Last week we met up with Dick Boushey to taste through samples of all the vineyard blocks in the Estate from Harvest 2019 to see how things are coming along. Blocks 1-3A, our 2008 planting, were tasting just as good as ever and there were a few surprises from the newer plantings, blocks 3B-12. A couple blocks in particular that stood out for their complexity and concentration were Cabernets from blocks 7 & 8 (clones 2 and 169). Now that these 2015 plantings are more mature and we're able to conduct a better comparison to the 2008 plantings, it got me thinking that we talk about the subtle differences of different vineyard partners all the time but haven't looked more deeply into the differences of the blocks within our own Estate vineyard.
The very peak of Red Mountain is around 1,400 ft and slopes down to about 600 ft as the bottom of the AVA boundary approaches the Yakima River. Our Estate, which is at the center of the AVA, sits at around 720 feet from the vantage point of our back patio (looking towards the SW at the Horse Heaven Hills):
Now onto the subtle differences - here's some elevation readings from different points around the Estate:
As you can see the Estate follows the gradual South-Western facing slope, with a slight dip in the middle at blocks 2 through 3B, similar to the main part of Red Mountain and is steeper on the Southern blocks, 7-12.
In fact in some areas the slope is more true Southern facing like we see in some of our favorite blocks on Red Mountain that go into our Quintessence Cabernet and offer some of the most concentration of flavor and color of any wines we make.
View from the middle of the vineyard looking back at the tasting room:
View from the Merlot block looking back at gentle SW slope towards the tasting room:
View from the back of Block 7 (Cab Sauv, Clone 2) looking South:
Looking South at Block 8 (Cab Sauv, Clone 169), note the gradual slope which gets steeper as you get further South. Both blocks 7 & 8 stood out in our Estate tasting for their depth and concentration. We're excited to see how these wines mature for blending later this year and the future harvests off these blocks!
Fresh off 2019 Harvest and in the midst of putting the 2018 blends together it's been perfect timing to taste through the first batch of our 2017 releases seeing what we loved about each vintage, things we want to tweak in our winemaking for 2020, and be able to sit down and enjoy some "finished" wine out of the bottle. It's also been difficult to rack my brain figuring out the type of growing season 2017 was so I thought I'd do a little research on the 2017 Vintage for Fidelitas and how it affected our upcoming releases:
My Dad, Mitch, and I putting together the 2018 Estate Cab over the holidays
Here's what Team Fidelitas had to say in 2017:
2017 was a year of extremes. We had a cold winter with higher snowfall than average. This continued into the Spring and as a result we had a much later bud break and bloom than usual. We were initally thinking that we were in store for another 2010 or 2011-type vintage. But as is tradition, temperatures on Red Mountain shot up and the heat accumulation for the Summer months was actually higher than average - canopies were growing like weeds and not much irrigation was needed as the ground had held onto a lot of moisture. Heading into the fall we could tell that because of the cooler Spring that the fruit set was smaller and that yields were going to be down. Temperatures cooled way down in September & October and we were able to let fruit hang and let flavors develop without the threat of frost. The 2017's have great concentration and power to them because the of short/extreme ripening period and low yields, classic ripe Red Mountain tannin structure, with nice acidity and complexity offered by the longer hang times. We were able to control our pick dates, sugar and acid levels well in the winery to offer wines that taste great on the tasting bar but will cellar for 10+ years if that's your preference.
Resting on Roller Fermenters, September 2017
Quintessence Cab, Block 9, 2017 Fermentation Trials
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!
My dad and I were checking in on the Estate Vineyard last night after we had heard some rumors about veraison starting at some of our neighbors' places. It's fun to see how much things have changed since Staff Vineyard Tours which took place only 2 weeks ago where we didn't see any signs of color change. Here are some pictures from yesterday of Block 1 Estate Cabernet:
Things are changing quickly but compared to previous years I'd estimate we're still a week or two behind. We had a late bud break due to the intense winter weather, but things quickly caught up with a warm spring and lots of letftover moisture in the soils - canopies on Red Mountain were growing like crazy keeping the vineyard crews busy.
