational events, and created a special Club just for people who live out of state.
Our vision for 2020 and beyond is to continue this trend and be even better at it. We have plans in the works to enhance the guest experience in all arenas of the Club and are so excited to share them with you. In the meantime, we’d love to know how you’re doing. Drop us a note, tag us on Instagram (@FidelitasWines), pick up the phone, or come visit us in the tasting room. We’d love to hear all about it.
Thank you for being a member. We truly appreciate your being faithful, loyal, and true to Fidelitas.
Jess Zander, Fidelitas GM
Magna Dinner, June 2019
Dear Friends of Fidelitas:
2018 proved to be a banner year for Fidelitas. We recently completed our 19th vintage in Washington and have had a retail presence on Red Mountain now since May of 2007. Our first planting of the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard took place in 2008 and the future continues to look great for us.
In 2018 we released a few new products that proved to be highly sought after by you, our friends. Specifically, we released our Old Vines Merlot and our Quintessence Malbec. In the future, we will continue to offer these products along with a wide range of wines from what I believe to then finest AVA in Washington that being Red Mountain.
Looking forward to 2019, and the release of the 2016 vintage reds, we will introduce three more new wines. A new red blend that we will call Montis is a Red Mountain specific blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a tiny bit of Malbec. We realize the popularity of blends and will add this blend to the Optu Red Wine and Ciel du Cheval Red Wine. This is a very exciting wine from some of my favorite vineyards, with great concentration and layers of flavor. We will also offer two new wines from Quintessence Vineyard: a varietal Merlot and a clonal specific Cabernet Sauvignon (ENTAV 169) in very limited quantities. These new vineyard specific wines show what an outstanding vineyard site Quintessence is.
We continue to try and find ways that we can continue to improve the wines that we make for Fidelitas. Continuous improvement is a constant theme for our winemaking team made up of me, as well as Hillary Sjolund and Mitch Venohr. Areas that we are looking at include fermentation vessel size and shape, as well as the use of more wood during primary fermentation. We also continue to look at fermentation itself and how we can up our game and take our wines to new heights.
The Estate Vineyard from Fidelitas continues to progress with time. We now have nearly 12 acres of vineyard planted to five different red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. Although we were able to get a small crop off our new planting in 2017, from the second leaf, 2018 was our first sizeable crop. Every single block was kept separate during fermentation and we are evaluating the wines as they continue to age. Clonal Cabernet Sauvignon is big theme for our Estate Vineyard with six different clones planted. We are very happy with what we are seeing so far and how we will mesh these wines in to our current lineup. Many thanks to Dick Boushey and his entire team who farm this property on a daily basis. We could not ask for a better partner.
I cannot say enough about how great our staff is at Fidelitas. The people that interface with you as customers on a daily basis see this and share it with me whenever I have a chance to talk with you at our tasting rooms or many events. I feel very blessed to have such a great team lead by Jess Zander.
I would like to simple say thank you to each and every customer that continue be so supportive of Fidelitas. Needless to say, we could not exist without your Faithful, Loyal & True support.
Fidelitas fans made this year one to remember. We launched a brand-new way for our members to buy Fidelitas wines; allowing the Club to select from our newest releases and create their own, unique allocation. Through the loyalty and dedication of our Club, we have now (nearly!) sold out of every wine we released in 2018. These faithful, loyal, and true members push us to keep ‘making our best wine yet’ as we look for new ways to surprise and delight them in vintages to come.
Magna Dinner, Red Mountain, July 2018
Summer in the City, Seattle, August 2018
Charlie is what makes our jobs easy. Obviously, he makes amazing wines, and that is the best part. But he’s also just an amazing guy to work for and work with.
This year, Charlie was awarded 2018 Vintner of the Year by his peers at the Auction of Washington Wines. This recognition gave credit to the 30+ harvests he has committed to making wine in Washington. Charlie’s effort and dedication, along with that of his peers, is what continues to advance the Washington wine industry.
Charlie Hoppes, Honorary Vintner, and Marshall Edwards, Honorary Grower, at the Auction of Washington Wines, August 2018
Skye, Jess, Will, Charlie, and Michelle at the AWW Picnic and Barrel Auction, August 2018
We call this tiny AVA home. At just 4,040 acres, with nearly every plant-able acre now under vine, this is a really special place. Charlie often remarks that there are only a few growing regions in the world where you can stand in one spot and see the whole AVA, block by block. The unique terroir, devoted growers, and outstanding neighboring wineries, have established Red Mountain as one of the most premium wine producing regions in the world.
Fidelitas Estate Vineyard on Red Mountain, September 2018
Estate Vineyard Dinner, September 2018
We’d be nowhere without our staff! On a very personal level, I am so grateful to have such a dedicated, positive, and all around great team representing Fidelitas every day. They tell our story and share the wines with our customers, sweep the floors, pack boxes, haul wine, make dinner reservations, throw parties, and SO MUCH MORE.
