“We are gathered here today, celebrating Jess and Ben, at a winery who’s name not only translates to ‘faithful, loyal, true’, but at a winery who’s owner, and our host tonight, embodies these words. And I cannot think of a better way to start a marriage.” Those are words that my uncle spoke during a toast at my wedding. And while I’ve pondered the meaning of the name ‘Fidelitas’ many, many times, the weight of it really struck me as I was sitting there, surrounded by the most special and important people in my life, marrying my husband.
That was 8 years ago this month, and while I seem to be attending more baby showers than weddings these days, wine is still my favorite gift for newlyweds. Here are my favorite three ways to share Fidelitas:
A bottle for now and a bottle for later.
This one is super easy. Grab a cute, reusable tote (I love my BUILT bag) and add a bottle of Red Mountain Malbec, which can be enjoyed this summer with BBQ, and a bottle of Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which could be opened on the lucky couple’s 5 or 10-year anniversary.
This is kind of similar, in that you’re encouraging people to hang on to the wine to open for a special anniversary down the road. Even better, grab a couple big bottles and have friends and family sign well wishes right on the bottle with a metallic sharpie. My brother and sister-in-law did a 750ml, 1.5L, and 3L, (for one year, five years, and ten years) used this as their guest book, and then have opened the bottles with friends in the years since. (pro note: contact us for current availability on large formats. we may be able to find something amazing!)
A Wine Club Gift Membership is a great way to give a gift that will last a while. We can give you a gift certificate to include with your card now, and then will send bottles to the couple throughout their first year of marriage. If they live locally, they can come out to the winery to pick up or join us at our upcoming events!
Let our Club Concierge team help you put together a wedding gift that celebrates faithful, loyal, and true, and a happy wedding season to you all!
Fidelitas Owner + Winemaker, Charlie Hoppes, named
2018 Honorary Vintner
by the Auction of Washington Wines
As Charlie marks 30 years of making wine in Washington, we are thrilled to announce that he has been named the Honorary Vintner by his industry peers for the 2018 Auction of Washington Wines.
This recognition is reserved for people who have exemplified leadership in the industry, and for those who have made significant contributions to the Washington wine community. Charlie shares this honor with the Honorary Grower, Marshall Edwards, who manages Quintessence Vineyard, a favored site for Fidelitas on Red Mountain.
“Charlie and Marshall both reflect what makes the Washington wine community so special,” said Shelley Tomberg, Executive Director of AWW. “Their sincerity in building relationships is inspiring, and it results in top-notch, innovative, premium Washington wines that influence the industry on a global scale.”
We look forward to celebrating Charlie, while supporting the mission of the Auction of Washington Wines, at events coming up this spring and summer on Red Mountain and in Woodinville: LEARN MORE
Read more about Charlie's history of Washington winemaking.
This upcoming harvest will be my 30th, and I can easily say that I’ve seen night and day differences in the Washington wine industry over the last three decades.
I was hired out of UC Davis in 1988 by Mike Januik to work at FW Langguth, just outside of Mattawa. Our emphasis was definitely on white wines: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and some Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. We did a few reds (Cabernet, Merlot, and Lemberger) but they were somewhat of an afterthought, and 90% of our production at that facility was sweet, fruity whites that would be released by Thanksgiving of each vintage.
|At FW Langguth with daughter Emily, who called the grapes "peas", in 1988.|
At this point in time, the industry was still fairly small, and grapes were somewhat hard to come by. Chateau Ste. Michelle was dominating the industry, with a few small others starting to emerge, like Preston and Hogue. There were probably less than 35 wineries in the industry at that time. There weren’t as many opportunities or money in the industry, employment wise, but it was a great start for initial perspective.
This probably puts me in the realm of someone who is a veteran in Washington. There aren’t many of us who have been around that long who are still at it now. Maybe David Forsyth, Mike Januik, Joy Andersen, Doug Gore, Gordy Hill, and Brian Carter to name just a few. Not too many people!
When I reflect on 30 years in the industry, and think of where it has been and where it is going, I feel optimistic for our future. We’ve accomplished a lot in the time it has been going on, but I think we’re in a great place and poise to make an impact on the world of wine. Today, it’s easier than ever to enter the business in Washington, and we’ve found a lot of great grape growing sites over the decades. There are new opportunities, that even California wineries are taking advantage of by moving to the Northwest. We still make a lot of white, but often those are lower price blends from larger companies. At Fidelitas, 90% of our production is red wine. We’ve been able to find some really nice white grapes on Red Mountain, but our focus is really on the reds, as evidenced by what is planted in our own vineyard. This is really a trend for Red Mountain as a whole, and different from where I began, with 95% of its planted acres dedicated to red grapes.