Ciel du Cheval Cab Franc
So far the summer has been quite moderate. We've had a few days reach into the 100's but most days are sitting around the mid 90's with little rain, most of it coming in spurts from thunderstorms. We also haven't had many smoky days compared to the previous years (knock on wood) which has allowed for maximum sun exposure and vineyard crews the ability to work in normal conditions. The prevailing winds on Red Mountain aid in keeping the smoke from sitting over the hillside.
View of the controlled burn on Rattlesnake Mountain used to combat the Cold Creek fires
My early take on the vintage is that it's been mellow, which is great. Not too hot (although we had a warm spring which was looking like 2015 but cooled off) and not too cold - no extreme weather to speak of. The crop looks great so far and I'm excited to be back on Red Mountain for Fidelitas' 20th harvest which is just around the corner! It's such benefit to be here where the soils drain so well, and we're able to fine tune our irrigation to account for wet winters because there's so little rain during the growing season. + we constantly get weather forecasts that resemble this - you couldn't dream of more perfect grape growing weather!
And sunsets like this:
For the team at Fidelitas, July and August are the calm before the storm. At the winery we have bottling, racking, and barrel-sample tasting, but nothing compared to the long and now looming days of harvest. In the tasting rooms we have a few parties to throw and summer traffic brought upon by the warmer weather, but still relatively mellow compared to Fall club release. In anticipation my dad and I have been gradually going through and popping open some of these upcoming releases and comparing notes with other winemakers to see how things are progressing and have been pleasantly surprised with the balance and age-worthiness of these wines coming off the extremely hot '14 and '15 vintages.
Optu & Magna members make sure to make your Preview Tasting reservations so you get the chance to taste all of these before they're gone -- I'll see you there!
Note, the "Club" flag indicates which wines we expect to be club exclusive releases
Good news! You won't have to wait til the fall to get some killer Malbec. Some not so good news, is that we only made 4 barrels worth so it won't be in the tasting room long. Compared to our "Red Mountain" and "Quintessence" releases, the Canyons reminds me most of the high-elevation Argentenian Malbecs that I've worked with which aren't as fruit forward as Washington and have more pronounced spicy and sweeter-pyrazine roasted pepper characteristics. All 96 cases are sourced from a single block on the edge of the Canyon that runs through the middle of the vineyard - we bottled this micro-climate to share with you. This is the second-edition, we made an initial lot of 96 cases in 2014.
The Canyons Vineyard, Block 11 Malbec - Harvest 2018
September | 88 cases | $50
This is our third edition of Quintessence Sauvignon Blanc. It's no surprise that Sauv Blanc excels in the same growing regions around the world as Cabernet Sauvignon. We decided to add one to the lineup in 2016 and model it after other world-class Cabernet houses which took their palates and winemaking techniques from Cabernet and apply them to making the best single varietal Sauv Blanc possible. Since 2016 we've used the Vicard Ovonum barrels which because of their unique shape gives better lees mixing and adds specific texture to the wine that we love. So much so that we decided to leave the juice in barrel all Summer turning it into a September instead of April release. For our SB lovers out there thanks for your patience! Some good news, we've doubled the production this year (we bought another egg) and we promise the wait will be worth it.
