Changes are afoot at Woodinville’s Force Majeure. Earlier this year the winery hired Todd Alexander (pictured left) as winemaker and general manager. Alexander previously served as winemaker at the cult Napa Valley winery Bryant Family.
The move to hire a full time winemaker at Force Majeure was in part accelerated by the departure of partner Ryan Johnson. Johnson, who also stepped aside from managing Ciel du Cheval Vineyard this year, had been a driving force on the viticultural side for Force Majeure.
“Ryan’s a great viticulturalist and I would love for him to still be involved, but I also have to respect life choices,” said owner Paul McBride. Renowned grower Dick Boushey was subsequently brought on to manage the winery’s estate site.
While McBride acknowledged Johnson’s departure was a significant loss, he also said that it provided the winery with an opportunity. “Clearly not having Ryan involved in the Force Majeure project presented an opportunity for us to evolve to our next stage, capitalizing on the vineyard that we have on Red Mountain,” he said.
To do that, McBride sought out a dedicated, full-time winemaker. “My thought had always been that we wanted to get an estate winemaker who could really spend all of their time, passion, and energy developing the qualities and characteristics of that site to showcase the terroir,” said McBride. “I’m thrilled that we were able to attract someone of Todd’s caliber.”
With Alexander on board, the focus of the Force Majeure wines will shift away from the Collaboration Series wines that have largely defined the winery since its inception (read a Focus Report on Force Majeure, which was originally named Grand Rêve, here and follow-up pieces here). The 2012 Collaboration Series wines will be released as is, as will the estate wines from that year, which were made by Mike Macmorran (Mark Ryan Winery, Manu Propria). However, starting with the 2013 vintage, Alexander is taking responsibility for all of the wine in barrel both from Ciel du Cheval as well as from the winery’s estate vineyard. What will result will most likely be a new lineup of wines from what has been offered in the past. “We’ll be reducing the number of wines but there will be more quantity available on each,” McBride said, noting that the final lineup has yet to be determined.
McBride sees the move away from the Collaboration Series wines and toward a more estate-focused model as a natural evolution for the winery. “Everybody explored and accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” he said of the Collaboration Series winemakers. “We moved the mark a little bit I believe. I think you have to focus as a winery if you are going to do great things, so this is a needed and necessarily focus to get us to the next level.”
While the Collaboration Series wines will go away, McBride expects the spirit that was embodied in these wines to continue in some fashion in the future. “I would like to still incorporate essences of that collaboration model going forward,” he said.
To support Alexander’s efforts, Force Majeure built a state-of-the-art winery in the Woodinville Warehouse District. The facility was finished just in time for last year’s harvest.
In terms of the winemaking philosophy that Alexander brings to Force Majeure, he said, “I try to do the work in the vineyard. I want to try to grow the fruit really well and get nice intensity and concentration and then bring it into the cellar, allow the terroir to show through, and let it be what it is.”
“I like wines that are complete, balanced,” Alexander continued. “I don’t worry too much about alcohol, as long as it is balanced within that wine. That’s what matters. I want wines that are suitable to lay down in the cellar. And I’m not afraid of tannin.”
While much has changed over the years, McBride said that, as always, the goal of Force Majeure would continue to be elevating Washington wine. He also believes Force Majeure has the opportunity to have an even greater impact.
“We have the opportunity to really craft and define what Washington’s style is,” McBride said. “It’s not yet completely defined and you don’t have a style that you have to hit. So the opportunity here is really to pioneer and create that benchmark, so that we can say, ‘That is a Washington Cabernet or that is a Washington Syrah.’ That’s exciting.”
Force Majeure’s new winery facility will continue to be open to mailing list members on release weekends and by appointment.
NB: These are reviews for wines received and sampled prior to October 1st when my responsibilities changed for Wine Enthusiast to cover all of Washington. All red wines sampled at 68 degrees except were noted. Picture courtesy of Force Majeure Vineyards.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series Viognier Red Mountain 2012 $35
(Good/Excellent) This is an aromatically appealing wine with notes of stone fruit, mineral, crushed granite, and flowers. It’s full bodied but far from over the top with abundant stone fruit flavors and a warm finish. 100% Viognier. Force Majeure (70%) and Ciel du Cheval vineyards. Aged in concrete (75%) and neutral French oak. 14.3% alcohol. 145 cases produced. Mike Macmorran winemaker.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series I Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 $60
(Exceptional) This is a moderately aromatic wine with high toned herbal notes, flowers, moist soil, black currant, and licorice. The palate is exquisitely textured showing great depth and intensity but still a fine sense of restraint. A knockout of a wine with a long life ahead of it. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot, 12% Merlot. Aged in French oak (70% new). 14.2% alcohol. 200 cases produced. Ben Smith winemaker.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series II Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 $58
(Excellent/Exceptional) Dark in color. This wine is locked up at present with notes of mocha powder, toast, spice, crushed flowers, berry, and pencil lead. It’s textured, polished, and palate coating in feel with a lingering finish. 96% Syrah, 2% Viognier, 2% Roussanne. Aged in French oak (33% new). 14.3% alcohol. 180 cases produced. Ross Mickel winemaker.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series III Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 $60
(Excellent/Exceptional) This wine is dark in color with notes of mocha, French oak spices, char, and coffee with the barrel notes initially taking the lead in front of brooding dark fruit. The palate is rich, textured and voluptuous with coffee flavors throughout. 100% Syrah. Aged in French oak (33% new). 14.7% alcohol. 220 cases produced. Mike Macmorran winemaker.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series IV Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2010 $NA
(Excellent/Exceptional) This is an aromatically reserved wine with notes of dried cranberries, cherries, and medicine cabinet. The palate is rich, concentrated and flavorful with a lingering finish. 75% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Aged in French and American oak (50% new). Carolyn Lakewold winemaker.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series V Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 $80
(Good/Excellent) This is a moderately aromatic wine with notes of meat, slightly dried dark fruit and cranberry. The palate is compact in feel with abundant dark cherry flavors. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 20 months in French oak (100% new). 15.3% alcohol. 120 cases produced. Chris Gorman winemaker.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 $50
(Excellent/Exceptional) This wine is aromatically perfumed with notes of peppery spices and herbs with an underlayer of red fruit. The palate is deliciously fresh and pure with a real sense of vibrancy. 56% Mourvèdre, 38% Syrah, 6% Grenache. Aged in concrete and 500L French oak puncheons. 14.8% alcohol. 280 cases produced. James Mantone winemaker. Sample provided by winery. Sampled at 66 degrees.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series Cabernet Sauvignon Force Majeure Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 $75
(Exceptional) The winery’s second vineyard designated wine comes from fourth leaf fruit. It’s a moderately aromatic wine with macerated dark cherries, golden raisins, and black licorice along with barrel spices and mineral notes. The palate is rich and layered with tightly wound fruit flavors, well integrated tannins and a lingering finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French oak (100% new). 14.7% alcohol. 200 cases produced. Chris Gorman winemaker. Sample provided by winery. Sampled at 66 degrees.
Force Majeure Collaboration Series Syrah Force Majeure Vineyard Red Mountain 2011 $NA
(Excellent/Exceptional) A unique wine – not quite like anything I’ve had from elsewhere in Washington – with notes of brown stems, crushed rock, mortared herbs, and brooding fruit. The palate is richly flavored while retaining a lot of elegance with a zip of acidity and a long, drawn out finish. A fascinating wine that should only reveal more charms with a bit of time in the cellar. 100% Syrah. 14.3% alcohol. 75 cases produced. Ross Mickel winemaker. Sample provided by winery. Sampled at 66 degrees.