Mike Wade of Fielding Hills Winery recalls a formative wine experience at Chieftain Restaurant in Wenatchee, Washington. An avid beer drinker at the time, Wade decided one night to try a glass of “house Burgundy” along with his prime rib. As fate would have it, there were no French inspectors in town otherwise this story might never have been written. Instead, Wade became hooked on wine.
After traveling to Napa Valley in the mid-nineties followed by trips to the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys in 1997 and 1998, Wade became increasingly interested in growing grapes and making wine. As part owner of Columbia Fruit Packers, an apple and cherry packing business, he saw similarities between growing apples, cherries, and grapes. As he looked more into growing grapes and making wine he kept asking himself the same question – “Could I do this?” After seeing a seeing a small-scale wine operation in Walla Walla, he decided that the answer was yes.
To get started, Wade spent time in 1997 and 1998 making wine in carboys like many a budding winemaker does. He says, “I did learn from that experience, although the results were not drinkable.” He was, however, not dissuaded.
In the spring of 1998 Wade planted a twenty-four acre vineyard in Mattawa, Washington. The site was not far from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Indian Wells Vineyard, so Wade had reason to believe grapes would grow well there. He also planted grapes near his home in East Wenatchee. He quickly abandoned this project however when the results did not meet the quality he was looking for. The site in Mattawa, however, would succeed beyond all expectations.
In 1999 Wade’s learning curve greatly accelerated when he met Gordy Venneri of Walla Walla Vintners and Charlie Hoppes, then winemaker at Three Rivers Winery. Wade peppered each with questions about winemaking. He started writing his own step-by-step guide to document the process. Wade says he spent, “many nights at the winery writing, reading and analyzing what was happening in front of my very eyes and then calling Charlie or Gordon and asking questions.” By 2000, he was ready.
The first crop at Wade’s Riverbend Vineyard, named after the bend in the Columbia River near Priest Rapids Dam, was in 2000. Fielding Hills Winery was bonded that same year. In naming the winery, Wade says, “My grandfather’s name was Isham Fielding Wade, and as you look at the hills surrounding the winery, the name seemed to fit.” The winery is located in East Wenatchee in a converted orchard shop. Wade describes the building as “Not pretty but very functional.” Wade made four hundred cases of wine in 2000. The winery has since grown to about 1,400 cases annually.
The Fielding Hills wines have met with critical success since the beginning. While the winery has no tasting room and self-distributes its wines, the wine club is full, and the wines sell out briskly. It is no wonder. Each of the Fielding Hills wines is marked by rich, layered fruit accented by sweet spices. They stand among the best being produced in Washington. In terms of style, Wade favors a minimalist approach saying his goal is to “set everything up from root stock to oak to be the best and then let the magic unfold.”
In addition to running the winery, Wade and his wife Karen keep more than busy raising a family and working in the apple and cherry business. At this writing, the Wades were in the middle of a fifty-five day cherry harvest. While some might find an almost continual harvest cycle daunting, for the Wades, it is simply a part of life. Describing her role in the winery Karen Wade says, “As in most small businesses, I am everything that needs to be done.” Of her husband, she says, “He has a deep love for the soil of Eastern Washington. He sees apples and cherries growing, picked, packaged and shipped. He is very excited to see his grapes actually in a glass being consumed.” With Fielding Hills now entering its tenth year, there is much to be excited about.
Fielding Hills Merlot Riverbend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2007 $36
Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatic nose with herbal notes, mint, cranberries, and high-toned cherries accented by sweet oak spices. On the palate, a big dollop of red fruit along with herbal notes. A luscious, fruit-filled wine. 93% Merlot, 5% Syrah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Riverbend Vineyard, Wahluke Slope. Aged 19 months in a combination of American and French oak barrels (72% new). 15.1% alcohol. 172 cases produced.
Fielding Hills Cabernet Franc Riverbend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2007 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) A lightly aromatic nose with pepper, cherry, chocolate, and sweet oak spices. The palate is plush with cherry fruit along with soft tannins and pleasing acidity. A beautifully balanced wine. 88% Cabernet Franc, 6% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Riverbend Vineyard, Wahluke Slope. Aged 19 months in a combination of American and French oak barrels (72% new). 15.5% alcohol. 134 cases produced.
Fielding Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Riverbend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2007 $38
Rating: * (Excellent) Nose is marked by bright cherry aromas, mint, licorice, and chocolate accented by sweet oak spices. Packed tight with beautifully rich fruit on the palate. 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah, 3% Merlot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. Riverbend Vineyard, Wahluke Slope. Aged 19 months in a combination of American and French oak barrels (72% new). 15.6% alcohol. 189 cases produced.
Fielding Hills Tribute Riverbend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2007 $32
Rating: + (Good) Fairly light in color. A lively nose with lots of red and black fruit, licorice, mocha, wheat, and spice. Dry and tart on the palate with heaping amounts of fruit. 43% Syrah, 30 Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Cabernet Franc. Riverbend Vineyard, Wahluke Slope. Aged 19 months in a combination of American and French oak barrels (72% new). 15.3% alcohol. 197 cases produced.
Fielding Hills Syrah Riverbend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2007 $40
Rating: + (Good) Aromas of coconut shavings come to the fore on the nose along with abundant red fruit. Palate is filled with juicy red fruit flavors accented by silky oak. Alcohol gets a little intense at times. 92% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Riverbend Vineyard, Wahluke Slope. Aged 19 months in a combination of American and French oak barrels (72% new). 15.3% alcohol. 184 cases produced.
Samples provided by winery.
Pictures courtesy of Fielding Hills Winery.