It is simply not possible to talk with Paul McBride and Ryan Johnson of Force Majeure, taste the winery’s offerings, and not come away exhilarated about Washington wine and its future.

Formerly known as Grand Rêve, Force Majeure pairs a group of the state’s best winemakers with fruit from Ciel du Cheval for what it calls its Collaboration Series wines. Additionally, an estate vineyard for a separate group of wines is currently coming on-line.

The latest releases from Force Majeure include the final planned piece of the Collaboration puzzle – the Series VI wine by James Mantone of Syncline Winery. Here McBride and Johnson are looking to create a wine that calls out to Châteauneuf-du-Pape using Ciel du Cheval fruit.

“We are huge believers of the potential of Southern Rhône varieties at Red Mountain,” McBride says. Indeed, this wine – a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah – shows reason for this optimism, displaying all of the grace and power that Red Mountain is known for.

With this release, Force Majeure’s Collaboration Series is now set (see the graphic for a description of each of the wines and their respective styles; click on the image for a higher resolution). “We don’t anticipate any significant changes to this lineup for the foreseeable future,” McBride says.

The latest releases also include some wrinkles to the other wines in the series. Ross Mickel’s 2009 Collaboration Series II wine is a Syrah co-fermented with Viognier and Roussanne rather than a Southern Rhône-style blend. The Collaboration Series V wine from Chris Gorman is now a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon rather than a Grenache. Overall, while some of the wines have changed their stripes, the quality bar remains the same for all the wines – extremely high – and Force Majeure continues to push boundaries.

In addition to its Collaboration Series wines, the winery experiments with occasional one-offs made in microscopic amounts. The latest is a Sangiovese from winemaker Carolyn Lakewold that brings a huge mouthful of fruit flavors and is one of the finest Sangioveses I’ve had from the state. This wine, as well as some of the others listed below, will be out in the fall.

Meanwhile, plantings continue at Force Majeure Vineyard. What McBride and Johnson affectionately call the ‘Donut Hole’ – a circle in the middle of the vineyard – was planted earlier this spring to high density Tempranillo in a bush vine layout. Next up in 2013 will be the ‘Devil’s Playground’ – a walk up the steep rocky section quickly explains why – which will be planted to Grenache and white Rhône varieties. The first of these estate wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Northern-Rhône style red from the 2010 vintage, will be released next year.

While Force Majeure has come far in an extremely short time, don’t expect Johnson and McBride to slow down any time soon. “We have a lot more work ahead of us,” Johnson says of the winery’s great dream to elevate the viticulture and winemaking of Washington State. With their latest releases, they continue to be well on their way.

Read previous posts on Force Majeure, including a Focus Report, here.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series II Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2009 $55
(Exceptional) Glass staining with abundant mineral aromas along with a light gaminess, iron, and a floral lift, this is a wine you could just sit and smell and be totally satisfied. Ah but to drink! The palate is perfumed with a soft, restrained elegance and bright fruit flavors and a light pepper note. A simply gorgeous wine. 98% Syrah, 1% Viognier, 1% Roussanne. Aged in French oak (30% new). 14.2% alcohol. 187 cases produced. Ross Mickel winemaker.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series III Syrah Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2009 $NA
(Exceptional) Opaque with a purple rim. An immediately appealing, aromatically complex wine marked by dark, brambly fruit, mineral, raspberries, and an underlayer of spice. The palate is fresh and rich with winding fruit flavors and a distinct mineral streak. Lingers on the finish. A thoroughly delicious expression of Washington Syrah. Give two years. 100% Syrah. Aged in French oak (30% new). 14.9% alcohol. 250 cases produced. Mark McNeilly winemaker. Note: To be released Fall 2012.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series IV Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2008 $55
(Excellent/Exceptional) The aromatics that winemaker Carolyn Lakewold brings to bear are always unique and this is on full display in this 2008 vintage offering which is full of cherry cola, cranberry, chocolate, anise, medicinal notes, and baking spices. The palate has an incredible richness while staying well within control. A well structured, mouthful of a wine that will only improve with additional time in the bottle. 60% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Aged in French and American oak (50% new). 13.8% alcohol. 187 cases produced. Winemaker Carolyn Lakewold.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series V Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2009 $NA
(Exceptional) Dark in color. This wine is locked up tightly right now with dark fruit, cocoa, and toasty spices. The palate packs a huge wallop of dark fruit with well-integrated tannins that are built for the long haul. This is a colossal wine that should be put far back in the cellar or given an extended decant. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French oak (100% new). 14.6% alcohol. 120 cases produced. Winemaker Chris Gorman. Note: To be released Fall 2012.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2009 $50
(Exceptional) Locked up tightly right now, this is a moderately aromatic, steely wine with spice, floral notes, sauvage, mineral notes and dark fruit. The palate is breathtaking with seamless dark fruit flavors that spread out from end to end and linger for a solid minute on the finish. 48% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, and 24% Syrah. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 140 cases produced. James Mantone winemaker. Sample provided by winery.

Force Majeure Sangiovese Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2009 $NA
(Exceptional) The Lakewold style shows through here on a wine loaded with dark, brambly fruit, cranberries, leather, and spice. On the palate, a showstopper, explosively rich and fruit filled with enough tannins to take on all comers. 80% Sangiovese, 20% Barbera. Aged 24 months in neutral French oak. 13.6% alcohol. 50 cases produced. Note: To be released Fall 2012.

Rating System

Please note, my rating system was revised at the beginning of 2012 as follows. Read additional details here.
(Not recommended/Flawed)

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