Force Majeure Reaches for New Heights Over Walla Walla River Valley
Force Majeure to create high elevation vineyard above Walla Walla River Valley
The pioneering spirit of the West is not gone - it lives on in winery owners like Paul McBride of Force Majeure, who believes that great things can be achieved by breaking new, high ground.
Wine bloggers visit new Force Majeure site
Paul guided a group of wine media in town for the Wine Bloggers Conference to a pristine region where elk and deer graze and bear and cougar prowl. After a ride up a mountain in four wheel-drive vehicles, we stood high in the North Fork of Walla Walla River Valley on the Oregon side.
The long grasses and wild roses that stay green through August had dried to brittle yellow by our early October visit. At 1900 feet elevation, we were awed by the unspoiled beauty of golden hills that folded into each other against a steely sky. For 360 degrees, there was no sign of development - it was truly a pristine natural site.
Geologist Kevin Pogue consulted on site choice
Consulting geologist for the project, Kevin Pogue explained why after rigorous soil tests and weather analysis, the team at Force Majeure concluded the high meadow would be the perfect spot for a vineyard. They were inspired by some of the world’s best vineyards sited on slopes, such as Burgundy’s Côte d’Or and the Mosel.
When local wine folk heard about the endeavor to grow grapes on high slopes, they scoffed. That’s because planting grapes on the valley floor is easy, and, in Walla Walla, produces well ripened grapes. Those grapes, however, are irrigated to counter the desert levels of rainfall. Paul plans on dry farming - another hallmark of many great European vineyards where the vines are intentionally stressed to produce fewer grapes with higher concentration of flavor. The differences in microclimate at higher elevations will help him do so. The hilltop gets triple the rainfall as the valley floor, but still offers dry autumn weather that’s ideal for harvest. Furthermore, the clay in the new site’s soil will hold onto rain, helping that plan come to life.
Paul dreams of creating Northern Rhône style Syrah of great elegance and complexity. He’s also considering Chardonnay and other varieties.
The long-term vision for the bucolic property will be to include hiking trails and picnic areas around the vineyards and to preserve much of the natural beauty of the place.
The team plans to be planting vines in 2019, and it will take a few years for them to become established. The brief sojourn to the North Fork left this writer looking forward to seeing the completion of this passion project and tasting the first vintage of Syrah in a few years.