Team Fidelitas Staff Vineyard Tours, July 2018
Team Fidelitas at the Mariners, June 2018
Team Fidelitas of the Future: Charlie and Brynn, January 2018
Seems simple enough. As a winery, you make wine, you pour wine, you sell wine. But our wines were somehow extra special this year and I am thankful for that.
10 of the 19 wines we released in 2018 were sold exclusively to our members in Club allocations, meaning they never even made it into the tasting rooms. We had exceptional releases such as varietal Malbec from Quintessence Vineyard, intense Cabernet from Blackwood Canyon Vineyard, old vine Merlot from some of the oldest blocks on Red Mountain, found in Kiona and Ciel du Cheval Vineyards, and of course our own Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Washington wine is growing. Red Mountain wine is growing. But, Charlie’s longstanding relationships with growers allows us to select fruit from specific blocks to make exceptional wines for our members, and this is what sets Fidelitas’ wines apart.
Fidelitas 2018 Releases, start to finish!
I got a text from Charlie at 6:15 this morning with picutres of him doing pump overs. At that hour, I'm still dragging and dealing with the kids. Charlie's picture, however, showed him smiling, looking at the soon to be wine, while it's still dark outside. Is he a little bit insane? Maybe. But I'm starting to realize that is what harvest is all about.
Here are some memories of harvest over the years from both Charlie and his wife, Terri. Raising 4 kids and being a small business owner is no joke. Throw in some 14 hour work days, 6 days per week, and that's just fun for the whole family.
What were some of your first impressions those first few harvests, starting in 1988?
CHARLIE: It’s always been intense. My first few vintages were crazy, super busy at a big place like Langguth. I was thrown in to the mix quickly, running the crush pad before I really knew what I was doing. That’s Mike Januik’s fault…it was really overwhelming and exhausting. 12-14 hours per day with just Sundays off. After the first few years, I was much more comfortable. Especially being at Ste. Michelle, where the staff works like a machine to make it all happen.
Harvest this year seems like a constant juggling act. I’m thinking about 10 days out while Mitch is trying to figure out where we are putting the grapes that are coming in tomorrow. Hillary is constantly focused on the day to day…getting each wine through fermentation. On any given day, we’re doing 70 lots at a time. Pump overs started at 6 today, and at 9:30 he’s still going. We’ll start this all again at about 2:30 this afternoon.
I’m looking at the new guys and they really don’t know what they are getting in to. Not only is in physically exhausting, but mentally. But, they all come out with a greater appreciation. And I think it gets in to their blood. Some of the guys are turning around to do southern hemisphere harvest too.
TERRI: Was it intense? Yes! You put your life on hold during harvest. Not only is he gone physically but also mentally, but yet he was always there if we needed him to be. We felt like he was here and were his priority. Intensity for me was the worry of his long-distance commutes throughout different harvests - from Walla Walla, Mattawa, Wenatchee, etc. Once I heard him come through the door my prayers were answered - driving with so much fatigue isn’t the best!
Langguth/Saddle Mountain in 1988
Did you ever think that Charlie was insane for making a career shift from Boeing?
TERRI: Never - even if fall can be bittersweet each year. My wish to experience a fall foliage trip in New England with Charlie someday will just have to be a trip to the vineyards!
What are some traditions at home or in the cellar surrounding harvest?
CHARLIE: I always work on my birthday but we always managed to have a party when I came home at night. My birthday and harvest have always been closely related for me.
At the cellar, we’re playing Shakira every morning. This started for me at Three Rivers in 2000 with Holly Turner after she had worked harvest in Mendoza. We’re able to do it with Spotify now…which we definitely weren’t doing in 2000. Nowadays, the cellar crew is requesting it to start the day.
I also try to help the crew out during harvest. Sometimes we’ll do a big bbq for lunch or even go out to breakfast, just to break the monotony. Many years, we’ll also host a lunch for the vineyard crew once the grapes are off the vines.
TERRI: I always remember when our family was young that Halloween was a big deal because Dad was finally home! Harvest was ending, and we would be normal again.
Are there any times Charlie fell asleep at the dinner table after working in the cellar all day? Any other dirt on him?
TERRI: No - no funny story to share about falling asleep. He was just always trying to stay awake once he gets home! And then always waking in middle of the night for a while thinking. He is never able to really rest until end of harvest.
Is there anything you both like to do as you finish up the harvest season?
TERRI: It’s hard to unwind at the end of harvest, especially when you are working many, many weeks with no days off. We just enjoy the time to rest and catch our breath! We’re always looking forward to holidays with family and can’t wait for a new grandbaby coming into our world in a few weeks!
CHARLIE: Just take the time to slow down. You know, in some ways Terri is the one who has really put in all the work. She takes over and raises the family, which is not easy, during fall especially.
This year, we are just really looking forward to meeting our new grandbaby.