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.
Dear Friends of Fidelitas:
As 2016 draws to a close, I wanted to take a brief moment to thank all of you who are so supportive of Fidelitas. Plain and simple, we would not exist if it were not for all of you, our faithful, loyal, and true customers.
In the past year, we saw the release of some really great, 2013 vintage red wines. As I mentioned last year, I thought that maybe the 2013 vintage was one of my favorites since I started Fidelitas with the 2000 vintage. That still holds true after tasting these wines throughout the year. These 2013 reds will continue to improve as they age out a little more, and have not yet reached their peak by any means. The Canyons Vineyard Red and Malbec from Red Mountain were great new additions to our releases for the vintage. We look forward to continuing those wines into the future.
This coming year will see a couple of new products to our lineup. For the first time, we will make a very limited amount of Malbec from The Canyons Vineyard. Look for this wine to be released in August (with a sneak peek during Malbec Madness in January). We will also have the first release of Blackwood Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon. These vines were initially planted in 1984 and border our own Estate vineyard just to the west. The depth and intensity of this wine is incredible and we look forward to its release in April. We hope the quality of this wine is an indication of what we can look forward to in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard. One other highlight of the upcoming year will be the release of our last vintage of Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. We started making Cabernet Sauvignon from this iconic vineyard in 2002. This release will be our thirteenth and final vintage. As many of you know, Paul and Judy Champoux have retired, and we retired from the vineyard as well to focus on Red Mountain fruit.
2017 will be the first vintage we will get fruit from our new Estate planting. It will be a very small amount but we are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for us. The newest 9-acres of Fidelitas Estate has Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. We will have a total of six different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon in production, so it should be quite interesting.
I always have people asking about how our most recent vintage, 2016 turned out. I think it is one of our more unique vintages in Washington. The year started off looking like it was going to be another very warm vintage, but starting in the summer months the weather mirrored what would be a normal year. This meant less extremely hot days and a slow even ripening of the fruit into September and October. We did see a slightly higher than normal yield with exceptional quality. The uniqueness of the vintage is that even with higher than average yields, we saw above average quality. That very rarely happens.
In closing, I would like to publicly take a moment to thank each and every person that works for Fidelitas. Although I have met many of our customers over the years, all of you have had an interaction with somebody from our organization at some time or another. These wonderful people are the voice of Fidelitas. Without them telling our story we would just be another brand. Thanks again for all your support. Cheers to 2016!
Fidelitas, Owner + Winemaker
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
Fidelitas has completed picking both Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc from Klipsun. In addition, all Merlot from all sites in the AVA is in the door with some completely through tank fermentation & heading to barrel. We have started picking some Cabernet Sauvignon from Quintessence Vineyard and expect to continue picking both Cab Sauvignon & Malbec next week. Quality looks great so far despite it being the warmest vintage on record.
(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
Over the past couple of years Fidelitas has taken a couple of days during the peak of the growing season and brought together all of our tasting room and wine club personnel The main function of these two days together is to continually educate our staff on everything related to Fidelitas. We recently completed our 2015 staff retreat on Red Mountain on July 7th & 8th.
Our goal at Fidelitas, is to provide to you as a consumer with a great experience each and every time you visit us either at our home on Red Mountain or at our location in Woodinville. We often discuss having an authentic experience when you visit us. In order for this to occur the people that are pouring our wines need to have a level of knowledge that makes them Fidelitas experts. Our tasting room employee’s become the face of our winery and are responsible for telling the authentic Fidelitas story. When our story is shared with each and every one of you as consumer’s then the wine that you are tasting takes on a whole new meaning.
Over the course of the two days we spend together we hope to enlighten our people with information that will hopefully, make them not only experts on Fidelitas but have a more than average awareness of Red Mountain and the factors that make it a unique place to grow grapes and make wine. We expect our people to know what a clone is and what clones we have planted in our estate vineyard. We expect them to know what makes Red Mountain such a great place to grow grapes. We expect them to know where different vineyards are that we make wine from. The list goes on and on.
The two days we spend together here on Red Mountain are invaluable in educating the people that each of you meet when you visit Fidelitas. Hopefully this provides a more authentic experience for you as a consumer of our wines. Hopefully it also makes for a more interesting place for members of our team to work.
