Does Washington state's Red Mountain need more affirmation of its greatness as wine terroir? Last week winemaker Todd Alexander left one of Napa Valley's priciest wineries, Bryant Family Vineyard, to take a job at Force Majeure in Washington.
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"As far as I know, that's the first time Washington's ever been able to recruit a cult-wine Napa guy to Washington state," said Force Majeure owner Paul McBride. "It's a historic moment for Washington as a serious wine region. It's more serious than just another winemaker hire."
Alexander, 36, Bryant's winemaker for the past two years, will no longer be working with the hillside vineyard in Napa's Pritchard Hill district that produced a string of high 90s scores in the Wine Advocate. Instead he will be given the freedom to make his own mark on Washington's Red Mountain.
"I could've stayed at Bryant and just kept steering the ship, but it wasn't all that exciting to me," Alexander told Wine Searcher. "The wines were getting so expensive. That was a turnoff. I want to make wines I can afford to drink."
Force Majeure is a unique opportunity because, while it already has some critical acclaim, it hasn't really had a winemaker. All the company's previous wines were part of the Collaboration Series, where different Washington winemakers made the wines at their own facilities.
Previously known as Grand Reve, the company has a hillside vineyard on Red Mountain planted to Bordeaux varieties and Syrah. It had to change its name after Domaine Carneros, which makes a sparkling wine called Le Reve, complained. McBride said Domaine Carneros noticed the newcomer after its 2007 Cabernet got 97 points from Wine Spectator.
Now, Force Majeure will build a winery to Alexander's specifications in Woodinville, a suburb of Seattle.
"Washington's such a wide-open place. Everybody knows it can make wine, but there's room to grow," Alexander explained. "We'll try to make really great wine, but we don't want to use a scarcity model to drive up prices. That's not what we're trying to do. Washington doesn't get enough credit for its great wine. We'll see what we can do."
Chris Stone, vice president of marketing and communications for the Washington Wine Commission, said: "I would take it as another sign that Washington state wines continue to gain momentum and emerge as a world-class region. With all the recent outside investment, and now this development, I think it’s safe to say the quality and limitless potential of Washington state are no longer a secret."