Liminal – adj. of, relating to, or situated at the threshold
The next frontier in Washington has long been viticulture – improving site selection, matching variety and clone, and fine tuning viticultural practices. Some estates have long known this, exploring different plantings, trellising, and farming strategies to drive concentration and elevate fruit quality. They have moved Washington wine to another level. Now there is another winery attempting to touch the hand of Bacchus: Liminal Wine.
An unexpected stop
Our story begins in 2018, when Avennia co-owners Marty Taucher and Chris Peterson were touring potential new vineyards. On their way home, they made an initially unplanned stop by a site owned by Taucher’s friend, Cam Myhrvold. At the time, the new vineyard was an open secret on the top of Red Mountain, with the first fruit coming off later that year.
When Taucher and Peterson arrived, what they saw shocked them.
“Our jaws were falling off the ground,” Taucher recalls. “We were looking at the intention behind exploring the terroir and the goals and aspirations of the project. We couldn’t stop talking about the possibilities on the way home.”
They quickly proposed creating a new winery dedicated to the vineyard’s fruit. Myhrvold agreed, in what was subsequently announced at the time as Red Mountain Elevated. With the first wines about to be released, that project has now become Liminal Wine.
“The whole idea of Liminal is that it’s vineyard-driven wine,” says Peterson, with the word defined as occupying a position at a boundary or threshold. “All of us have been doing what we’re doing with this project for a long time and bring a lot of experience from the business aspect to the growing to the winemaking. But this vineyard is allowing all of that experience to express something hopefully new at another level.”
A vineyard years in the making
At 360 total acres with 32 planted, WeatherEye sits high on Red Mountain, with some plantings spilling over onto the north side. The vineyard is visually stunning, with sweeping views of Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley, and the Horse Heaven Hills. The plantings show immaculate attention to detail, with vines planted in micro-blocks, often at high density, with a variety of trellising techniques.
“We’re spending lots of money on the high density plantings, on sur echalas, and all the bush training and head training that we’re doing,” Myhrvold says. “We’re convinced that viticulture matters and that those things will end up contributing to the quality of the wines”
Myhrvold first purchased the land in 2004 after being tipped off to it by DeLille Cellars co-owner Greg Lille. The area was full of potential but also challenges.
“There was no road. I had no access to the property. I had no water. But I thought it was super interesting.”
Over subsequent years, Myhrvold accumulated three additional parcels and also gained water rights. Geologist Alan Busacca recommended Ryan Johnson consult on what should be planted. Johnson is renowned in the Washington wine industry for his former work as long-time vineyard manager at Ciel du Cheval as well as his design of Force Majeure Vineyard on Red Mountain. After looking at what was plantable, Johnson offered to farm the site.
“It was some great, untapped territory,” Johnson told me in 2018.
He subsequently put his passion – some might say obsession – with farming top quality wine grapes to work.
“It’s Ryan’s project,” Myhrvold says humbly of WeatherEye. “I’m just along for the ride. You hire the best talent you can and then stand out of the way.”
Wines at the threshold
Liminal has exclusive access to plantings in a canyon at approximately 1,100+ feet above sea level, hundreds of feet higher than many of the appellation’s famed sites. Fruit from this area comprises three designated, inaugural wines from Liminal. The canyon has eastern facing slopes and soils of windblown silt over fractured basalt, with Rhone varieties planted throughout and lavender at the bottom
“We employed our aesthetic tool kit,” Johnson says of the lavender with a laugh. “Yes, qualitatively, we want to grow world class Grenache in this canyon. But it’s got to look pretty cool too.”
Looking at the 2018 Liminal High Canyon Series Grenache, the first thing one notices is the deep color for the variety.
“The first time I saw it, I knew we had something special,” Taucher says.
The wine is full of black raspberry, pomegranate, rose petal and crushed rock. There is textural depth and richness, but still a remarkable sense of acidity and vibrancy along with near perfect balance throughout – easily the best Grenache I’ve had from the Washington side of the Columbia Valley.
The 2018 Liminal High Canyon Syrah, meanwhile, is dense and rich, but again with great freshness and balance, with notes of mulberry, blackberry, kirsch, earth, and bacon fat. It’s an accomplishment, with depth, intensity, layering, polish, texture, and balance – one of the best wines I’ve ever had.
