Walla Walla Tradition: Wineries You Should Visit on Early Spring Release Weekend


Whether or not you are among those allowed to attend the annual Cayuse tastings, the first weekend in April is forever tied to them, and the other 129 wineries in the Valley have smartly jumped on board. Visitors will find their weekend options packed with great tastings, verticals of top wines, special food offerings and plenty of live music. Wherever you plan to go, it will make for a better experience (and avoid disappointment) if you make advance reservations. I strongly recommend that you do your planning now if you haven’t already. These are some of the tasting rooms in the Valley that would be on my don’t miss list. For a handy list of winery contact information visit here.

Atelier Freewater – newly renovated former restaurant (The Bank) profiled in my recent March 22nd post

Canvasback  taste Canvasback’s new wines; Sunday afternoon I will be performing a solo acoustic show here

Caprio along with outstanding wines you’ll get restaurant quality small plates

Echolands  MS/MW Doug Frost’s brand new winery and tasting room boasts the best views in the Valley

Lawrelin showing a staggered vertical of Cabernet Sauvignons from 2003, 2004, 2013, & 2014

L’Ecole – hosting a vertical tasting of Ferguson Estate wines

Pášxa  A rare open house in the Petros Vineyard celebrating the 4th vintage release 11 to 3 Fri/Sat

Weathereye – pop up tasting Friday afternoon at The Motor Co downtown

Force Majeure

Force majeure is a French phrase that occurs in contract law, citing extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances that void any liability for breaking a contract. Applications of the concept crop up on the news from time to time. At the moment major shipping companies are moving out of the Baltimore port to others less convenient, citing “force majeure” – a collapsed bridge – as the justification.

Unforeseen complications also plagued the early years of the winery. It was founded in 20 years ago with the name Grand Rêve Vintners, and proposed a unique approach to winemaking. The idea was to focus on a single vineyard (Red Mountain’s Ciel du Cheval) and in every vintage produce up to a half dozen ‘Collaboration Series’ wines, each made by a different ‘guest’ winemaker. Some of the early wines were very good; some were… experimental. Nonetheless the founders plowed ahead (literally), planting a high elevation estate vineyard on Red Mountain above Col Solare on almost soil-free, rock-strewn, hardscrabble land.

Getting grapes to grow there was challenge enough, but in the fall of 2010, just as the first estate-grown Mourvèdre vines were ready to be picked, thieves stole the entire crop under cover of night. (If you happen to have a bottle of 2010 Red Mountain Mourvèdre in your cellar, I know some folks who might be interested in tasting it.) Still more trouble lay ahead. In 2011 a trademark scuffle forced a name change just as the young winery was beginning to establish name recognition. Hence Grand Rêve Vintners became Force Majeure. The irony is unmistakeable.

More disruptions followed, until owners Paul and Susan McBride hired Todd Alexander to oversee the change to estate-grown wines in the summer of 2014. Alexander and his wife Carrie had been had been talking about what’s next after a successful start in Napa. “I wanted go elsewhere to apply what I’d learned” he told me in an interview a few years ago. Force Majeure was the right place at the right time.

It’s rare for any winemaker to make an assortment of wines under a half dozen different labels sourced from multiple vineyards and AVAs scattered across two states. To do so and consistently produce wines as good as the finest examples from those AVAs that have ever been produced is unprecedented. In my last post I wrote about Todd Alexander’s new project “From The Sky Down” with its pinpoint focus on single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I also reviewed his lovely Holocene Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. Here we dive into the latest releases from Force Majeure showcasing the estate wines  from both Red Mountain and Walla Walla. They show every bit as much mastery as every other wine he’s made. I can’t say how he does it. Just that he does it. Year after year, wine after wine.

The website notes that “Force Majeure wines are typically released for sale each Spring and Fall, and mailing list members receive an email notification at the beginning of each release. Our wines are very limited in supply and tend to sell out quickly. At this time our mailing list remains open, so if you are not currently a member, we invite you to join to receive our offer letters.” I’m pleased to see that the mailing list remains open. I doubt that will continue much longer. This is the time to get on board and join the mailing list while you can. Spring allocations end on May 12th. Join here.

