Force Majeure Vineyards: Higher Education

Posted on Dec 6, 2023


Milton Freewater Oregon winery

Todd Alexander

Our second visit with the team at Force Majeure took place at their beautifully renovated new tasting room, housed in an old schoolhouse in Milton-Freewater. There we met and tasted with Carrie Alexander, Head of Sales and marketing and her uber-talented husband, Todd Alexander, Force Majeure’s winemaker.

This former schoolhouse, now tasting room, is a gorgeous place that has been very carefully laid out and appointed to make it an ideal place to taste wine.

Milton Freewater Oregon winery

Inside the tasting room.

It retains just enough of its original features to keep it authentic and charming but has been adorned with exquisite art (much of it from the Alexander’s personal home) and tastefully comfortable furniture so as to expel those bad memories we all have of squirming in cramped desks so many years ago. The space is sophisticated, elegant, very comfortable, and very much worth visiting.

Our tasting began with Carrie while Todd tended to some fermentations going on in the adjoining winery and then came in to join us later.

Milton freewater Oregon winery

Carrie Alexander

For those who may not know the back story of this winery, it began back in 2004 when Paul and Susan McBride developed what is now called Force Majeure Vineyard on Washington’s Red Mountain. The McBrides managed to hire away Todd who was then making the ultra-cult wines at Napa’s Bryant Family Vineyard. Todd immediately gained huge praise from the wine cognoscenti by making site specific Bordeaux and Rhône style wines that were rivaling what he had been doing in Napa. He just completed his thirteenth vintage in Washington and in our view is making the best wines of his career. Carrie brought us up to speed with all of the developments that have taken place since those beginnings.

Force Majeure now has its own dedicated winery facility adjacent to the tasting room. Two new vineyards have been added to the Force Majeure roster. One is next to the tasting room and straddles the border of The Rocks District of the Milton-Freewater AVA and the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

Milton freewater oregon winery

The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater Vineyard [Source: Force Majeure]

Located Just a few miles south of the Washington border on the Oregon side, the Rocks has quickly become one of the more revered wine regions in all of North America. It is a flat area near the Columbia River that is covered in cobblestones, very similar to what you might see in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France or Rioja, Spain. These stones heat up during the day during Washington’s hot, dry summers. During the cool evenings, these rocks reflect their heat back up to the vine, enhancing the ripening process. Wines from The Rocks have a distinctive profile that will often show an earthy savouriness. They are highly sought after and, like Force Majeure, they’re sold primarily to mailing list customers.

Milton freewater oregon winery

A focus on Bordeaux and Rhône style wines.

In addition to The Rocks, Force Majeure has just acquired and begun planting a new vineyard about 15 miles east of the winery where the flat land has transitioned to steep hillsides. There are only a few vineyards in the area and so it does not yet have official AVA status. But locals refer to the area, just on the edge of Blue Mountain, as the North Fork of the Walla Walla River. This site is at high elevation (topping at over 2,00 feet) and has cooler summers and less severe winters than the surrounding area. Force Majeure has very high hopes for this site.

Another addition to their stable is their Willamette Valley project called Holocene, named after the geological age from the end of the last ice age until the present day. Dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Holocene is a negociant house that buys its fruit from other vineyards.

Milton freewater oregon winery

Tasting Holocene Pinot Noir side-by-side.

Our tasting began with a side-by-side tasting of the two Pinot Noirs produced by Holocene, the Memoralis and the Apocrypha. Tasting side-by-side is a very educational way to taste as you get to immediately see the various similarities and contrasts in the wine and in the place it was grown. These are both truly excellent Pinot Noirs [see tasting notes below].

Todd also makes a Châteauneuf-du-Pape that he imports to the US and sells under the Holocene brand called Beatus. He makes it in conjunction with Anne-Charlotte Melia Bachas of Chateau Font de Loup in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and her team at the winery, under Todd’s direction.

chateauneuf du pape

Domaine de la Font du Loup.

We visited Font de Loup in 2016 when we were in the region and were lucky enough to meet Anne-Charlotte and her team. It has been one of our favourite CDP estates ever since. The wine world certainly is a small world!

Recently the Alexanders bought an old farmhouse in Roussillon as a place to get away to. And, of course, what came with the farmhouse? 20 acres of old vine Grenache! The vineyard needed some work but that is ongoing and with any luck we might see some of that wine on these shores soon.

Our visit finished with Todd joining us as we tasted through the Force Majeure line up.

milton freewater oregon wine

The syrah lineup.

