It’s finally time, my first Wine Bloggers Conference has arrived. I meet people almost immediately in the airport who are my people; who love travel and learning and wine as much as I do! We land in the tiny airport in Walla Walla and are surprised that all of our bags make it to this small airport and we are thankful our hotel transportation has arrived. We tumble excitedly into the van provided by our host hotel, The Marcus Whitman, and are whisked to our hotel within ten minutes from the airport.
We arrive at the airport exhausted from a day of travel and are relieved it is a grand historic hotel that has been re-done in exquisite style. I am greeted at the front desk by an employee names Jonathan. He is wonderful and assigns my room and apologizes that I will have to move after one night, even though I knew this ahead of time because he was able to find me a room last minute room for this extra night.
My room is a well appointed double queen and I had an issue with my keys. Jonathan is highly apologetic and ultimately sends me up a bottle of wine (the Marcus Whitman bottle from L’Ecole – absolutely beautiful!). (Thank you Jonathan! You provided outstanding service and really went above and beyond to take great care of us!)
The next day I wake up early for the pre-excursion I have signed up for and find that some of my late arriving new friends from the night before are also on this excursion. We hop on the bus and learn that our “tour guide” is none other than co-owner of Force Mejeure, Paul McBride, a major force of a wine maker from Red Mountain AVA in Washington, where they are producing ultra-premium red wines of international acclaim. He is very down to earth and explains to us that we are heading to his new property, just over the border in Oregon and we will see his new building and vineyards in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, a designation that was recently approved and, as we later learn, is turning out very distinctive wines of quality.
When we arrive we see the construction of the new tasting room in the old school house of this town and the vineyards being re-planted by Paul’s team. This is the Rock District in Oregon and we are greeted by their outstanding winemaker, Todd Alexander, as well as local Geologist, Kevin Pogue, another top Winemaker/ Owner, Steve Robertson (SJR Vineyard – Delmas), who spearheaded the petitions to create the Rocks District Milton-Freewater Ava and is a world class vineyard producing exemplary wines, and Co-owner of Force Mejeure, Susan McBride.
The team gathers us together and explains how the Rocks District was discovered and how the wines coming out of this region are very distinct. It is an area that is an alluvial fan, with cobble from an ancient river bed which fed into this area. The ancient deposits create a bit of a briny taste in wines, subtle enough to be like a special spice on a particular dish, but it is so distinctive, it is gaining acclaim internationally because you can taste wine from the Rock District AVA and know it absolutely has to be from there. It is a clear characteristic of a very special region and this team is making sure it will be on the international wine map in the future.
Following this glimpse into the future of the Walla Walla Valley AVA, we hop back up on our bus and head up into the hills of Oregon, to the North Fork of the Walla Walla Rivery. At this point we are just a few miles from Walla Walla, but feel like we are in a different world. We park and hop into cars driven by a world class winemaker, a geologist, and winery owners and head up into the mountains. The sights are glorious, the commentary invaluable.
At the top of a road we take a left and head up into rolling hills and meadows of tall yellow grass and rose bushes. We stop at the top of one of the hills and join the group where Todd Alexander, again – a renowned Napa Winemaker, is telling us about the discovery of this new wine region. The explanation is that Kevin Fogue is a Columbia Valley Geologist and one of his students did a project where she discovered that this terroir was almost exact in characteristics to highly esteemed terroir in a famous wine region in France. The experts gathered and reviewed the geology, the cliffs, the angle of the sun, the average temperature, the water sources, the soil… everything. They determined that this was going to be an absolutely amazing distinct vineyard site that would be producing amazing, outstanding, world class wines in 10-15 years. Paul and Susan McBride decided to invest and hire a top Winemaker and Todd was very excited to develop the land and to get started making this site a world class wine producer. Paul had the vision to make this a site where people will hike, relax, picnic, enjoy the wild rose bushes, camp… and make world class wine. The site holds so much promise, there is so much positive energy around what this vineyard can be, that I cannot wait to see what they will produce here. I have very high hopes and truly believe this will be an outstanding venture.
Soon, after all of the questions were asked, we headed back down to the bus and were driven to a beautiful farmhouse where we enjoyed a sumptuous meal paired with Force Mejeure and Steve’s wines. I had not tasted Force Mejeure wines before. I was completely blown away by the selections. When I say “ultra-premium” I cannot say enough of the quality of the wines they are making. I had the privilege to sit next to Susan McBride and as I exclaimed in delight after trying the first Viognier, she and I agreed that it was one of our favorites. The Delmas/ SJR co-fermented Syrah was mind blowing. The Epinette (their right bank Bordeaux blend) and their Cabernet Sauvignon and their tiny batch of Tempranillo were unbelievable, and even as Todd told us the story of how his favorite vineyard on Red Mountain was completely pilfered, we enjoyed the wine and conversation and rejoiced in the time spent drinking great wine, good food and outstanding company.
The Rock District wine was the standout of distinction, the Epinette was one of my favorite complex reds and the Viognier, I would drink every day if I could.
We said our goodbyes and boarded the bus back to the hotel to continue the festivities of the conference, but that day was the best kick-off of a conference I could have ever imagined. Force Mejeure, you are the real deal and I can’t wait to see what you do next!