Fidelitas’ first wine holds a secret

By on January 13, 2016
Charlie Hoppes is the owner of Fidelitas Wines on Washington's Red Mountain.

Charlie Hoppes, owner and winemaker for Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain, holds a bottle of his inaugural vintage, the 2000 Meritage. Inside this wine is a secret that has remained hidden for nearly 15 years. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

RICHLAND, Wash. – When Charlie Hoppes launched Fidelitas Wines with the 2000 vintage, he left a little secret in that first bottle, an unintended Easter egg, a secret that was never revealed. Until now.

Corks branded with the name “Fidelis” – instead of “Fidelitas” – went into all 4,800 bottles of red wine he made that year. It all happened because a major grocery chain owned the trademark on a defunct liquor brand and decided to flex its legal muscles.

It all started when Hoppes decided to launch his winery in 2000. The Yakima Valley native began making wine in 1988 at Snoqualmie Winery – before it was owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In 1990, he worked at Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla before joining Chateau Ste. Michelle as its red winemaker. After the 1998 harvest, Hoppes left Ste. Michelle to launch Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla.

As a side gig, Hoppes launched his own brand.

“We thought about using ‘Hoppes,’ but that’s kind of a bad wine name,” Hoppes told Great Northwest Wine. “We were looking at some names that had a family meeting and came across one that had been used for four generations.”

Hoppes’ wife, Terri, came up with a perfect name. Her great-grandfather’s name was Daniel Fidelis O’Neill. He named his eldest son Daniel Fidelis O’Neill, who named his eldest son Daniel Fidelis O’Neill, who continued the tradition with his first son.

The name is Latin for “faithful,” and it’s also the name of a Catholic saint.

From Fidelis to Fidelitas

Safeway Fidelis brandy.

A 1976 newspaper advertisement for Safeway shows its Fidelis brandy for sale.

Hoppes did his due diligence on Fidelis before using it for his winery’s name.

“We got going on the project, and we had the first 400 cases made,” Hoppes said. “I had a trademark attorney check it, and he said to go for it. I was raring to go, so I went ahead and bought the corks.”

Then he got a letter from Safeway, which owned the trademark on a defunct liquor brand called Fidelis. The cease-and-desist letter stated that Hoppes could not legally use the name Fidelis for his winery.

“We went back to them and asked, ‘Can we use Fidelitas?’ and they said, ‘We won’t challenge that,’ ” Hoppes said, noting Safeway hadn’t used the Fidelis brand name for at least 20 years. “It probably was just corporate attorneys doing their jobs.”

Hoppes had 400 cases of wine ready to be bottled, and he had changed the silkscreen for his bottles to his new brand name. But he still had all those corks that said “Fidelis” on them. And Hoppes didn’t want to pay for them again.

“We had the corks already printed,” he said. “We couldn’t afford to eat these corks, and it’s hardly noticeable.”

So Hoppes decided to go ahead and use the corks. He told nobody about it – save for this curious wine journalist – and moved forward, changing the brand on the cork in time to bottle the 2001 vintage.

How the Fidelis/Fidelitas 2000 Meritage is holding up

Fidelitas Wines originally was going to be called Fidelis.

Only by pulling the cork on Fidelitas Wines’ inaugural vintage can its secret be revealed: the original intended name of the winery. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

That first vintage, Hoppes made one wine, a Bordeaux-style blend that comprised 62 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 38 percent Merlot from Weinbau Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. It was similar to Chateau Ste. Michelle’s inaugural Artist Series Meritage, which Hoppes was integral in producing from the 1993 vintage.

Perhaps he should have named his winery Chateau Ste. Fidelitas?

Even though every bottle of that inaugural Fidelitas wine had the misnamed cork, Hoppes never heard a word from customers or anyone else.

“Nobody ever noticed,” he said with a chuckle. “Nobody ever called or said anything.”

And Hoppes never sold that wine at Safeway, either. He also hasn’t checked to see if Safeway still owns the Fidelis trademark.

“I don’t really care anymore,” he said.

Last month, we opened a bottle of the Fidelitas 2000 Meritage with Hoppes to see how it’s held up. Hoppes was satisfied that it was displaying lovely aged red wine properties, including dried fruit components, dried rose petal and elegant herbal notes.

“I’m pleased with how it’s aged,” he said after a few sips.

In 2001, Hoppes added Syrah to the Fidelitas lineup. By 2002, he expanded his offerings to include several wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. He has since added many wines to the Fidelitas family and has narrowed his focus primarily to grapes from Red Mountain, where one of his tasting rooms is located.

Ultimately, he stopped using the name “Meritage” on his premium red blend, renaming it Optu.

And as it did in 2000, every bottle of Fidelitas wines still carries the meanings of the Latin word: Faithful, Loyal, True.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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