Washington is differentiated from the old world, really by the market forces. Unlike France, there is no one telling us what we can plant where, and that has opened us up to being able to adjust with the marketplace demand without having to ask permission first. We can always plant, and pull, depending on what works in a vineyard site, and in the market. On Red Mountain, we are seeing that the plantings are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, and probably 90% of the red grapes Bordeaux varietals. There are some other varietals planted as well, but in smaller quantities. Right now, I think that shows us the demand and where that is leading us in the future.
I, and now Fidelitas, was drawn to Red Mountain based on the wines that we were making, and wanted to focus on more. I always knew that I wanted to make Red Mountain wines, but the access to the fruit was so limited. We had to look elsewhere for fruit when we first started, and before I could ever make the wines that we are making today, I was tasting wines from other wineries who were able to get Red Mountain fruit. In the early 2000’s, that meant that grapes were sourced mainly from Klipsun, Kiona, Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain Vineyard, and a bit of Hedges Estate.
|More than just Red Mountain has changed since 1989.|
I’ll always remember my first visit to Red Mountain, and it’s a story I’ve told many times, because it was the day my daughter Allison was born. I was at Lemberger Days at Kiona, on June 11, 1989, pouring Lemberger for Snoqualmie winery. That day, we drove around with my wife, Terri, her mom, and my first daughter, Emily. It was a warm day, with just a small crowd, maybe 50-60 people, and Don Mercer gave a long speech about the benefits of Lemberger and how great it’d be in the future. Ali was born later that evening.
In 1988, Red Mountain had just a pothole infested gravel road that went up the mountain and was otherwise inhabited by just apple orchards, sagebrush, rattlesnakes, and just a few vineyards. Still, I thought this could really be something someday. Trying the wines from this region, I could see they were different, intense, and special.
I worked at Chateau Ste. Michelle beginning in 1990, and as head red winemaker starting in 1993, and by 1998, found myself at a crossroads in my career, ready to try my own style. With a big winery like that, you can become a career winemaker and retire with the company, or decide to create something on your own. At that time, it wasn’t as common to have a label within the company, so I ventured out with the encouragement of family to start my own brand.
I feel like the first 30 years of my career could be called a pioneering stage. I made a lot of great wines from a lot of great vineyard sites, and growing regions, but now that we’ve been making Red Mountain wines since 2005, I’ve decided to completely focus our line up on Red Mountain. When I look at Red Mountain, I know that this is a region that can stand the test of time, and that is evidenced by the wines made by those 40+ year old vines. Everyone in the state gravitates to Red Mountain to make a really great, concentrated, tannic wine. That’s the style I thought I wanted to make, and although I couldn’t access Red Mountain fruit for our first vintage in 2000, we did find some great vineyards like Weinbau, Windrow, and of course, Champoux Vineyard. By 2005, we were able to add Red Mountain fruit to the line up and are now all in on this one region.
I still feel like we are just touching the tip of the iceberg on the potential of Red Mountain. I say that with a biased Red Mountain or Washington palate, but have tasted wines from all over the world, with Bordeaux and California as our competitive framework, and really feel like what we can do on Red Mountain can be every bit as good as those wines. Certainly, they are different, but I’m bullish on the future, and know that Red Mountain will be thought of in the same sense as all of those great growing regions of the world.
Today, our product line up - outside of Ciel du Cheval, and some anomalies like the old vines of Blackwood Canyon Vineyard, and Kiona Vineyard – is sourced from vineyards that are fairly young, including Quintessence Vineyard (planted in 2008), the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard, and the Canyons Vineyard (both planted in 2009). For the most part, we are just starting to see how these vineyards will show in the future, including our own Estate. It’s an exciting time. The winemaking style is constantly evolving, and I don’t feel like it’s ever totally figured out or dialed in, like you may see in California where blocks and barrels are determined without a ton of variation each vintage. Our own style is still emerging somewhat, and at least until the Estate Vineyard is totally up and going, and we continue to move forward with other vineyard sites on the mountain.
On the winemaking side, we’re constantly evolving as well. One of our newer focuses is fermentation in the presence of oak, which started in 2011 and 2012 vintage reds with oak uprights and roller fermenters. This year, we’ll add a few closed top oak fermenters, that will be used in the 2017 vintage, and enable us to have at least 50% of our reds fermented in wood. Over the years, our product line up that once included Chardonnay and Syrah, has been focused on Bordeaux varietals. In 2007, our physical presence on Red Mountain, and then the planting of our Estate Vineyard in 2009, guided that focus. It’s what I’m most comfortable and familiar with after my 30 years, and seems to be a natural fit for Fidelitas.
