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!
It hasn’t always been like this. For those who have been with for a while, you may remember that I used to throw full, themed dinner parties for my friends to try out recipes with each new release from Fidelitas. But, eight years and two kids later, I find myself in the middle of a 1.5 hour kid pick-up commute, listening to ‘Let It Go’ for the 119th time, and pondering the inventory counts I did earlier in the day. Could we really be down to 15 cases of Quintessence Cabernet? Only 35 cases of Malbec? When was the last time I went to the grocery store and what exactly am I going to make for dinner tonight? Somewhere between the Quintessence Cabernet and the thought of going to the grocery store with two kids after 5pm, I remembered an Instagram post I saw for a recipe that promised I had all the ingredients in my pantry…and then remembered I had Quintessence Cabernet in my cellar.
Was my finished product as beautiful as Smitten Kitchen? Certainly not. But did it turn out delicious, feed the fam, and pair awesome with Cabernet on a rainy night? Yes, yes, and yes.
|Deb's version||my version||kid version|
In one of the first wine courses I ever took – a food and wine pairing class – the teacher told us “it’s not so much about the perfect pairing, but about the perfect wine with the perfect meal with the perfect company” and that was certainly how this dinner ended up. Sooner than later, I am positive that I’ll be enjoying that glamorous wine country lifestyle again. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the small wins of grown-up spaghetti-os and awesome wine on a weekday night.
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 heard from Will!
Ever since he left Woodinville to start his winemaking journey with Charlie, he has been quite the busy man. But he was able to climb out of the tanks to give us an update on how harvest is going and let's just say, this vintage will be one for the books!
- I'm writing this right before I start my split shift so I'll make it quick; harvest has picked up so half the crew at the winery is working 6am-4pm, crushing fruit, measuring fermentations and inoculating, + doing the morning pumpovers, punchdowns, and roll of the roller barrels while the second half of the team works 10am-8pm pressing fermentations into barrel and finishing with the pumpovers. Mitch, Chaz, and I usually meet right at 10am to taste through everything and decide what's going to get pressed that afternoon or next morning.
- The biggest thing we've noticed is how "bright" the wines are from this harvest - great acidity, light on the palate, without any overripe fruit characteristics. We've seen a gradual cool end of the summer which has allowed us to pick things at a nice even pace without worrying about everything getting ripe all at once. Sometimes we get pretty warm mid-September but the forecast is mid-high 70's with
- We're about 40% done with all the Fidelitas picks which is hard to believe but we still have lots and lots of cab coming in which tends to be the most work with all the different fermentation vessels that we use for those,
- Right now we have 33 red, 12 white, 2 rose active fermentations at Wine Boss
- The most exciting news yet is the 3 Estate Vineyard lots we have going, Merlot, Malbec, and Clone 169 Cab. Can't wait to try those after they getting closer to being dry. We've processed quite a bit of Quintessence fruit already so we'll have a good benchmark to compare those too.
- Fun fact: Malbec looks horrible when it gets crushed, the insides are lime green, everything falls apart, and the juice is like a beige/pale color. Then overnight magic happens and the juice is a dark purple color and tastes like wildberry jam.
Thanks for the update, Will! Now...get back to pumpovers!
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!
Dinner for 2 + 6 Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: $600 (club) │ $700 (non-club) Single Dinner Tickets: $125
Our annual summertime club event was a hit! This year we moved the party the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, trucked over our famous tacos from Red Mountain, and had our great friends, Dean and Doug Backholm, playing the party hits. Thank you to our amazing members who had the chance to party with us!