Charlie with his freshly picked bins of 2018 Quintessence Sauv Blanc
September | 232 cases | $80
Winemaking and grapegrowing can be the ultimate test of patience. A wise winemaker that I used to work for who's family had been in the wine business for 100+ years, used to think in matters of decades and generations vs. quarters and vintages. There's something about being at the mercy of mother nature year after year, and having a product that you pour your heart and soul into that people may not end up enjoying for another 10+ years down the line that gives you a whole other level of patience. As a young winemaker I try to keep this same mentality when looking at our Estate. For those of you keeping track at home, we planted in 2008, made our first Estate Cab bottling in 2012. Each vintage since then we to try to keep our heads down and make the best wine possible, and each year when we go through and taste through the barrel samples our patience is rewarded as these young vines mature and create wines with more depth and complexity than the year prior. For the 2016 vintage we've used our same blend of Clones 2 and Clone 6 from the 2008 planting with 100% of the different lots fermented in oak vessels, another signature of the Estate Cab: 50% 2 Ton Open Top Oak Tank, 40% 500L Roller Barrel, and 10% 500L Upright Barrel. The combination of the growing site, the specific clones we've selected, and oak fermentation techniques give the Estate Cab a rich and silky tannin structure that sets it apart from the rest of our lineup.
Charlie overlooking the Estate at the 2019 Red Mountain Cab Summit. Red Mountain sunsets seem to last forever because there's nothing West but the Yakima Valley to block the sun and is an important factor to why we consistently get vintages with the most sunlight and heat compared to other growing areas in WA.
September | 626 cases | $55
We've produced a Clone 8 (dubbed the Washington clone, chances are if you have a "Columbia Valley Cab" you're drinking Clone 8) dominant Red Mountain Cabernet since 2010 with the same vision in mind, take those famous "traditional Red Mountain Cabernet characteristics" and put them in a bottle. It's hard to explain exactly what we mean by this but I think we did a mighty fine job in those original 2010 tasting notes: "Fidelitas releases the 2010 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon as it’s first varietal Red Mountain Cabernet using a blend of top vineyards from Red Mountain. The nose offers rich aromas of dark cherry, black currant, vanilla and a dusty herbal quality, rising from a deep hued ruby tone. The lively palate extends additional notes of black raspberry, clove, black licorice and a very subtle gamey quality, all settled within present yet balanced tannins and a lengthy finish." We now a few site specific cabernets with their own unique characteristics like Ciel du Cheval or Quintessence, but with this wine we're taking different vineyards and qualities of different barrels that we like and in a sense making a blend of cabernets. I think this the perfect bottle to share with friends to introduce them to Red Mountain because it 100% Cab, which the AVA has become most known for, is delicious no matter how long you decide to cellar it, and has a definite sense of place.
"Red Mountain vs. the World" tasting at RM Cab Summit, 2019 comparing Red Mountain to other world-class Cabernet growing regions.
September | 336 cases | $50
Montis, Latin for mountain, is an exciting new product named for the Mountain that we call home and the source of a bunch of different growing partners for this bottling. In 2016 with the warm Spring and heavy fruit set, we had more high-quality fruit come into the winery than expected. We've listened in the tasting room for years now and realized that we have tons of members who like blends best and wanted to share a club-exclusive version with y'all. Plus, our winemaking team saw a creative opportunity to create a blend without varietal or vineyard limitations to go along with all of the different single varietal, single vineyard bottlings that we've become known for. Here's what we came up with:
Vineyard breakdown: 53% Quintessence Vineyard, 18% Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, 14% Red Mountain Vineyard, 8% Red Heaven Vineyard, 3% Kiona Vineyard, 2% Shaw Vineyard, 2% Blackwood Canyon Vineyard.
Varietal breakdown: 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 6% Malbec.
September | 142 cases | $60
Our Old Vines Merlot was first dreamt up in 2015 when we were able to get access to the Kiona Estate 1975 Merlot planting. In 2016 we've ran back the same blend of original Merlot plantings at Kiona and Ciel du Cheval, the founding partners of Red Mountain. To me, this wine is the most Old World in style and is much less fruit driven than our Red Mountain Merlot for example. Instead of bright red strawberry and bing cherry we get dried fig, rose, dark chocolate, and scorched earth balanced with a lovely front-palate acidity. Charlie has known since the early 90's that Washington was a world-class Merlot growing region and we believe this wine would stand up to some of the famous right-bank Bordeaux houses (someone want to arrange this tasting for us? We'll bring the Old Vines). This wine was a fan favorite of the 2018 July Preview Tasting, so make sure to order some ahead of its release to get a bottle of Red Mountain history.