These are all red wines made up of various blends of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. All of the wines are made with meticulous attention to detail. Todd prefers a reductive style of winemaking (minimal oxygen contact) as the method preserves the freshest aromatics. This is achieved by no racking (syphoning the wine from barrel to barrel and leaving behind any sediment deposits) until the very end of the wine’s elevage. As the following tasting notes will attest, this results in superb wines with intense flavour, seductive mouthfeel and great complexity, even at a young age. Force Majeure is truly a major force, not just in Washington, but in winemaking anywhere in the world.

 

Tasting Notes

2021 Holocene Memorialis Pinot Noir

milton freewater oregon wine

2021 Holocene Memorialis Pinot Noir.

Made from 100% whole clusters and raised in 10% new oak barrels, using Dijon 777, 115 and Pommard clones grown at MonksGate Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton. Medium red colour with detailed notes of red cherry, earth, dried spices and other savoury notes. The body is medium and shows exactly the right acid and tannin to compliment that body and create a highly seductive mouthfeel. Baking spices and forest path notes adorn the long finish. Sensational!

Extraordinary (USD$65)

2021 Holocene Apocrypha Pinot Noir

milton freewater oregon wine

2021 Holocene Apocrypha Pinot Noir.

Also made with 100% whole clusters but this time from the Willamette Valley AVA about an hour’s drive south of Yamhill-Carlton. A more dark cherry profile is found on this wine and a slightly fuller expression than with the Memoralis. Baking spices and hints of vanilla bring complexity to the Morello cherry fruit profile. It has the same very seductive mouthfeel as shown on Memoralis.

Excellent/Extraordinary (USD$65)

2020 Force Majeure Parabellum Couleé

milton freewater oregon wine

Tasting the Parabellum and Parvata side by side.

This is Todd’s southern Rhône blend where the emphasis is on the Syrah (58%) as opposed to the more traditional Grenache (21%) and is rounded out with 21% Mourvedre. Dark red/purple in colour. With medium+ body and silky tannins, this shows spices, cracked pepper and a slightly meaty note. The finish goes on and on. Hints of mocha join the dried herb notes on the finish.

Excellent/Extraordinary (USD$45 -particularly good value for this quality level)

2020 Force Majeure Parvata

Here the blend is straight out of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape playbook: 52% Grenache, 30% Merlot and 18% Syrah. Coming from their Red Mountain (Parvata is Sanskrit for Mountain) grapes are destemmed and see 20% new French oak barrels. Textured and long this wine has serious impact and would stand tall in any line up of Châteauneuf-du-Pape at any price point. Hedonistic with a rounded and full mouthfeel, we also detected a hint of that meaty note we found in the Couleé. No spitting this wine!

Extraordinary (USD$85)

2020 Force Majeure Walla Walla Syrah

milton freewater wine

2020 Force Majeure Walla Walla Syrah.

Dark red purple in colour this exemplifies the Washington Syrah archetype with its full body, deep red and black fruit profile and powerful presence. Notes of blackberry and plum are joined with support from the hints of black olive, cracked pepper and hints of mineral. Already complex and very powerful, this is delicious now but will really turn heads with another few years of bottle age. Very concentrated, yet approachable.

Extraordinary (USD$85)

2020 Force Majeure Red Mountain Estate Syrah

This site expresses the Syrah in a different way than the Rocks does. We get a bit more structure with this wine and a little less of those meaty notes. Grippy tannins put just the right frame on lush blackberry driven fruit. The mineral complexity shows real sophistication. Also one for the cellar, this is a frim, powerful and utterly delicious wine! (Co-fermented with 2% Viognier).

Extraordinary (USD$85)

2020 Force Majeure Epinette Red Blend

Milton freewater wine

2020 Force Majeure Epinette Red Blend.

For literally decades we have been singing the praises of Washington State Merlot. And Epinette might just be one of the main reasons why. This is a classic Right Bank blend of 53% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. Showing blueberry and plum up front with minor notes of brown spices and minerality. The tannins show grip but they are ripe and not abrasive. The mouth feel shows depth and envelopes your palate in a rich robe of delicious red and black fruits.

Extraordinary (USD$150)

2020 Force Majeure Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain

milton freewater wine

2020 Force Majeure Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Single variety from a single vineyard this is classic Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry, plum, blueberry all take different turns at being the dominant fruit. With some swirling mineral and earth notes come to the fore along with hints of cedar and tobacco. Firm tannins show its Red Mountain heritage and promise a long life ahead. Wonderfully complex and utterly delicious, we can only imagine how good this would be next to a grilled Tomahawk steak!

Extraordinary (USD$150)

 

 

Force Majeure

milton freewater oregon

One of the very best wineries anywhere.

52274 Pleasant View Road

Milton Freewater, Oregon 97862

E: Info@fm-wine.com

T: (541) 833-3051

*Tastings by appointment only.

 

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