a beautiful dream becomes a force majeure

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Paul McBride and his business partner Ryan Johnson, who manages the Ciel du Cheval vineyard on Red Mountain, began their winery project with the purchase of a 20-acre property in 2004. Their goal was “to develop a small, sensible vineyard on the tractor-farmable portion of the land. We had no intention,” Johnson explains, “of planting the steep upper slopes.” So much for intentions. Ater digging 56 soil test pits on the lower 10 acres and studying them for a year, the partners concluded that they had a very special vineyard site from top to bottom, with at least nine distinct soil types and an elevation range from 950 to 1230 feet. “We felt we had an opportunity to design a vineyard around its terroir, and have done everything possible to match variety and clones, irrigation, and trellising with soil and topography.”

The initial vintages, bottled as Grand Rêve Vintners, were made with grapes from Ciel du Cheval by a coterie of first-rate winemakers. Called the Collaboration Series and numbered from I through VI, they were designed to showcase the best of Red Mountain terroir. From the beginning, the wines overall have been excellent – no surprise given the caliber of the grapes and the winemakers – but the partners ran into their share of difficulties nonetheless.

A trademark dispute forced a name change to Force Majeure. A thief ran off with their first crop of Mourvèdre. The thin, rocky soils and precipitous slopes of their new vineyard made working it slow and tiresome. Mechanization is virtually impossible in the higher blocks, which must be entirely farmed by hand. They persisted. They expanded. In 2011 they bought an adjacent 20 acres, named it Parabellum, and expect to harvest the first grapes in 2015.

Meanwhile, the latest Force Majeure releases include the first wine made exclusively from the first estate vineyard plantings. The wines are exceptional, and for the quality, represent some of the very finest values in the country. Here are my brief notes. Full reviews and scores will appear in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Force Majeure 2010 Collaboration Series I Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine
Red Mountain; $58
Ben Smith’s Force Majeure project is 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot and 12% Merlot – almost identical to the 2009 vintage. But it’s a tad riper, fuller and richer, with deep, subtle and complex fruit and mineral flavors. The wine is young, tart and full of promise for the long term.

Force Majeure 2010 Collaboration Series III Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Syrah
Red Mountain; $58
This is a mix of four different clones of Syrah, aged in 30% new Burgundy barrels. Rich aromatics suggest coffee liqueur, vanilla and raspberry compote. Mark McNeilly (Mark Ryan Winery) is the hand at the helm.

Force Majeure 2010 Collaboration Series V Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Red Mountain; $75
Chris Gorman is the winemaker for this pure, old vine Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a full force gale of a wine, sappy and dense, with blackberry and cassis fruit wreathed in smoke and dark accents from aging in 100% new French oak. Young, big and bold as it is, it remains poised and balanced.

Force Majeure 2010 Collaboration Series VI Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine
Red Mountain; $50140 cases; 14.8%
This is a marvelous wine, made for Force Majeure by Syncline’s James Mantone. A delectable blend of 56% Mourvèdre, 38% Syrah, and 6% Grenache, it was fermented in concrete and aged in 500 liter French puncheons. It’s a spice rack of aromatics, with flavors of boysenberry/raspberry sauce over clean rock leaving a lingering impression.

Force Majeure 2010 Collaboration Series Force Majeure Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Red Mountain; $75
This is the first release from the newly-planted estate vineyard, which is located high up on Red Mountain in a rock-strewn no-man’s-land. The resulting juice is remarkable for such young vines, showing tight wild berry flavors and a base of mineral and chalk.

Force Majeure

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