I recently sat down with my staff to think about the real benefits of being a Club member, beyond just what we print in the Club brochure. Every member of Team Fidelitas contributed their ideas, and we came up with over 2 pages of notes. From that exercise, one of the items that stuck out to me most is that we truly make wines just for Club members.
Now – that is an easy thing to say for some. “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. Your Club allocation is 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).
Our 2013 Red Heaven Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is exactly one of those wines. We make this wine in exceptional vintages, where the fruit is just perfect to make a vineyard designated wine. After much fussing, we settled on making just 96 cases - not even enough to include in a Club shipment, but still special enough to make sure that it is a Club only wine. Designed, starting in spring of 2013, with the Club in mind.
Charlie, walking the vines in Red Heaven Vineyard.
The upcoming release of our 2013 Malbec opens a new chapter in our effort to move closer to only making wines produced from grapes grown in the Red Mountain AVA. In years past we have been able to source Malbec from a wide range of sources from throughout he Columbia Valley. 2013 will be our inaugural Red Mountain release and I think you will see a notable change from our previous style.
Don’t get me wrong, I like our previous Malbecs from the Columbia Valley but I think you will see a change that will be a reflection of Red Mountain. What is that change, you ask? Our previous vintages of Columbia Valley Malbec go back to the 2004 vintage. I remember getting a little bit of fruit in to play around with and to see if it would work in our Optu blend. Optu is a blend we have made from every vintage going back to 2000. I liked it so much that we decided to do a small bottling from that vintage of 96 cases. I had worked with some of the first plantings of Malbec in Washington when I was the winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle from 1990 to 1998. That fruit came off of Canoe Ridge Estate, planted in 1993, near Paterson and I knew it could add a new layer to the wines we were making. One of the noticeable characteristics of most Malbec is an inherent peppery or spice component. This has been a common component throughout our Malbec from 2004 to 2012.
The 2013 Malbec – Red Mountain is different from any Malbec we have made previously. The biggest change to me initially is the great concentration of the wine. This is common amongst Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Petit Verdot. Malbec is no different. When I say concentration it is true reflection of tannin and fruit balance. You will see this in a lot of Fidelitas Red Mountain wines. For me another characteristic that is less noticeable is the peppery, spice flavor on the palate. It is still there but not nearly as noticeable as previous vintages.
The 2013 Red Mountain Malbec comes from three different vineyards, those being Scooteney Flats – 54%, Kiona – 29% & The Canyons – 17%. These are three well established vineyards on Red Mountain.
For Fidelitas I would compare 2012 & 2103 on the same level. I know most media and trade have put 2012 up as one of the best vintages ever in Washington but I would put 2013 right up there with 2012 for what we are doing. Enjoy the latest chapter!
read more from Charlie on his blog, Red Mountain Rising.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas,
We had some great milestones this year, planting in our estate vineyard and releasing an estate wine. It's truly been a dream come true. Coming in the next year we have some amazing wines for you coming from our favorite vineyards on Red Mountain.
This year was the release of our first ever Estate Vineyard wine from our initial 3 acre planting from 2009: our 2012 Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Starting my career in 1988, I could hardly imagine not only having a family-owned Vineyard on Red Mountain, but also being fortunate enough to produce a wine from those vines. This has been a long time coming…perhaps the biggest milestone in my career to date. This wine is a representation of the premium Estate wine you can expect from Fidelitas. From hand selecting the perfect clones and using only the very best barrels, we made sure to pull out all the stops to create this beautiful wine. With only 50 cases remaining, you’ll want to be sure that you have this special bottle in your cellar before it’s gone.
The process to get water for irrigation to Red Mountain has been in the works for at least twenty years. This past spring, water became available through KID, and we were able to go forward with planting the remainder of our Estate Vineyard. My dream of owning an Estate Vineyard on Red Mountain is finally complete. We’ve been anxiously awaiting this since we initially purchased our home on Red Mountain back in 2007. Dick Boushey and his skilled crew worked hard to prepare the estate for the arrival of water. Dick and I obsessed over which Bordeaux varietals would excel in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard and hand selected a variety of grapes and clones which we know and love, along with others that we are excited to experiment with in the years to come. In total we have about twelve acres in vine just outside our back door on Red Mountain. Our first release of this new planting should come from the 2017 vintage and we can’t wait to share these premium Estate wines with you.
Looking forward, we couldn’t be more excited about the 2013 wines to be released in the year ahead. Just this last week I tasted through each one of the wines which we will release in 2016 and I am very excited about how they are coming along. You’ll be seeing more wines from some of our favorite vineyards such as Quintessence and Ciel du Cheval and new to the line up: The Canyons Vineyard. I think the upcoming 2013 vintage is as good, if not better than the 2012 vintage. Each year that we work with these vineyards on Red Mountain we gain more knowledge about them and are able improve our winemaking techniques. I believe the best could be yet to come from Fidelitas.
