The story of Force Majeure Vineyard started when businessman McBride, a passionate wine lover, heard about Washington’s Red Mountain as one of the great viticultural areas in the US. He originally called his venture Grand Reve (the Great Dream) and brought on board as a partner Ryan Johnson. The name was changed to Force Majeure a few years later due to an ownership claim on the previous name. Johnson was then vineyard manager at one of the top sites on Red Mountain: Ciel du Cheval. While McBride and Johnson were conceiving their idea for a new red Mountain vineyard they created their highly successful “Collaboration Series” of wines where they purchased fruit from top sites and collaborated with some of Washington’s best-known winemakers to produce wines that caught the attention of the top critics. Their first vintage was 2004. They quickly found their way and the 2007 Collaboration Series Reserve made by Mark McNeilly (of Mark Ryan Winery) and Ross Mickel (of Ross Andrew Winery) scored 97 points in the Wine Spectator, the highest score the Spectator had given for any Washington Cabernet Sauvignon to that point in time.
As their collaborations with contracted grapes and other winemakers continued, McBride acquired 13 acres of vineyard at the top of Red Mountain. The estate is steep, rising from 950 – 1250 feet, and contains within it nine different soil types. McBride and Johnson sought out to gain the maximum benefit from that diversity. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre and Cinsault. Vine rows, that traditionally go in straight lines that either orient to the aspect of the slope or to the movement of the sun across the vineyard, follow the type of the soil at Force Majeure. A number of different vine training methods are used, again to best align with the varieties of soil and terrain. Ryan Johnson has now left the project and Dick Boushey, arguably Washington’s best known vineyard manager has taken over.
In 2014, Force Majeure shifted from collaborating with a collection of different winemakers and scored the young but highly talented Todd Alexander as head winemaker. Todd has an impressive resume which includes a number of top wineries, most recently at Bryant Family, the Napa cult winery where he worked alongside consulting enologist Michel Rolland and vineyard manager David Abreu, two of the biggest names in the wine business. Alexander has also worked with Helen Keplinger, another Napa winemaker and consultant who has graced the cover of Wine Spectator magazine. He convinced her to join the Force Majeure team as a consulting enologist.
Tasting with Todd Alexander is nothing like you might think, given his rock-star credentials in the wine world. He honestly could not be more down to earth. He looks directly at you as he speaks, his answers are thoughtful and never include statements about his accomplishments. It is always about the wine, the vineyard, the other people involved in the project, never about himself. He is clearly passionate about drinking wine and he is very excited about Washington wines and the future of the region. As we taste through the wines he helps us to understand their upbringing and how the site relates to what ends up in the glass. It is a fascinating conversation over some fascinating wines. There is no doubt at all that Force Majeure at the top of Red Mountain is producing wines that can sit comfortably with top wines from around the world.
This is Todd’s personal project which sources grapes from Monk’s Gate Vineyard, a 50 acre farm in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Grapes used come from the Dijon Clones 777 and 115 as well as Wadenswil and Pommard. Medium red in colour, the nose shows cherry and strawberry with background notes of spice and pepper. Medium tannin and medium acidity allow for enjoyment right now and probably a decade of ageing. There is balance and finesse, certainly nothing heavy about this Pinot yet there is an intensity to the flavours that lets you know this is serious wine. Raised in 40% new oak, it adds texture without adding taste. An excellent first vintage and certainly one to watch.
Excellent – US$ 50
Parvata means mountain in the Indian dialect of Marathi. This is their Southern Rhone inspired blend of 40% Mouvedre, 35% Syrah and 25% Grenache. Dark red in colour it possesses lots of black cherry fruit that is accompanied by earthy notes and hints of spice. With air some floral notes come through. Medium + tannins show structure but allow for a smooth mouthfeel and a medium/full body. Moderately complex now with slight herbal notes joining the finish.
Very Good +
Co-fermented with 1% Viognier to lift the aromatics and soften the tannins. Grown on fractured basalt in their estate vineyard this wine shows what the best of the best can do with this grape in Washington. Big and broad shouldered with terrific blackberry and blueberry fruit this is a powerhouse Syrah and despite its size, never loses its poise. The palate is already textured and smooth and the finish goes on and on. Aromas of spice box and herbs add complexity to the dark fruit profile. Wonderfully seductive!
Extraordinary – US$70
This is Todd’s take on a right bank Bordeaux. (épinette is the name of a road and a park in Libourne near Pomerol). A blend of 52% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, this is a sensational wine and easily ranks among the very best Merlot-dominant wines coming out of the New World. Very dark in colour, the aromas of black cherry, plum, spices and floral notes greet your nose well above the glass. Vinous perfume! The 85% new oak from various coopers brings forward terrific texture and mouth feel. There is good acidity that keeps the flavours in your mouth for almost a minute. Already complex this is bound to develop for a decade or more.
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. A panoply of red and black fruits form the nose of this very expressive wine. Fruit forward, black cherries and currants are backed up with forest notes. Full body with medium + tannins this is powerful but smooth. Everything knits together to keep it balanced and proportioned. Drinking well now but no doubt plenty of further development is in the cards for this already complex wine.