Kiona '75 Merlot, Harvest 2018
The famous Ciel du Cheval Barn, Harvest 2018
Ciel du Cheval is one of the most well-known vineyards in the state of Washington and has been a staple of our lineup since the 2006 Ciel du Cheval Cab which was our first 100% single vineyard Cab from Red Mountain. Since 2006, as our relationship with Jim Holmes developed and we were able to get access to more fruit, and in 2012 Ciel du Cheval became a staple of our lineup with us releasing 5 different vineyard designate bottlings. It's amazing that a single vineyard is able to produce such exceptional fruit quality that these varietlas which are usually blending components are able to be complext enought to stand on their own. When we first introduced the Cab in 2006 we were sourcing from all over the Columbia Valley and the Ciel du Cheval bottling, which was our only Red Mountain wine at the time, stuck out as the most concentrated and tannic one in the bunch. Our love for wines like this lead us into sourcing more Red Mountain fruit each vintage to where now the role of Ciel du Cheval has shifted a little. In a sense it's now the elder statesmen of our lineup showing more subtle old-vine complexity and elegance where you have to go searching for these nuances especially when compared to vineyards like Quintessence, Fidelitas Estate, and Blackwood which are anything but subtle - we've had to adjust our winemaking techniques and barrel selectionsa accordingly to accentuate these "CDC" characteristics. Keep that in mind when tasting through the gamut of Ciel du Cheval wines at the Preview Tastings and see if you can pick out those similarities.
More info on Ciel du Cheval:
November | 384 cases | $75
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Aging: 75% New French Oak
Oak Fermentation: 32% 500L Roller Barrel, 18% 500L Upright Barrel
November | 290 cases | $65
50% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc
Aging: 67% New French Oak, 8% New American Oak
Fermentation: 8% 500L Roller Barrel
November | 143 cases | $60
Aging: 50% New French Oak, 17% New American Oak
Fermentation: 17% 500L Roller Barrel
November | 140 cases | $60
100% Cabernet Franc
Aging: 66% New French Oak
November | 96 cases | $55
100% Petit Verdot
Aging: 50% New French Oak, 25% New American Oak
Fermentation: 50% 500L Roller Barrel, 25% 500L Upright Barrel
Featuring our 2016 CDC Cab vs. some of our neighbors, Red Mountain Cab Summit 2019
November | 350 cases | $35
We've yet to put together the final blend for our 2018 Optu White but we're extremely pleased with how the barrel samples are progressing. If the 2018 Red Mountain Semillon is any indication than it's going to be an excellent vintage for whties. We can tell you that it'll be the classic ~60/40 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Bordeaux Blanc style blend and will be released just in time for Holiday celebrations.
Tasting wines completely blind is one of the most humbling things you can put yourself through especially if you consider yourself somewhat of a connoisseur. When we open a bottle of wine, pull a barrel sample, or step up to a familiar tasting bar we bring all sorts of baggage with us that effects our perception of what we're about to taste and makes it impossible to be unbiased. For example, in the winery, if we walk up to a barrel that's holding our favorite varietal from our favorite vineyard site and the specific barrel producer is one that we love we've already decided our opinion of the wine before even taking a sip. We constantly go through and taste blends and barrel samples blindly to make sure that we're critically and fairly judging all of our wines.
Here are some tips for you and your friends to throw your own blind-tasting party!
This past Tuesday the entire Fidelitas management team met for our First Annual Leadership Summit to plan our attack for the rest of the year + set our big long-term goals. As is custom at these type of meetings we pepper my dad with questions about Fidelitas history, vineyard philosophy, his career, etc... Every time I hear him talk I learn new things and I'm reminded of things that I haven't heard in a while. Here's my top 5:
1. The original 400 cases of the Fidelitas Meritage had "Fidelis" printed on the corks which was the original name of the winery before we got a cease and desist letter from Safeway re: a "Fidelis" liquor brand that was in their posession. Does anyone have any of the original Fidelis brandy that they're willing to share?
