Charlie Hoppes has something that can't be taught in the wine industry—a gut instinct that nudges him when grapes are ready to pick, alerts him when he reaches the "ah-ha" point of blending wines and intuitively informs him what a wine will taste like a year or two down the road in the bottle.
That instinct is distinguishing the Benton City, WA winemaker among his peers, and garnering accolades for his latest releases, the second vintage of Fidelitas wines. In a crowded field of new wineries and new releases, Fidelitas wines are quickly rising to the top of the barrel.
Charlie is known for his focus on the vineyard: "Great wines begin in the vineyards," Hoppes said. "That's the best beginning a winemaker can have. After that, it is a combination of being patient and letting the fruit hang as long as you can—and knowing when to pick. Lots of people let it hang too long. There is a balance and a gut feeling of knowing, after tasting, when you've got it right."
Charlie has "gotten it right" so often, his wines are some of the most in-demand Avalon sells.
More About Fidelitas Winery
Hired Guns: Consulting winemaker Charlie Hoppes
By Andy Perdue, Editor Wine Press NW
Charlie Hoppes is on a roll. He's making award-winning wines for no fewer than six boutique Washington wineries, and the mere mention of his name can help a new operation gain instant credibility.
This should come as no surprise, though, because Hoppes has been on a roll for a long time.
The Kennewick, Wash., resident got his start from winemaker Mike Januik at Snoqualmie Winery in 1988. In 1990, he spent a season at Waterbrook Winery in Lowden, Wash., then rejoined Januik as his assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. By 1993, he moved to Ste. Michelle's new facility on Canoe Ridge in Eastern Washington, where he spent eight vintages overseeing red wine production.
In 1999, Hoppes left Ste. Michelle to help launch
"The opportunity came along right away," Hoppes said. "I think Three Rivers saw that this was going to help supplement my income, and at the same time, I was looking for a little more of a challenge."
Today, wine lovers can taste Hoppes' winemaking prowess behind a number of labels, including Cañon de Sol, Goose Ridge, Ryan Patrick Vineyards, Zefina Winery, Alder Ridge, Six Prong, Saint Laurent and his own label, Fidelitas.
"With some of the labels, you don't know how they're going to do," Hoppes said. "You do the basic winemaking, and it works out. I didn't have any idea it would all turn out as well as it did."
In fact, Hoppes has had a remarkable run of quality that has shown in a number of times in Wine Press Northwest blind tastings. Two years ago in our third annual Platinum Judging, Hoppes' Three Rivers 1999 Meritage earned a rare Double Platinum. A year ago in our Fab Cab judging, four Hoppes-made wines earned our top "Outstanding" rating: Cañon de Sol, Fidelitas, Ryan Patrick and Three Rivers. Last fall in our judging oRyan Patrick and Three Rivers. Last fall in our judging of 103 Northwest Syrahs, the top two wines were by Hoppes: the 2001 Cañon de Sol and 2000 Goose Ridge.
And twice the Cañon de Sol Syrah has won Best of Show in the prominent Northwest Wine Summit, once two years ago for the 2000 vintage and this year for the 2002.
That's consistency at a lofty altitude, and it all begins in the vineyard. In Hoppes' case, more than 15 vintages in Washington have helped him get to know just about every row of vines in the vast Columbia Valley.
work with about a dozen vineyards," Hoppes said.
His consulting business, Winemaking Northwest, has helped lead to quick success with Fidelitas, his high-end label produced at Cañon de Sol. The first vintage, 2000, was 360 cases. In 2004, he'll crush enough grapes for 5,000 cases. Now, his brother Loren has come on full time with Fidelitas. Loren brings a marketing background from Nike that is helping to propel Fidelitas into the limelight — it's even being sold in Napa Valley. The lineup includes a Meritage, Syrah and some vineyard-designated wines. He's even making a Chardonnay from famed Elerding Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.
"I didn't have any plans to make
ANDY PERDUE is editor of Wine Press Northwest.