It was so good to get back to the Wine Bloggers Conference, held this year in Walla Walla. I spit out a ton of exquisite wine after thorough swirls, sniffs and swishes. This post is one of a series I’ll update every few days organized by event at WBC18. They’ll include my tasting notes, price info and links to where you can get these wines if you’re not a local. The folks of Walla Walla wine country and the surrounding areas have exceptional, terroir driven wines. Get some.
Washington State Wine Regions
Washington state is the second largest producer of wine in the U.S. producing more than 60 varietals in 14 AVAs. American Viticultural Areas are the geographical wine-growing regions in the states. Area winemakers and others petition the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for designation. The TTB designates the boundaries.
The 14 AVAs are described beautifully over at Washington State Wine. Most of the wine I enjoyed was from Walla Walla (which includes parts of Oregon), Red Mountain, and the newly established Rocks District. The Rocks District is the only AVA with a single soil type and land form. Talk about terroir.
Pre-Conference Excursion with Force Majeure
This year I took advantage of a pre-conference offering. Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. I spent time with the warm, fun folks from Force Majeure. Winemaker Todd Alexander (formerly at Bryant) was on hand during our site visits and lunch to talk us through his process and philosophy. Alexander is the first highend winemaker to leave Napa for Washington state wine country. That’s a signal. Another signal? The Californians and Spanish are buying up land in the area—they know potential when they see it! Owners Susan and Paul McBride were wonderful to hang with. Paul was on our bus and gave us a thorough education of the area, as well as answered questions, as we drove to the site of his future tasting room. Paul’s knowledge and enthusiasm had me hooked out of the gate. Susan continued our education as she drove us to the site of a future vineyard they’ll plant in April. We were also lucky to have geologist Kevin Pogue with us. I love learning all about terroir and the unique geographic features of a vineyard so watching Kevin completely geek out was incredible.
Their Very Best Effort
Force majeure has different meanings depending on its context. To me, at least, Force Majeure as a brand best embodies the casual French usage meaning “my best effort.” My socks were knocked off repeatedly throughout my visit but started with Paul’s passion and depth of knowledge on the bus. This is a man that knows more than wine and business. This is a man involved in, as he called it, extreme viticulture. From the first examples of goblet syrah requiring extensive, 360° manicuring and hard-on-the-back bush vine Grenache no one—including the grapes—is taking the easy way.
Paul left tech and finance, a fast-paced mile wide/inch deep field (my words, not his) to embrace wine. As he told us, “you can develop great wines through passion and perserverance.” When he came to WA in ’94 he had a feeling the area could compete on the world stage. It’s on the same latitude as the Rhine and Bordeaux, after all. The climate and soils are incredible for vinifera. And when Wine Advocate called Washington the Rodney Dangerfield of the wine world, well, that was the final straw.
They balance green practices—all of their viticulture practices are sustainable, they avoid harsh chemicals and employ some biodynamics—with a passion for creating exceptional wine. I don’t think it will be difficult for Susan and Paul to build the family legacy they set out with the goal of creating.
…The hills fill my heart with the sound of music/My heart wants to sing every song it hears…”
Before and during a delicious lunch from Chef Andrae Bopp of Andrae’s Kitchen in Walla Walla we tasted 7 Washington state wines from Force Majeure. Keep in mind that the Walla Walla Wine region extends into Oregon so there may be some Oregon grapes here, too. The Rocks District, as an example, lies entirely in Oregon. My thoughts are bolded, the rest comes from various folks who spoke throughout the day.
2016 Parvata Estate Mourvèdre/Syrah/Grenache Blend
10% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 69% Mourvèdre. Beautiful black fruit on the nose. Chalky minerality with great structure—the tannins are incredible. Fruit & mineral throughout; a perfect food wine. Each grape brings something to the bottle. Mourvèdre adds spice. These are grown in sandy soil that bring energy and vibrancy. Depth and power come from the syrah while the grenache brings red fruit. 30% new french oak, fermented in concrete vats. Age 5-7 years. $70.
2016 Estate Syrah
Floral and herby on the nose. Lavender—think garrigue. BIG. Very tannic but perfectly balanced nonetheless! Please bring me a delicious, steak with some nice fat. Or some roasted lamb with thyme. Goblet-trained Syrah mostly from Red Mountain AVA. Grown mostly on steep slopes. 16% whole cluster, fermented in concrete, stainless and oak. Èlevage in new French oak for 18 months, then neutral barrels. “The goal is to produce a perfectly-balanced wine that expresses its terroir; alcohol, tannin, acidity and extract all balanced, nothing out of place; ageable but also approachable young.” They met the goal. $70.
2016 Èpinette Estate Merlot/Cabernet Franc Blend
Bordeaux style. Rounder yet still maintains perfect balance. Likely released August of 2019. Includes small amounts of cab sauv and petite verdot. 80% new French oak, fermented in concrete and stainless, 22 months élevage. $90.
2015 Estate Tempranillo
First vintage. Leather and meat. Super savory; soft but structured. Get a bottle for Kris’ birthday. Grown on very steep, rocky parcel. Goblet-trained with vines staked individually. Violets, game, dark fruit and fine tannins with balanced acidity, very long. 40% new French Oak, 60% neutral; fermented in used 500L puncheon, aged 20 months. $85.
2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Very sud de france. Herbs and flowers with the delicious fruit. Another beautiful, big wine that could easily compete on the world stage. From deepest, loamiest soils on this Red Mountain AVA site. Rustic. 85% new French Oak, fermented in a combination of stainless steel, concrete and oak vats, with a 22-month élevage. $125.
2016 SJR Vineyards Syrah
Wow. You can seriously taste the difference between the Estate and Rocks AVA Syrah (this one). Sun-ripened fruit and lots of depth. Kalamata olives. Black fruit. Mushroom? Prosciutto. Really nice with a fantastic character – keeps you guessing. Can’t image a full glass from decant to warming up to room temp… this wine is a keeper of secrets. Only the patient will get the fullness of its rewards but it’s so good that it might be hard to wait! 50% new French oak, 18 month élevage.
The best way to get these wines, once they are released, is to join the Force Majeure email list. Their wines are incredible, but also limited release! Follow them on your favorite platform: Insta, Facebook, Twitter.