I am really excited to see what the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard is going to give us. The first few vintages have been great, and we’ll see more come on line beginning in the 2017 vintage. We always felt that establishing ourselves, with a tasting room and vineyard, on Red Mountain would be sustainable for future generations to pass on. This was a goal that we discussed when we first started to build Fidelitas, and are continuing to chat about as we look towards the future.
Earlier this month, the Red Mountain AVA Alliance hosted a group of trade personnel from around the country for a Cabernet Summit. The purpose was to show these wine professionals what makes Red Mountain unique as a wine grape growing region. I was lucky enough to tag along for most of the 3-day adventure, as I had the role of ‘van driver’ for much of the time, toting our guests of honor around the Mountain.
Fidelitas' Bagel Bar
The Summit was a blend of activities: a geology lecture, tastings led by a Master Sommelier (who I knew from my old ISG days!), vineyard tours, winery visits, and amazing meals with paired wines. Through all of this, there were a few key points that stuck out to me. Maybe they are different than what our visitors took home, but they are the ones I am choosing to share today.
I pulled up to dinner #1 – my favorite tacos on the patio of Kiona – after a grueling 6.5 hour drive from Seattle to Red Mountain (more than 2x the normal drive time). Everyone was sitting in the evening sunshine, enjoying the most amazing tacos, drinking awesome Red Mountain Cabernet, catching up on wedding plans (congrats Kasee and Mitch!), kids’ activities, winery parties, and how to get Uber into the Tri-Cities. Being just 4,040 acres, this is a tight knit community where everyone is excited to see one another and truly cares about each other’s lives and well-being. That terrible drive was quickly forgotten.
We hosted two seated tastings during the Summit. The first focused on the ageability of Red Mountain, while the second was a blind tasting where participants compared Red Mountain Cabernets to the same varietal from around the world.
We determined that Red Mountain has the stuff to create a highly ageable wine. Good tannin structure, bright acidity, and balanced fruit all come from the specific weather trends, soil types, and terroir that is specific to Red Mountain. It’s up to the winemaker then to create a wine to last. The Hedges 1993 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was surely hanging on, and tasted great in a line-up of younger and much younger wines.
When compared to the rest of the world, Red Mountain did have some unique characteristics that set our wines apart from those around the globe. Tasting four Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons blind, and mixed with Cabernet from Italy, Bordeaux, Australia, and Napa, we found that Red Mountain showed brighter and fuller fruit, depth balanced with acidity, and less of the pyrazines (green tones) than its cousins from other growing regions.
“Some of these vines are as big as a maple tree,” Scott Williams told us, as we stood in the Old Block of the Kiona Vineyard. These are some of the most established vines on Red Mountain, and while maybe not quite the size of a maple tree, they are far larger and taller than anything else we toured. Self-regulating and lovely, this block provides the fruit for Kiona’s OLD BLOCK, which Charlie pegged as one of his favorites in the Red Mountain vs. the World tasting.
Far on the other side of AVA, we stood in Quintessence Vineyard, which began planting in 2010, and continues to be developed today. Managed by veteran Washington grower, Marshall Edwards, Quintessence is trying new clones, new planting styles, and producing some quality fruit for a number of Washington labels. We tried 4 different winery’s Cabernet from Quintessence Vineyard and each was truly different from the others.
Charlie, Brian, and Marshall discuss the clones of Quintessence.
These are both vineyards that Fidelitas sources fruit from, in addition to 7 other vineyards around the Mountain. That is a lot from such a small growing region, but Charlie would call it his spice box from which he pulls all the key components to making a strong line up of Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tasting wine and touring vineyards all day can really take it out of you.
Just this morning, I listened to feedback from those who visited us during the Cabernet Summit. We had folks from Kansas, and Chicago, and California, who all said that this trip taught them that Red Mountain really is a great, unique growing region, and that they cannot wait to share it with those around them.
Ben and I celebrated our 5-year anniversary this past week. Time flies. Since we got hitched on the slopes of Red Mountain, it only seemed appropriated to do a wine themed trip to celebrate the date. We headed to our neighbors to the south to explore the Willamette Valley. Our three days of vacation took us to 6 wineries, a slew of restaurants, and one tiny little ferry. Here is what I learned:
Willamette Valley is over 52,000 square miles, subdivided into 6 sub-avas. Most vineyard sites lie between 200 and 1000 acres, but the AVA hosts mountains as tall as 1,600 feet and is protected by the 3,500’ elevation coastal range. My point? There is a lot of variability. Some
vineyards cited sediment from the Missoula floods like we have on Red Mountain, others said they hosted marine sediment from when the Pacific Ocean covered the region. Alexana Winery told us that they have 15 different soil types in their 80-acre property, with 8 of those on display as the front of their tasting bar.