Fidelitas exists as a winery because of our faithful customers. To each and every one of you, thank you for your continued support. Many of you have been around since the start of our wine club, others have joined in the more recent years or months, and the loyalty from each one of you is invaluable. We look forward to sharing many more milestones with you. Thank you and happy New Year.
Charlie Hoppes, Fidelitas Owner + Winemaker
Harvest is coming to a close and new wines are being released, the signs of fall are visible around every turn.
It is a crisp October morning and the leaves in the vineyards on Red Mountain have begun to change colors for the season and what a beautiful sight it is.
The view from Antinori Road
Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
The Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
(a note from the editor...harvest is a busy time! we're lucky to get bullet points from Charlie during these months.)
Merlot grapes in the Canyons Vineyard, days before picking
The view looking west from the Canyons: smoky and warm.
Scooteney Flats Merlot: picked August 26, 2015
To say that we are in love with our new baby vines might be an understatement. This spring, as we planted our Estate Vineyard, the staff at Fidelitas anxiously awaited any new information and pictures coming from Charlie and the Vineyard crew. The road was marked? End posts delivered? IRRIGATION? What’s getting planted today? Are they greenhouse plants? Dormant rootings? Who knew we could be so excited.
When planning our Staff Retreat this year, visiting Inland Desert Nursery was perhaps the most requested activity. Team Fidelitas wanted to see where it all begins. We wanted to see the grafting and dormant vines, and tiny, tiny plants. To us, this was thrilling, so we were pretty excited when Ryan welcomed us in (I think we may have been the first group who actually wanted a tour). Inland Desert is a family owned and run operation dedicated to propagating and distributing clean vines (we’ll come back to that later) across North America. Based between Benton City and Prosser, they do much more than just Washington vineyards and send plants to more than 30 states.
At the risk of going on and on about baby vines, I’ll try to summarize what I learned that day:
Inland Desert works with the Clean Plant Center to ensure that all vines are CLEAN. This means that the vines they are working with have been certified as free from targeted viruses. Since wine grapes are propagated via cuttings, it is so, so important to make sure that they are virus free, otherwise these viruses can spread quickly, affecting entire vineyards.
They sell more grape varieties and clones than I knew existed. I’ve gone through my Sommelier training, plus some other wine coursework, and read a million wine books, and they have grapes I’ve never heard of before (Kay Gray?). If they don’t have it, they’ll find it for you. The catalog these guys carry around looks like a phone book. Remember, a grape varietal (eg. Cabernet Sauvignon) can have many, many clones. We have 3 Cabernet Clones planted in the original 2009 planting and 5 in the 2015 planting. Clones are genetically identical but offer different characteristics, like earlier ripening, looser grape clusters, more tannins. Think of it like identical twins but one is taller and can run a little faster.
cuttings from the mother plant
The talented staff has many ways of giving us little vines. As you know, there has been A LOT of planting on Red Mountain this year, which meant that we got to plant dormant rootings and green potted plants. In Washington, we have a low presence of phylloxera (a tiny little louse that likes to nibble on the roots and nearly wiped out France in the late 19th century), mostly due to our sandy soils, which these critters don’t like, so we can plant vines on their own rootstock. However, areas like Oregon and California battle it a bit more so they need to have vines grafted on to a rootstock that is phylloxera resistant. Here is the coolest part: to grow a new plant, they get a stick of an old plant (a mother plant) and stick it in the dirt. That stick starts growing and once it has two buds, they clip it, put that new stick into dirt, and it starts growing. That mother plant just keeps going and going and going (as good mamas do) and pretty soon you have a greenhouse full of little vines.
red mountain bound merlot
There is so much more to learn about this whole process. If you are at all interested, I’d highly recommend checking out the Inland Desert Nursery website (and searching for the amazing Charlie picture while you’re there).
Yes - we work hard. But part of the fun is getting out and exploring what's around us!
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to sit in on the Red Mountain Seminar that was a part of Taste Washington weekend. We gathered in one of the conference rooms at the Seattle Four Seasons and were lucky enough to watch ferry boats come in and head back out while listening to the wise words of the panel before us. Our moderator was Sean Sullivan, who has his own blog, Washington Wine Report, and is a contributor to the Wine Enthusiast, reviewing wines from Washington and Oregon. I love Sean because has this never ending thirst for knowledge, meaning he asks real questions and honestly wants detailed answers. In an industry that seems to be changing daily, that type of inquisitiveness is a perfect fit.
When I first sat down to write this article, it quickly turned in to an 8-page essay. Knowing that will never be read in the world of small, winery blogs, I decided to revise and just add a few amazing (paraphrased) quotes that I heard that day.
Only the upper 200 feet of Red Mountain was showing during the Missoula Floods, meaning that the portion underwater received some great rocks from all over. In addition to the basalt, sand, silt, and gravel you find all over Red Mountain, there are some “weird rocks” like marble and granite mixed in.
What he looks forward to in the next 5 to 10 years? Jumping in more pits as vineyards are developed.