Force Majeure 2022 Red Mountain Estate Viognier – Thick, rich, ripe and mouthcoating to a degree rare with any Northwest Viogniers, this is the wine to pour for any of your tasting pals who profess not to like this grape. Yes some Viogniers can be thin, sharp, it can be grassy or hot… but when it’s full-bodied, loaded with tree fruits, framed with supple acids and mouth filling to the point where you grab the glass for the next gulp… when it’s like this. That’s when you load up the cellar and make this your summer 2024 big bold white wine. This is a mailing list only wine, as very little is grown, and some is used to co-ferment with Syrah. But if your quest is rich, satiating, balanced white wines, not too oaky, fruit-driven and pure – track down a bottle of this (it’s scheduled for a July release). 80 cases; 14.6%; $65 (Red Mountain) 97/100

Force Majeure 2021 Walla Walla Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – The home vineyard straddles the official border of the Rocks District AVA. This is an elegant wine from young vines. Aromatic and spicy after spending 22 months in 75% new barrels, this marries those flavors to lively citrus highlights and firm blackberry and black cherry fruit. The barrels keep adding dark and dusty notes of graphite and slate, cedar and tobacco. The overall balance is there for drinking now, but if past is preview, this wine will continue to evolve and improve over the next decade. 225 cases; 14.8%; $150 (Walla Walla Valley) 95/100

Force Majeure 2021 Red Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – The Red Mountain estate Cabernet Sauvignon comes from 15-year-old vines in deep, loamy soils that contain fractured basalt, ash and granite from the Missoula floods. A small amount of Merlot is in the blend. It shows the firm, tight concentration of classic Red Mountain Cab, albeit from relatively young vines. Good grip, compact berry and cherry fruit, and trailing touches of pipe tobacco keep the flavors developing. As with all Todd Alexander wines it is highly recommended that you aerate, decant and enjoy this wine over many hours if not days. Drink now to 2040 and beyond. 600 cases; 14.9%; $150 (Red Mountain) 96/100

Force Majeure 2021 Red Mountain Estate Cabernet Franc – This stunningly good pure varietal Cab Franc comes from a single block on Red Mountain, fermented in stainless steel and concrete, and aged 22 months in 50-60% new French oak. Gorgeous aromas of fruit and barrel lead into a lush palate loaded with blackberries, figs, black cherries and chocolate. Highlights of clove and graphite add further depth and length. Words can’t do justice to this wine, except these:  make more please. 75 cases; 14.9%; $175 (Red Mountain) 97/100

Force Majeure 2021 Red Mountain Estate Épinette Red – Various sources define épinette as a black spruce, a tamarack, a diatonic fretted zither and a spinet. The winery explains it stands for none of the above and was named after an avenue in Libourne that leads to Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, from which this Right bank blend draws its inspiration. This new Épinette vintage is 62% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, fermented in concrete and stainless steel vats, then given 22 months in 65% new oak. It starts with a mouth-drying astringency (concrete can do that) that needs aeration to soften. Red Mountain Merlot is a different beast from other, softer, broader Washington Merlots – more focused, precise and penetrating. This responds well to aeration; it’s dense and detailed with layers of black fruits, cassis, baking chocolate, tobacco and savory herbs. Smoother drinking on day two; still delicious on day three. 225 cases; 14.9%; $150 (Red Mountain) 96/100

Force Majeure 2021 Red Mountain Estate Tempranillo – This is the blackest Tempranillo I’ve ever seen – it looks like Tannat. Dense with pencil lead, black tea, cassis, iron and pipe tobacco, it’s a head scratcher, throat buster of a wine that seems sui generis. Unique. I have no comps for this – not from Spain, not from California, not from Oregon and not from Washington. It follows closely in the style of the other Force Majeure reds, but even darker, denser, deeper than the rest. Air it out and nuanced notes of cured meats, bacon, charcoal and graphite pile on. Fire up the grill and put on the steaks. This is that wine. 49 cases; 14.9%; $95 (Red Mountain) 95/100

