Force Majeure names estate winemaker, adds new Collaboration Series winemaker

The great dream – now an unstoppable force – goes on at Force Majeure (formerly Grand Rêve Vintners) with the winery naming an estate winemaker and also adding its seventh Collaboration Series winemaker.

For the estate wines, founders Paul McBride and Ryan Johnson have selected Mike Macmorran. Macmorran currently serves as winemaker at Mark Ryan Winery as well as his own winery, Manu Propria. He is also responsible for the Force Majeure Collaboration Series III wine as well as the winery’s Viognier.

Ryan Johnson, who manages Force Majeure’s estate vineyard as well as Ciel du Cheval and other sites on Red Mountain, said of the decision, “We know there’s great potential at Force Majeure Vineyard, and we wanted a winemaker who had the same drive for doing something great.”

McBride said of selecting Macmorran, “We put as much care and consideration into the selection of our estate winemaker as we did in developing our vineyard site. Mike’s zeal to explore and present the unique qualities and terroir of our groundbreaking vineyards makes him the ideal fit for our estate program.”

Force Majeure’s estate vineyard – currently planted to 12 acres - looks primed to become one of the state’s most compelling sites. Located high on Red Mountain with some plantings crawling up the steep hillside, each micro-block is planted based on a soil map to different varieties and clones using a number of different trellising systems, from unilateral and bilateral cordon to fan, head, and goblet trained and beyond (read previous posts about the winery here). Johnson meticulously farms the site.

“We’re not just passionate, we’re obsessed,” said Ryan Johnson of Force Majeure’s approach.

Macmorran shares Johnson and McBride’s energy and obsession. "Having the opportunity to work as the estate winemaker on a project of this caliber with Ryan and Paul is extremely exciting,” he said. “My goal will be to reflect the tireless efforts that Ryan puts forth in the vineyard and create wines that express the incredible terroir of Force Majeure."

Macmorran’s first estate designated wines – a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah - will come from the 2012 vintage and are expected to be released in the fall of 2015. The first fruit came off Force Majeure Vineyard in 2010 with winemaker Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) producing the first two vintages of wine (see review of the 2010 Force Majeure Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon below).

In addition to naming an estate winemaker, the winery also added a new Collaboration Series winemaker, Chris Peterson of Avennia (read previous posts about the winery here). Peterson was previously assistant winemaker at DeLille Cellars starting in 2003 before leaving to found Avennia with Marty Taucher in 2010. Avennia’s initial releases have been nothing short of stunning, and Peterson only strengthens an already star-studded team.

Force Majeure’s Collaboration Series brings together what the winery refers to as a ‘dream team’ of Washington winemakers who each make a single wine using fruit from Ciel du Cheval, one of the state’s most highly regarded vineyards. There are currently seven winemakers making Collaboration Series wines (see list below).

“We’re thrilled to add the considerable talents of Chris to our unmatched cadre of world-class winemakers,” McBride said. “We know his passion and commitment, matched with our meticulously-farmed fruit, will establish the Collaboration VII as a true benchmark for Red Mountain.”

The first Collaboration Series VII wine – the style of which has yet to be announced – will be from the 2013 vintage and is expected to be released in 2016.

Peterson said of joining the project, “Force Majeure has been a force to be reckoned with since they first came on the scene, and I am very excited to be working with Ryan and Paul on the Collaboration VII. I have worked with Ryan since the very beginning of my career, and I’m thrilled to be working closely with him again. We are looking forward to bringing something new and compelling to the Collaboration Series.”

In terms of Force Majeure’s latest releases, the estate Cabernet Sauvignon is the winery’s first red wine designated from Force Majeure Vineyard. It’s a 100% varietal wine made from three separate clones, Clone 8, 169, and 191. The results, especially from such young vines, are extremely impressive. This wine and the other new releases from the winery continue to set the bar high. Of course, McBride and Johnson continue to search for ways to raise it ever higher in their quest to elevate Washington wine.

“The quest continues,” Johnson said simply.

Vineyard picture courtesy of Force Majeure. Picture of Chris Peterson courtesy of Avennia. 

Force Majeure Viognier Red Mountain 2011 $35
(Excellent) An aromatic wine with cream, straw, peach, toast, and mineral notes. The palate shows both deftness and texture with a lingering 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 (Mark Ryan, Manu Propria, Force Majeure Estate) winemaker.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series I Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2010 $58
(Excellent/Exceptional) A brooding wine that is aromatically locked up with spice, dark fruit, pencil lead, and herbs with the barrel notes currently out front. The palate has a silky, plush texture backed by firm but beautifully integrated tannins, great acidity, and overall structure. A very pretty wine that is the full package and should live for decades. Just a baby now, give it two-plus years or an extended decant. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot, and 12% Merlot (includes fruit from 1975 and 1982 blocks). Aged 28 months in French oak (70% new). 14.2% alcohol. 200 cases produced. Ben Smith (Cadence) winemaker.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series III Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2010 $58
 (Exceptional) Dark in color, it has very pretty, appealing aromas of dark fruit, barrel spices, raspberry, currant, pepper, and mineral notes. The palate is rich, intense, and focused while still retaining its elegance and freshness. 100% Syrah (4 different clones). Aged in 20 French oak (33% new, Burgundy barrels). 14.7% alcohol. 250 cases produced. Mike Macmorran (Mark Ryan, Manu Propria, Force Majeure Estate) winemaker.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series V Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2010 $75
 (Exceptional) Using the same fruit as the winery’s 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a dark, glass staining wine that is completely opaque. It’s aromatically appealing with incense, cocoa powder, barrel notes, and the darkest of cherries. The palate is intensely rich and concentrated with bold fruit flavors and firm, burly tannins. Give two plus years or a long decant. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 20 months in French oak (100% new). 15.3% alcohol. 120 cases produced. Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) winemaker.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series Cabernet Sauvignon Force Majeure Vineyard Red Mountain 2010 $75
 (Exceptional) A glass staining wine with pencil lead, black currant, mineral notes, and dark cherries. Wound up tightly at present, it’s a showstopper with a lot of complexity, richness of flavor, chewy tannins, and lively acidity. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (three separate clones: 8, 169, 191). Aged 20 months in French oak (100% new). 15.3% alcohol. 110 cases produced. Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) winemaker.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2010 $50
 (Exceptional) Draws you into the glass with opulent dark fruit, pepper spices, and blackberry. The palate is incredibly concentrated and focused with tart cranberry and dark fruit flavors. A stunner of a wine. 56% Mourvèdre, 38% Syrah, and 6% Grenache. Fermented in concrete and aged in 500L French oak puncheon. 14.8% alcohol. 220 cases produced. James Mantone (Syncline) winemaker.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series Reserve Syrah Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2009 $65
 (Excellent) An aromatically fascinating wine with Creamsicle, plum, vanilla, dried orange, and barrel notes. The palate is rich, soft, and textured in feel with a lingering finish. 98% Syrah, 2% Viognier. Aged 38 months in French oak (100% new). 14.8% alcohol. 50 cases produced. Ben Smith (Cadence) winemaker.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. I'm glad to hear that Mike has been named the estate winemaker as he's been doing good things, but I'm less than thrilled with the choice to add Chris Peterson to the bunch. I've tried all of the wines from Avennia (2010s and 2011s) and have been very disappointed in their quality and style. They've received great reviews from pretty much everyone, but from what I've tasted they're just average and certainly not worth the price of admission. Luckily though, with the way that Force Majeure's mailing list works, I won't have to buy the Series VII.

  2. getting pretty deep!