So much good stuff. The first people on Red Mountain were geeky and passionate about quality. They embodied the culture of terroir. Wines from Red Mountain can be picked out of a line up because they are richer/thicker/darker yet balanced/fresh/fun. People looking for a good wine story get “I went out, smelled the air, stomped the ground. That’s it.”
In 5 to 10 years? Jim sees new adventures, which makes farming constantly exciting. His definition of success is making what you’ve already done even better.
Fidelitas is currently sourcing from 11 Red Mountain vineyards and producing 17 different Red Mountain wines from a wide array of clones. Charlie loves Red Mountain for the intense fruit, tannic structure (which is managed in the cellar), and great variety within such a small region.
Charlie sees that there is still a lot to learn in the next 5 to 10 years, with new plantings and new clones bringing new flavors to experiment with.
Red Mountain brings so much to a wine, which can been seen in the phenolic make up of that wine. The chemical compounds that add to the flavor, color, and mouthfeel of Red Mountain wines are almost exaggerated (my word, not Bob’s) in Red Mountain wines, making for some pretty intense stuff. 2012 is what could be considered a “Goldilocks Vintage” with 2011 being too cold, 2013 being too hot, and 2012 being just right in between.
Bob believes that in the next 5 to 10 years, the coming development will add to the dynamics and awareness of Red Mountain, but there are naturally acreage constraints in play as well.
If Rhone can do it, why can’t Washington? Paul took the vineyards on Red Mountain literally to new heights with the Force Majeure planting, where elevation and slope are drastically different from the rest of the AVA. Additionally, he brought in more Rhone varietals (Syrah, Mourvedre) to otherwise Cabernet dominated region, and has been pleased with the results.
In the next 5 to 10? An increased presence in the AVA, means more marketing, meaning national and international recognition. The people will be the ones who balance quality and passion.
In addition to hearing these five experts speak about the region, we got to taste through six incredible wines and hear from these wineries as well. The room was truly jam packed with people passionate about Red Mountain. All sourced from the same 4,040 acres, these wines could not be more different from one another. What a great way to start day 2 of Taste!
(62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot)
(85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 4% Syrah)
Just when you think you have seen all that Mother Nature would send our way, with 2013 being the warmest vintage on record, 2014 topped it. Our home, Red Mountain, had a record 3599 Growing Degree Days. Growing Degree Days are a measure of the amount of heat/sunshine, one gets over the course of a growing season. This warm vintage led to almost perfect growing conditions for ripening fruit throughout the state. Red Mountain was no exception with harvest starting right after Labor Day and continued until the first week in October.
If I remember correctly a year ago in this letter I was talking about 2013 being one of the warmest vintages on record, especially early on in the year. Those 2013 wines are shaping up quite nicely in barrel and we look forward to bottling those wines soon for release in the future. I would not hesitate to say that some of the best wine we have made to date, are still in barrel. Both 2013 and 2014 should be great ones for us in the future.
Our current releases are still focused around the 2010 and 2011 vintage. I’ve had the time to see how these wines have developed, and could not be happier with both for drinkability now and future ability to cellar these red wines. 2013 is our first vintage for white wines from Red Mountain. We made Semillon and Optu White, which is blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. We have been pleasantly surprised at the great quality from Klipsun Vineyard for our Red Mountain white wines.
Starting with our first release of the year in January, we will begin rolling out many of the new vintage 2012 red wines. We have done some initial sneak peeks at these wines and the response has been very positive from both critics and consumers.
A very big milestone to look forward to from us for the coming year is the release of our first Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has been many years in the making, going back to our purchase of the land in 2007, and now finally getting to the point where we have a wine bottled and ready for release. We currently have a little less than three acres of three different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in our Estate Vineyard. The wine we bottled was a selection of the very best barrels and clones. The quantity of this inaugural wine is very limited, so do not hesitate to purchase once it is released.
We are very excited about the release of another new wine from Red Mountain: the 2012 Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard site, just east of Col Solare, shows much promise and we look forward to the wines from this vineyard.
We are also expanding the number of Red Mountain focused wines with addition of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and a Red Wine from Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard. These wines will join our current offerings of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from this famous Red Mountain vineyard.
If you have been to our home on Red Mountain, you may have noticed the great amount of land being developed through the appellation. These new vineyard developments are a result of the new irrigation district formed on Red Mountain in conjunction with the Kennewick Irrigation District and the availability of water. This is a project many years in the making and will literally change the face of viticulture on Red Mountain. We will be part of this new viticultural development as we plan on planting nine acres ourselves in the spring of 2015. Many other acres will also go into production within the appellation. Currently there are about 1500 acres planted in the appellation. Within a couple of years the AVA will see around 3000 acres planted in total. Needless to say, we are in for some major changes on the mountain.
Thank you, to all of our loyal customers who have been supporters of Fidelitas throughout the years of our existence. I can honestly say that I think our best wines are yet to come.