Even when WeatherEye Vineyards was just a whisper in the Washington wine industry, the potential was clear. Legendary grower Ryan Johnson, who has over 20 years of experience farming on Red Mountain, was working on a semi-secret site atop the mountain, with the project backed by former Microsoft hand Cam Myhrvold. It was a project that by its very definition would be reaching for new heights in the state. (Read previous articles about the project here, here, and here.)
As more details emerged, the concept was simple. Hand-selected clones are planted at high-density at higher elevations, sometimes with northern aspects. This, a variety of trellising techniques, and maniacal farming are used to achieve longer hang times and wines with more intensity, freshness, and non-fruit characteristics.
Still, it is hard to conceive that wines coming off the vineyard to date have been so good, so quickly. My first time tasting fruit from WeatherEye Vineyards was the 2018 Avennia La Perle in blind tastings for Wine Enthusiast. Coming from third leaf, first commercial vintage vines, the wine stopped me in my tracks, showing aspects I had never tasted before from any Washington wine. The reason? A third of the fruit came from WeatherEye. Then came the wines from Liminal, a project from Marty Taucher and Chris Peterson at Avennia dedicated to WeatherEye fruit. The winery’s inaugural releases were some of the best wines that I have ever tasted from the state. (Liminal was my 2020 Winery of the Year.)
Now comes an estate project from WeatherEye. Johnson and Myhrvold partner with Todd Alexander (Force Majeure, Pášxa, The Walls, and Holocene) for the winemaking. The winery started out making Syrah and Grenache in 2018 at a miniscule 140 total cases. The following vintage, they added Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, and a red blend. The first two vintages of these wines are shockingly good. (See scores for the 2019s from my time at Wine Enthusiast here.)
“We were able to hit some pretty impressive strides very quickly with [Todd],” Johnson says. “You look at his dedication, his passion, his talent, and just how well it syncs up with our own efforts.”
Alexander has a long history of making top quality wine that stretches back to his time at cult winery Bryant Estate in Napa Valley. Alexander’s talent and dedication to his craft also have a synergistic effect on the winegrowing.
“I feel like it pushes me as a grower,” Johnson says. “I don’t want to be the weak link.”
To see wines at this high a quality level coming from a vineyard this young is nearly unprecedented in my experience. Both grower and winemaker are working with fruit that has never been made into wine before. Yet the results speak for themselves.
“We’re learning and making changes as we go,” Alexander says. “I think what we’re seeing in the high density plantings is really exciting. There’s a lot of freshness. There’s a lot of energy in the wines.”
The WeatherEye Vineyards estate wines show exactly that. It is a strange experience as a taster to unbag wines that are unquestionably at a higher alcohol level and look back at one’s notes and see repeated references to freshness. But the higher elevations of WeatherEye, its high density plantings, and, for some blocks, its northern aspects, provide an intensity and freshness that is truly unlike anything I have ever seen on the Washington side of the Columbia Valley.
In just the first two releases, the WeatherEye Vineyards estate wines are already at the extreme upper echelon of wines being produced in Washington State. The winery’s 2019 vintage wines were my highest scored wines last year and are some of the finest wines I have ever had from Washington. I would say that the sky is the limit for this producer, but they have already reached that. Next up is the stars.
WeatherEye Vineyards is my 2022 Northwest Winery of the Year.