Force Majeure 2021 Red Mountain Estate Grenache – This is the first vintage for this estate Grenache. The original vines date from 2006. This is pure varietal, one third whole cluster, all concrete ferment followed by 18 months in used French oak. I can remember a time when it was accepted truth that no Grenache could be successfully grown in Washington. A wine of this stature pays homage to all those growers and winemakers who ignored that advice and forged ahead. This is brilliant work from a truly gifted winemaker. Rich, ripe, juicy, slightly crunchy red berry/cherry fruits are annotated with candied orange. Touches of baking spices, cocoa powder, coffee grounds and on it goes. 213 cases; 15.2%; $85 (Red Mountain) 98/100

Force Majeure 2021 Red Mountain Estate Parvata – Parvata is Sanskrit for mountain and the name has been given to this GSM blend of 46% Syrah, , 39% Mourvèdre and 15%Grenache, fermented as before in concrete and stainless prior to aging in large format 15% new French oak. A Red Mountain take on a classic southern Rhone wine, this has tightly-packed flavors of raspberry and black cherry, annotated with hints of black pepper, ground coffee, peat and graphite. Dense, dark and textural, it’s got a lot of coiled power, and needs decanting well ahead of drinking. Optimal drinking 2028 to 2040. 200 cases; 15.1%; $85 (Red Mountain) 94/100

Force Majeure 2021 Walla Walla Estate Syrah – This is the second release of Syrah from the renovated vineyard adjacent to the Force Majeure winery. The young vines are properly showcased here, with a mix of strawberry and cherry fruit, tangy acids and a touch of sweet spice. All Syrah, concrete ferment, native yeast, unfined and unfiltered and finished in large format used French oak. 359 cases; 14.7%; $85 (Walla Walla Valley) 93/100

Force Majeure 2021 Red Mountain Estate Syrah – Co-fermented with Viognier (as is traditional in France), this Red Mountain Syrah is packed with black fruits, cassis, black pepper, graphite and dried sage. The tannins, as you’d suspect from Red Mountain fruit, are muscular, polished and built to age. 400 cases; 15.1%; $85 (Red Mountain) 94/100

Force Majeure 2021 SJR Vineyard Syrah – SJR is the Rocks District vineyard of the Delmas winery, and the Force Majeure versions of this wine are always exceptional. The density stands out even more than the expected Rocks District funk, which seems to play an accent role here rather than starring in the lead. The fruit is pushed front and center, a lush mix of berries and cherries and plums and golden raisins. The concentration of the fruit drives the flavors down through the palate while adding layers of breakfast tea, crushed flowers, tapenade and blood sausage. The legendary Rocks District funk seems subdued, which for my palate is a good thing, as the brilliant, expressive fruit goes back to being front and center. 82 cases; 14.6%; $85 (Walla Walla) 98/100

Catching up – more highlights from recent tastings. I don’t do giant shopping list tasting notes of every release from every winery. You may agree or disagree with my judgments, but they are selective. I will spare you having to wade through miles of tasting notes to pick out the ones of interest. If it’s listed here, I believe it’s worth your consideration.

Bluebird Hill Cellars

Bluebird Hill 2021 Barrel Select Reserve Pinot Noir – Spicy and firm, this is a well-built, solid example of Willamette Valley Pinot. As a barrel select it may have been from a favored block, though there is no indication of that. It’s best through the mid-palate, with plenty of toast around clean berry fruit. 65 cases; 13.4%; $54 (Willamette Valley) 91/100

Bluebird Hill 2021 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir – Block selections can go in many different directions. Obviously the winemakers felt this deserved its own bottling. On its merits it is elegant, finessed with flavors of pomegranate and strawberry, and handles its 20% new French oak nicely. My guess is it will show best over the next five years. 50 cases; 13.9%; $54 (Willamette Valley) 91/100

Bluebird Hill 2021 Mom’s Block Reserve Pinot Noir – This block selection has pleasing density, with black fruits, char and an underlying earthy character. None of these new releases top 14% but this may be the strongest, ripe and full but with black olive, graphite and licorice highlights rather than pure fruit. 50 cases; 13.9%; $54 (Willamette Valley) 91/100

