Monday, July 25, 2011

Fidelitas on Red Mountain

The Red Mountain winery, Fidelitas was born in 2000 when long time winemaker Charlie Hoppes decided to strike out on his own following many successful years and big responsibilities at Chateau Ste Michelle. Charlie gained substantial experience serving as Assistant Winemaker working with Mike Januik, and followed that as Head Winemaker at Canoe Ridge (recently acquired by Precept). Eventually Charlie came back around to the idea of opening his own winery and Fidelitas was born.

The modern and industrial Shack-teau has been open for the last 3 and a half years and serves as both a tasting room and a storage facility for the estate fruit. While Charlie is currently not making an estate wine, that will change. He's purchased 20 acres, and while there are only 3 currently planted with Cabernet there are plans for future vineyard plantings. Charlie has hope for Red Mountain as a destination with the growth of vineyards and the development of new wineries. "So many people talk to me about stopping at Red Mountain on their way to or from Walla Walla. We're a destination in our own right." With some closer lodging options, and a few more restaurants I do think we'll see this kind of vision that Charlie and many of the winemakers on Red Mountain are hoping for.

The Fidelitas wines certainly warrant a visit and your attention. All of Charlie's wine shows his talent and knowledge both of Washington fruit, but more specifically the variety that different AVAs and vineyards offer him. For brevity's sake I'll focus on a few favorites.

The 2008 Columbia Valley Malbec is a blend of several vineyards, Charlie is looking to make a Malbec that brings the best of Washington together. I loved this one, Charlie finds that the fruit from Conner Lee brings him a spicier profile while he's able to bring in black fruit characteristics from some of the warmer sites he's sourcing from. "People enjoy more than Cabernet and Merlot, so we'll continue doing Malbec, Cabernet Franc and we're looking to also do some Carmenere."

The 2007 Boushey bottling was a dynamite wine, Dick Boushey approached Charlie about making a wine specifically from his older vines. This one is 53% Merlot, 40% Cabernet and 7% Cab Franc. My favorite of the wines we tasted at Fidelitas. This is classical Boushey fruit, it shows restraint with present yet controlled tannins, and allows you to experience lots of fruit elements on the nose with a nice long finish. Charlie's take was simple, "with fruit like this, you just don't want to mess it up."

We transitioned from Boushey to Red Mountain, and the 2007 Red Mountain Red. Another Bourdeaux style blend. The Red Mountain tannins were apparent right out of the gates. Charlie talked about how his knowledge of vineyards really can make blending easier, and when he's sourcing fruit from vineyards he's unfamiliar with he has to take his time. When it comes to the tannins of Red Mountain Charlie tries his best to tame them, working with small lots and finishing fermentation in the barrel. Charlie finds himself tasting two or three times a day. "Red Mountain fruit gives you such a small window, and the tannins can really get you if you don't act." Fidelitas is source half of their total volume from Red Mountain.

Charlie also let us taste the pre-releases (at press time)of 08 Boushey, Red Mountain and the Champoux as well as Ciel du Cheval Cabernets. The wines Charlie makes are distinct vintage to vintage. So far he is really happy with how this most recent vintage, 2010 is panning out. He thinks it will be a great vintage for many of Washington's varietals and likens it to 1999.

Fans of Fidelitas, including their 1200 wine club members are getting a crack at some of Washington's great wines. Seattle wine drinkers can also check out Fidelitas at the Urban Enoteca in Sodo. While much of the wine from Fidelitas starts near the $30 price point, its an excellent opportunity to taste a combination of some of the state's best fruit crafted by one of it's more talented winemakers without stratospheric price tags.


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