I first started working with Red Mountain fruit in 2005, initially from Red Mountain Vineyard. Started with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc. I currently making, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot & Malbec from the Red Mountain AVA. For Fidelitas. I am currently using 7 different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon in the various wines we make. Those clones being 2, 4, 6, 8, 21, Entav 169 & 191. In addition to these we will be planting this coming spring in our estate vineyard Entav 421. So in total 8 different clones of just Cabernet Sauvignon. We are buying grapes from eleven different vineyards, twelve if you count our own estate vineyard, and in 2015 we fermented 20 different lots of just Cabernet Sauvignon for Fidelitas. We keep every clonal selection wine separate usually through the entire first year to allow us to see the expression of each individual site and clone that we are buying. Needless to say we are creating a whole lot of components to work with when it comes time to put blends together. For other varieties we are also using some different clonal material but at the most maybe two clones.
It would be easy to say all of Red Mountain is homogenious, but it is not. Each individual site has unique attributes. Soils can be different, slope, aspect and elevation. In addition let’s not forget that component of terroir we all sometimes forget, the human element. We have excellent viticulturists, owners making decisions everyday that shape the vineyards of Red Mountain.
I think a common expression of all Bordeaux style wines on Red Mountain is for me structure and concentration. The depth of concentration, for me what is unique to Red Mountain. Also, I believe tannin structure from wines lend to great structure and ageability. These tannins must be managed specifically during fermentation to result in wines that are age worthy yet drinkable upon release.
Look for our wines to continue to evolve and improve. The best of Fidelitas may still be a new vineyard planting.
It’s always an interesting exercise for a winemaker to have to size up a vintage and compare it to what has gone before it. Keep in mind that as a winemaker, I am now focused on what we are going to do in 2015, as far as ordering barrels and securing our fruit source. We are also taking care of the 2014 vintage in barrels that has been racked post malolactic fermentation. We are also in the cellar starting to put blends together of the 2013 wines in anticipation of bottling those wines throughout the spring and summer. It’s an interesting perspective, one that I enjoy but when I have to jump back to a vintage like 2012 to draw some conclusions I really have to think about it a bit. After all, these wines were bottled last summer and to be honest I had not thought much about them until we started tasting for some of the events for our Fidelitas Wine Club.
So, what do I think of these 2012’s that we are starting to release ? First of all, I do need to point out that we did release our new Red Mountain 4040 blend in September, so the wines being released are not the first wines being released. The reaction to the 4040 has been great, so we had some indication what the wines were like. The 2012 vintage comes right after what could be considered two of most challenging vintages in Washington, those being 2010 & 2011. I do not think we have seen back to back vintages with so few heat units. At least not in my twenty seven vintages in Washington. As it turns out, 2012 was somewhat of a normal vintage in terms of Growing Degree Days. The weather in the fall of 2012 was nearly perfect, and we were able to ripen the fruit perfectly without any rain at all. This turns out to be a very important factor.
Before I give you my conclusions, let me talk a little about the wine media and what they think of 2012 in general. Keep in mind, these ratings are an overall score for Washington Red Bordeaux varietals. The large publications do have what they call vintage charts, which compare the wines from vintage to vintage.
Robert Parker’s publication, The Wine Advocate gave the 2012 vintage a score of 94. This is the highest score it has given a vintage since Fidelitas has been in existence starting in 2000. it also gave the same score to the 2005 & 2007 vintages.
The Wine Spectator gave 2012 a score of 95. Only one other vintage rated by the Wine Spectator has been rated higher since 2000, that being the 2007 vintage which they gave a score of 96. They also rated 2008 as 95 as well.
The Wine Enthusiast publication has rated 2012 a score of 97. This is far and away it’s favorite vintage from 2000 forward. Only 2005 is close and they rate it a 95.
I think the 2012 vintage is one of the top three vintages that we have ever made in the thirteen red wine vintages that have been released. I would put it right up there with 2005 & 2007 as far as comparing vintage to vintage. Both the 2005 & 2007 are drinking beautifully right now. I recommend drinking those wines of Fidelitas if you have them in your cellar.
The other thing to keep in mind in comparing vintages, is how much our product line up has changed since we first started. The 2012 vintage will have our usual array of Boushey & Champoux wines, but will have an expanded selection of wines from Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard and more selections of Red Mountain specific wines. If possible come by and taste the latest releases of the 2012 Red Mountain merlot & Optu blend. Optu is the only wine we have made since our first vintage in 2000.
you can also read this blog post on Charlie's NEW winemaking blog: https://charliehoppesredmountainwinemaker.wordpress.com/
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.