Charlie Hoppes finds it hard to believe next year will be his 25th vintage in Washington. Fans of his wines are just happy he has been around so long.
The owner of Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain is never one to dawdle, and he continues to evolve his winemaking and marketing.
Hoppes' first winemaking job after college was in 1988 at Snoqualmie Winery. After a brief stint in Walla Walla, he was hired by Chateau Ste. Michelle, where he stayed until 1999, when he went back to Walla Walla to help launch Three Rivers Winery.
Throughout his early career, he wanted to eventually do his own thing, and he started Fidelitas in 2000 as a small side project. Originally, he was to call the winery "Fidelis" and even had corks made for that first vintage. Alas, the name was trademarked by a large retailer, and he had to change to Fidelitas. But pull a cork on any bottle from his inaugural vintage and you will find the name "Fidelis" on it.
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In 2002, he left Three Rivers to devote all of his energy to Fidelitas and his burgeoning consulting work, which included such clients as Goose Ridge, Ca&ntild;on de Sol, Ryan Patrick and Zefina.
Hoppes has long been in love with Red Mountain and its rich, ripe grapes. He purchased five acres of land and opened a stylish tasting room in 2007. He also moved into the Puget Sound market when he became part of Urban Enoteca, a tasting room in Seattle. Earlier this year, he opened a facility in nearby Richland, where he makes wine for such brands as Hamilton Cellars, Market Cellars, Cooper Wine Co. and Gamache Vintners. He now makes about 20,000 cases of wine annually, 7,500 of which is for Fidelitas.
His entire winemaking operation is now under the playful name "Wine Boss," and he plans to release new wines under yet-to-be-determined brands.
Hoppes also became a farmer of sorts. With grape grower Dick Boushey, he planted three acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on his Red Mountain property and hopes to bring in his first estate harvest in 2012. While he brings in grapes from some top vineyards, including Stillwater Creek, Weinbau, Boushey and Champoux, he remains fascinated with Red Mountain and plans to increase his percentage of grapes from Washington's smallest grape-growing area until it is more than half of his production.
Here are some Fidelitas wines we have tasted in recent weeks. Hoppes' wines are distributed across Washington and other national markets, so check with your favorite wine merchant or call Fidelitas at 509-588-3469.
Fidelitas Wines 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $35. The nose carries hints of fresh crushed blackberry, President plum, dark cherries, black currant, malted milk balls, coffee, Montreal seasoning and minerality. Explosive flavors of fresh plum, boysenberry and Marionberry take you on a ride as the vibrant acidity washes back the tannin. Enjoy with lean meats now and hold back a bottle or two for the long haul.
Fidelitas Wines 2008 Boushey Vineyard Red, Yakima Valley, $50. A smooth and pleasing structure is developed inside this medium-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (44%) and Cabernet Franc. It's a straight shooter with tones of Van cherry, black currant, dusty chocolate and pipe tobacco, capped by a long trail of boysenberry acidity. (351 cases, 14.8% alc.)
Fidelitas Wines 2008 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $50. This opens with aromas of red currants, Graham crackers, black olives, minerally earth and Earl Grey tea. The palate is perfectly balanced with oak, acidity, tannin and fruit, with the latter dominated by elegant flavors of blackberries, tobacco, dried cranberries, espresso, tar and chocolate. This is one of the most collectible wines made in Washington.
Fidelitas Wines 2008 Merlot, Red Mountain, $45. This opens with aromas of mulling spices, dried cherries, pipe tobacco and blackberry pie, followed by balanced flavors of cherries, strawberries, cinnamon toast, in-check oak, black licorice, brown sugar and chocolate.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.