2. Although his first "official" vintage in Washington was in 1989 at Snoqualmie-Langguth working under Mike Januik the first ever Washington wine that my dad made was a 1983 Riesling from a vineyard just outside Pasco, WA made in my grandfather's, his father-in-law's kitchen. His name, Daniel Fidelis O'Neil.
A young Daniel Fidelis O'Neil picture in the Seattle Times
3. He got hired on at 3 Rivers in 1999 as their first winemaker with the agreement that he'd be able to start his own wine label. He spent the 2001 & 2001 harvests there commuting from Tri-Cities everyday.
4. In 1993 he was hired as the head Red Winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle after focusing on their white wine making from 1990 to 1992. His first task was to manage the Canoe Ridge facility which was the first, modern, large-scale red wine-making facility in Washington state. He said from 1993-1998 so much was getting thrown at him that he was able to learn massive amounts in such a short period of time all while at the forefront of red winemaking in the state.
A bottle of 1993 Ste Michelle Cab that we were able to enjoy recently courtesy of Compass Wines. We were amazed at how well this wine was holding up, Mike Januik wasn't lying!
5. His first job in the wine industry was in 1985-86 as a lab tech at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma while studying at UC Davis.
For those who aren't up to date on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (bettter known as Triple D), stop reading right now, reevaluate how you spend your free time, find a way to stream the episode that aired on March 8th called "Southern to South American" featuring Richland Washington's own Porters Barbecue and you may recognize a certain winemaker chowing down on a dino beef rib:
Talking to some club members recently and helping them plan their trips to Red Mountain, suggesting food places that may or may not show up on a Google search got me thinking that I should gather all the food recommendations from team Fidelitas and create our own:
Bale Breaker Brewing Company, Yakima - if your getting mezmerized by the rows, rows, and rows of hops and need a little beer to warm up your palate
Los Hernandez Tamales, Union Gap - authentic tamales from James Beard award winning chef, Felipe Hernandez
Wine o'Clock, Prosser - wine bar and bistro located in Prosser's Vintner's Village
Miner's Drive In, Yakima - obligatory since I stopped here every away game for high school sports
Graze, Richland - soups, salads, and sandwiches, located right next to Porters for those who don't want the Dino Ribs
Tacos Super Uno, Richland - taco truck just off the highway on your way to Red Mountain from Tri-Cities, you need to have Mexican food while you're in Eastern WA. Your best bet is coming to our Feast of St. Fidelis event May 3rd for some of this:
and this view:
Drumheller's, Richland - located on the second floor of the Columbia Point Lodge overlooking the Richland waterfront, make sure someone at your table orders pasta
Anthony's, Richland - their back patio may be the best dining view in Tri-Cities
The Bradley, Richland - tapas bar
Fat Olive's, Richland - most popular after work spot for workers in the Tri-Cities research district
Carmine's Italian Restaurant, Kennewick - family-owned, it'll make you feel like you're at your Italian grandmother's for dinner
Aki Sushi, Kennewick - best sushi I've had, Seattle included
We've got a bunch of new events on the calendar for the Spring!
Dates: March 8, March 22, April 26, May 10, and May 24 - 6:00-7:00 p.m. - $30 members, $40 non-members
Location: Woodinville Tasting Room
How to make a reservation: email email@example.com
Kathleen provides in-depth tastings through flights of 5 wines, both library and current releases, with hand-selected food pairings for each event. Themes from the past include 5 Cabernets of Red Mountain, Vertical tasting of Optu Reds, and vineyard specific tastings featuring Ciel du Cheval and Quintessence. Come taste some of the best Fidelitas has to offer in a more intimate setting.
Dates: March 29 - opening weekend, Red Sox + July 6 - Oakland A's
Location: Suite at T-Mobile Park
How to make a reservation: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets include VIP ballpark access, premium gametime food in the suite, quality time with owner-winemaker Charlie Hoppes, and a selection of Fidelitas Wines to enjoy while you watch the game.