When you are essentially working with just one varietal (pinot noir) and all of that variability in the landscape, it makes sense that growers and winemakers are going to get geeky about clones. It was fun for me to see it in action since we are exploring the best clones for our own Estate Vineyard right now. (Remember, clones are genetically identical to their parent, reproduced via bud or shoot. Using clones is a way of promoting grapes that are more disease resistant, provide more or less skin to juice ratio, produced a desired yield…overall picking the right plant for the right vineyard. This is not genetically modified stuff…just natural selection with a little assistance via grafting.)
PS – I know that there is more than just pinot noir. We tasted some lovely pinot blanc and chardonnay as well :)
Willamette Valley is much more temperate than Washington’s growing regions. Higher rainfall, fewer growing degree days, cooling coastal breezes all contribute to being pinot friendly, but it also means that we can really taste the difference vintage to vintage. Just a little more heat in 2012 showed a lot more ripeness in the wines (in some cases, to a point of being uncharacteristic of pinot noir). Pretty much every winery mentioned that their overall tonnage and case production varied greatly based on the harvest year. We’ve seen a bit of this in Washington (2004 in Walla Walla, 2010/2011 in the Horse Heaven Hills) but definitely not to the same extent.
Just like Seattle and Portland. So close that to an outsider, you might not tell the difference, but there definitely is one. The tasting rooms were GORGEOUS. Most of the ones we visited were the ‘lifelong dream’ of a couple that had established their resources elsewhere then came to the Valley. The overall feeling from a visitor is that everything was just a little more palatial and polished than us Washington folks. More so than that, the stories were different. Many wineries almost justified the fact that they sourced their fruit from other vineyards and every rose we had was introduced as being an ‘intentional’ part of their line up. Biodynamic, organic, and sustainable certifications were a big part of the selling points as well. All great stuff…just different.
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)
In just a few weeks, I’ll be attending my 9th Taste Washington. Wow. Of the eight I’ve been to (worked at) so far, I have been on the restaurant side twice, and the winery side eight times. I have met amazing people who are genuinely interested in learning more about the restaurant, the winery, or just wine in general. I’ve chatted with Club members from as far as Tennessee who came to Washington just for this event. We’ve met new people who have become dedicated Fidelitas fans as a result of finding us at Taste. It is truly an amazing weekend.
This year, I get to bring a few newbies with me who have yet to attend Taste. I’ve been thinking about how to prepare them and decided to share my thoughts…
There is so much wine at this event. Spend some time perusing the event program in advance and highlight some wineries that you might want to visit. Don’t worry about tasting every wine that a winery might be offering…just go for the one that really interests you. Think about what you want to gain. I’ll encourage my team to seek out wineries they have not tasted from before and to come up with two brand that are really comparable to Fidelitas and two that are really different so they can speak to the great variety that Washington wine country has to offer.
Water. And lots of it. There are water stations everywhere. Grab a bottle and stick it in your purse or swag bag. Chug a bottle between every couple winery visits. If nothing else, it helps to clear the red off of your teeth. Also remember…unless your glass is getting really funky, there is no need to rinse your glass between tastes. Residual water in your glass will dilute the next wine you taste. I always offer to rinse with wine prior to a taste to clear out a white or red or sweet that you had before.
You’ll also note that there is a bunch of beer at the event. I’ll tread lightly here because I know there are some mixed feelings on this. However, remember that beer (like wine) has alcohol in it and that polishing off a pint glass is only going to get you to your finishing point that much earlier in the day.
Similar words here as with the wine plan. Our wonderful Kathleen prints off the map of the venue in advance and circles the restaurant booths that she wants to visit. She has always been better than me on this and ends up eating some wonderful food, where I often just grab things as I see them. Plan on having a big breakfast before you show up and maybe stick a protein bar in your bag if you don’t think you can fill up on little bites.
This is new for me! I’ve always heard great things about the seminars and I get to attend my first one this year when Charlie sits on the panel of the Red Mountain AVA spotlight. There is a great line up of subjects this year where you can really enhance your knowledge of Washington wine.
Watch for it. There will be someone in an all white suit that gets red wine down the front of them, and there will be someone limping over crumpled carpeting in heels. I don’t want to be critical of anyone, but do want to advise that people remember this is a standing event where almost everyone is bumping around with red wine in their glass. I’ll be in black and flats.
Please! Get an uber, call a cab, hop on the bus. Even better, take advantage of one of the hotel packages the Wine Commission has set up and make a weekend out of it. You bought the ticket to taste wine, so taste and have fun! But, with this much wine, it’s really hard to say “oh, I’ll just have a little and then be okay to drive home”. I have to get out on the road with everyone at the end of the day and want to make it home safely to my baby.
I look forward to seeing my friends at Taste this year!