Bluebird Hill 2021 Zenith Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir – Just one barrel from this outstanding vineyard. It’s young, spicy and showing excellent potential for further development. Light candy flavors of strawberry and cherry are framed with tight, ripe tannins. Aged 27 months in 20% new French oak, it’s showing more barrel than fruit, but that will soften with further bottle age. Decant this and/or cellar it a few more years. 26 cases; 13.4%; $54 (Eola-Amity Hills) 91/100

Compris Vineyard

Compris 2021 Wavelength Chardonnay – The former Vidon vineyard is now Compris. New owners Dru and Erin Allen describe their project as “intentionally unconventional.” Simply looking at the lovely labels, the unusual names, and the lineup of wines such as Tempranillo and Syrah not usually found in the northern Willamette Valley, it’s clear that this is more than just a slogan. This lush and flavor-packed Chardonnay is a deep gold, scented with toasted nuts and rich with tree fruits. It’s balanced and forward, and I’d suggest drinking it over the next few years while it is at its freshest. There is also a limited production reserve Chardonnay ($65) not tasted. 13.5%; $45 (Chehalem Mountains) 92/100

Compris 2021 Midnight Journey Syrah – Estate grown Willamette Valley Syrah is uncommon; in this warm vintage it works quite well. Savory, floral and laced with scents and flavors of bacon and espresso, it’s anchored in marionberry, blue plum and black cherry fruit. More elegant than many Northwest Syrahs, it’s a welcome style that should be accommodating to a wide range of entrées. 14.2%; $50 (Chehalem Mountains) 91/100

Compris 2021 Mountain Echo Estate Pinot Noir – Released a year ago, this is smooth and subtle; I suspect the extra year in bottle is a plus. It’s an elegant, layered, accessible wine with appealing complexity. Highlights of toasted nuts, sandalwood and chocolate speak to aging 10 months in 30% new French oak. The underlying berry flavors are secondary and suggest drinking this over the next three or four years. 13.5%; $45 (Chehalem Mountains) 91/100

Compris 2021 As One Pinot Noir – This reserve-level wine presumably saw more new barrels; hence the dark, toasty frame. The mixed clonal fruit is up to the challenge, hitting black cherry notes full on. There’s a pleasing roasted note conjuring up thoughts of grilled meats, and the acids add a balsamic tang to the finish. All in all a great window on what lies ahead for Compris. 13.4%; $55 (Chehalem Mountains) 92/100


Lundeen 2021 Carlton Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir – This wine has a nice aromatic lead-in with suggestions of raspberries and marionberries. In the mouth it’s young and juicy, with plummy flavors and good balance. The tannins are firm and bring some pleasant earth and caramel notes through a gentle fade. 50 cases; 13.8%; $50 (Yamhill-Carlton) 91/100

Lundeen 2021 La Cantera Vineyard Pinot Noir – Pretty blackberry and black cherry fruit leads the palate. Still young, this opens a bit sharp, with edgy herbal tannins. Give it room to breathe and some pleasing barrel toast and spices come up. The lightly toasty frame lingers through the mild finish, accented with plummy fruits and a touch of prunes. 50 cases; 13.8%; $50 (Laurelwood District) 92/100

Lundeen 2021 Sylvia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir – This is nicely layered, with interesting textures mixing dark fruits, clean earth, fungus, tea and soft leather. Aromatically compelling, it’s done in a style perfect for duck, with a complementary touch of Asian spices. This is not a big wine, but it’s a complex wine, and that is more important. Lots going on here through a long finish. 50 cases; 13.5%; $50 (Eola-Amity Hills) 92/100

Lundeen 2021 La Colina Vineyard Pinot Noir – Lovely aromas introduce an elegant wine with appealing richness. Mixed red currant, pomegranate and raspberry jam, sandalwood and underbrush combine in a graceful palate with hidden intensity. Let it breathe and highlights of baking spices and chai tea emerge. This drinks well with aeration and could cellar easily for 10 – 15 more years. 75 cases; 13.4%; $50 (Dundee Hills) 94/100

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 (davepaul5.com) Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine, paulgregutt.substack.com, and in the Waitsburg Times.


  1. Thank you, Paul! This Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be visiting my old hometown of Walla Walla for the first time in 4 years. This will make a great reference on which wineries to visit.


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