“One thing that has really set [WeatherEye] apart early on is the acidity,” Peterson says. “The site just seems to retain it better.”
Last, but far from least, there is a 2018 High Canyon Viognier, offering notes of mineral, peach and lees. There’s an enchanting mouthfeel and flavors, but acid is the driver – a surprise for this variety.
“There’s a great range of flavor and characteristics that I think we’re getting from this canyon that you wouldn’t get off a conventional planting,” Johnson says. “That’s a theory. We’re still a young vineyard, young planting, young wines.”
Exploring northern aspects
While WeatherEye’s higher elevation plantings are redefining what is possible in the Red Mountain appellation, much of the intrigue also comes from plantings on the north side of the mountain, outside of the appellation boundaries. Johnson says the higher elevation and northern aspect greatly affect how quickly fruit ripens.“You can see this stair-step effect,” he says. “You go lower Red Mountain, pretty ripe. Upper canyon, it’s a little bit behind in ripeness. Then the stuff on the north is even further behind.”
Especially in warmer vintages, Red Mountain’s heat can become a determining factor on when grapes are picked, as sugar can accumulate quickly. With the north side considerably cooler and higher, grapes reach maturity at a more measured pace.
“We’re able to ease into our ripeness,” Johnson says. “That allows (Chris) Peterson to really choose that window that he wants to bring that fruit in.”
Liminal’s Block 16 Syrah comes from the highest plantings currently on Red Mountain at 1,230 feet above sea level (the mountain itself maxes out at 1,411 feet). The block is planted sur echalas – on stakes – at reasonably high density.
“You combine higher elevation with north aspect, and high density plantings, that’s kind of our trifecta of complexity and extra dimensions to the fruit,” Johnson says.
And does this wine have it. While it’s more aromatically brooding initially than the High Canyon Syrah, the flavors are intense and show layers of nuance, with remarkable acidity that takes the wine to another level.
Completing the inaugural Rhone releases, Liminal’s 2018 Vineyard Series GSM (42% Grenache, 38% Mourvèdre, and 20% Syrah) comes from several different blocks at WeatherEye. It’s outrageously delicious, with aromas and flavors of pomegranate, mulberry, mineral and black pepper, a big mouthful of a wine with notable freshness – shockingly good.
Achieving the sublime
Visiting WeatherEye Vineyard, it is impossible not to see the potential. However, tasting the Liminal wines shows the reality. These are not only the most impressive inaugural releases I have had from any winery in Washington to date. They are some of the very best wines I have ever tasted from the state, true accomplishments to a one. There is aromatic complexity, texture, detail, depth, length, balance, and most impressively, abundant acidity.
“We’re pretty excited to share the wines with the world,” says Taucher, with the wines slated to be released later this month.
Given the quality levels, the wines are well-priced between $50 and $75. Alas, production is extremely limited, ranging from a miniscule 40 cases to a still quite modest 225, with the wines sold in three packs to list members and some immediately selling out. That said, these are still wines more than worth pursuing in this vintage and in subsequent vintages. They are examples of the high heights Washington wine can achieve when site selection and viticulture are pushed to their extreme.
“It’s not easy to do this,” Johnson says of farming WeatherEye. “It takes a lot of time and money and attention. We’re tired. But jeez, you taste these wines and you get excited all over again.”
In addition to Liminal, a number of other wineries in Washington are also working with WeatherEye Vineyard fruit. Estate wines from WeatherEye are also in the offing. Tasting the Liminal wines, there seems to be no limit as to what can be achieved.
“We just opened Pandora’s box here,” Johnson says. “All bets are off. We’re trying to blow the roof off Washington State with this.”
With the inaugural Liminal wines, mission accomplished.
Picture 1: High Canyon, WeatherEye Vineyard, courtesy of Liminal Wines
Picture 2: From left to right, Marty Taucher, Ryan Johnson, Cam Myhrvold, Chris Peterson
Picture 3: Courtesy of Liminal Wines
Picture 4: North side plantings of Syrah and Mourvèdre, courtesy of Ryan Johnson