Date: April 12, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Location: Woodinville Tasting Room
How to make a reservation: email email@example.com - Club-Only - $30
Join Charlie and our winemaking team for a special tasting and panel discussion + Q&A to follow. Each ticket includes a flight of wines and the opportunity to learn from our team with 70+ years of combined harvest experience.
Dates: April 13-14 + 20
Location: Woodinville Tasting Room
How to make a reservation: no reservations necessary!
Every time we release new wines to the club in February, April, September, and November we close off the tasting rooms for the following 2 weekends to give our members the chance to come in, try the new releases in an extended flight, and pick up their wines. Often this is the only time to sample and get your hands on limited wines after they're released!
Feast of St. Fidelis
Save the date and start planning your weekend: Friday, May 3
Location: Red Mountain Tasting Room
Watch for more information and an invitation to come in early April!
With the first couple 2016 red releases now available in the tasting rooms and much more to come in February and April (see Jess' most recent post) I figured now is a good time to take a look back at what all went on in the 2016 vintage and how it affected what went into the bottle.
What team Fidelitas was saying in the midst of 2016:
When we look at the differences in vintages the biggest factor on Red Mountain is heat; there are many other influential variances such as rain-fall, humidity, damaging frosts (*knocks on wood), etc..., but air temperature at different times of the year drives the ripening cycle. The main way we look at the difference in heat between vintages is growing degree days (GDD):
One of the main factors of grape development or the "ripening cycle" is air temperature. The running total of cumululative GDD during the "growing season," deemed to be April 1 to October 31 in Washington, is used to compare different vintages in the same region and different regions around the world. A base temperature is 50 (Farenheit) is chosen by WSU based on their experience that when the average temperature > 50 vine development/sugar development takes place.
Quote from the Washington Wine Commission which perfectly sums up the chart above:
"2016 continued the trend of warm growing seasons in Washington marked by an early start. Bud break and bloom were significantly advanced from historical dates, with bloom occurring in some areas as early as the third week of May, a good two-plus weeks ahead of average. By the end of May, 2016 was easily on pace to surpass 2015 as the warmest vintage on record. To everyone’s surprise, beginning in June, temperatures swung back toward normal. “As we all know weather is very unpredictable and we did not see the cool second half coming,” said one winemaker. These cooler temperatures persisted throughout the majority of the summer."
Here's a summary of a few conversation I had with my dad about 2016 on Red Mountain:
2016 started out warm, extremely warm, and some were predicting a vintage that would break the previous heat records of 2014 and 2015. We had an early April bud break which made us a little nervous, luckily with Red Mountain being one of the warmer areas we aren’t at as high of a risk for Spring frost as others (once it starts to get warm on Red Mountain it stays warm). The fruit set beautifully and we could already tell that yield was going to be on the high side. The summer cooled way down compared to previous vintages and the final ripening stages into the fall were drawn out to aid with flavor development and giving us the opportunity to let the fruit hang for some of our later ripening varietals without having to worry about sugar delevelopment or over-ripening. Expect more age worthy wines in 2016 – with acid levels a little higher – somewhere between the cooler vintages, 10 and 11, and the warmer 14 and 15. These wines may need a little more time to open up especially for bigger/bolder releases like Esate Cabernet or Quintessence Cabernet but we’re excited about the balance and age-worthiness of these wines. With more "normal" weather our single varietal wines are going to be more "true to their traditional varietal characteristics" - you won't taste the warmth of the vintage as much in these wines.
Also, we’re seeing year after year just how incredible fruit is coming off Red Mountain as some of our younger vineyard partners are continuing to develop and we continue to work with the same blocks year after year – always fine tuning our winemaking techniques to get the most out of the fruit.
(above) Charlie's view at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday. This is the 2016 Quintessence Merlot that will be released in April!
(below) My similar view of early-morning pumpovers - Willamette Valley, 2016