Winter 2019

Bayernmoor Cellars, a hidden gem of the Puget Sound

Bayernmoor owners Kim and Larry Harris and General Manager Jeremiah Nelson (right) outside their Stanwood, Wash., tasting room.
Bayernmoor owners Kim and Larry Harris and General Manager Jeremiah Nelson (right) outside their Stanwood, Wash., tasting room.

“Hidden gem” may be an overused idiom to describe a small, yet-to-be-discovered winery or the wines it produces, but it’s perfect to describe Bayernmoor Cellars.

Bayernmoor’s vineyards and recently completed tasting room are tucked away on just over 100 acres of family-owned property about three miles east of Interstate 5 near Stanwood. The quiet, rural setting with rolling hills and clear-day mountain views is certain to be a breath of fresh air for visiting wine enthusiasts.

But the winery’s location is just part of its appeal. Dedicated, focused and thoughtful ownership, combined with the skills of Brian Carter, one of Washington’s top-tier winemakers, promise the winery a world-class potential.

Determining The Legacy Of The Land

The Bayernmoor story begins with what was once a dairy farm, purchased in the mid-1980s by Dr. James Beisecker and his wife Kate. They initially had no intention of starting a winery as they built their home and raised four children.

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One of their daughters, Kim, recalls the idea evolved over time. “We had so much land and were thinking, ‘How can we make the property work for itself?’ So we started talking about ideas of what we could grow here.”

She and her husband, Larry Harris, had years of experience wine tasting and touring in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys after the couple graduated from Santa Clara Law School. Kim says those experiences influenced the family decision.

“We all loved wine, and it was definitely a passion of my father’s, so we decided to put in a vineyard,” she says.

Long before the first vineyard was planted in 2012, the Harrises moved to the Snoqualmie Ridge area east of Seattle in 2004, where they started a family of their own. Larry partnered with a local law firm before becoming director of patents for Amazon, where he worked until 2011. It was during his last few years at Amazon that they began working with Washington State University Skagit County extension service near Burlington to move forward on planting grapes on her parents’ property.

“Once we got involved with it, we said, ‘if we’re going to come up here and grow something, it needs to be something we’re both passionate about,’” said Larry. “Corn and wheat? Not super exciting,” he laughed, “but once we said we’re definitely going to do wine, we wanted it to be something we’re going to be proud of doing.”

Planting Pinot Noir

The choice of grapes to plant was relatively easy. “I really didn’t have any interest planting Madeleine Angevine or Siegerrebe, because they’re not main-market wines,” says Larry. “I’m a ‘big red’ guy, and the only red you can even remotely come close to growing over here is Pinot Noir.”

WSU’s research, which included heat unit studies and soil testing, confirmed the Beisecker property was ideal for cultivating the fickle Pinot Noir grape.

“WSU suggested planting Précoce first, because it is one of the earliest ripening (Pinot Noir) varieties,” Larry noted. “We took 3-year-old vines from another vineyard and transplanted them here and they did fantastic.”

Another Pinot clone 777 was also introduced to the estate. “It’s one of the darker, heavier clones, so it ripens a little later. The skins are also thicker, so it’s a lot more tolerant to rain,” he said.

It’s also a “happy accident” of sorts, that the six acres of Précoce and 777 grapes now planted at Bayernmoor have staggered harvest times. “We’re usually done fermenting our Précoce before we focus our attention on harvesting the 777. It’s worked out really well for us,” he said.

Not that growing the grapes, particularly in the cooler, wetter climate of Western Washington, has been without challenges. Bayernmoor General Manager Jeremiah Nelson, who previously worked at DeLille Cellars and as manager of Pinot-focused Challenger Ridge Winery, noted, “The rain can bring two threats: it causes the grape skins to split and then, obviously, the mold and mildew.”

“WSU told us that some years you might get fantastic wines and some years you might not,” said Larry, adding that maintaining the vineyards “is hard work but if it was easy, everyone would do it.”

Selecting A Winemaker

“Our initial mantra was, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to to be the best we possibly can,” says Larry. In searching for a winemaker, “Brian Carter’s name kept coming up as the Old World blending master and that seemed to pair well with what I was after. So Jeremiah and I approached him right before harvest in 2017.”

Jeremiah recalls, with a laugh, “We literally knocked on his door like Joseph and Mary with a baby and said, ‘we have a harvest coming tomorrow, do you want to be our winemaker?’ ”

Fortunately, they hit it off really well with Carter. “When he came up here and saw what we were doing he said, ‘OK, you guys aren’t kidding around,’ ” adds Larry.

“The tipping point was that we already had a contract with Klipsun Vineyards” (for the Cabernet Sauvignon Bayernmoor was also planning to produce). “His comment was, ‘I’ve been making my wines from that very block (at Klipsun) for the past 30 years, do you want me to make your Cab for you?’ Things have continued to progress from there and it’s been a great relationship.”

Jeremiah notes Alexandria Nicole’s Destiny Ridge as an additional Cabernet source, while also using Milbrandt Vineyards fruit for their Grenache/Mourvedre Rosé.

For their 2017 Chardonnay, “we blended (grapes) from Weinbau and Otis Vineyards, for 2018 we blended Otis and Celilo Vineyards, and our 2019 contract is just Celilo.” In keeping with a leaner, Old World style, the Chardonnay is aged in 25-percent oak with partial malolactic fermentation.

The winery recently-released a 2017 Pinot Noir that includes a 50/50 Washington State blend of estate fruit along with grapes sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation; and a 100-percent estate-grown Pinot that is delicate, floral, slightly earthy, and shimmers like a liquid ruby in the glass.

Focus, Dedication, And Sharing

From the beginning, the focus at Bayernmoor has been to produce a high-end product. “I want to make sure that every year we get better,” said Larry, quickly adding, “It’s going to be hard to be the best Pinot in the world if we don’t get better!”

While production for 2019 will be just under 1,000 cases – and Larry expects that number to remain constant for the next two to three years – “I’d love to get up to six or seven thousand cases over the next 10 years,” he says.

Larry and Kim stress the importance of the land and estate residence they have called home since 2013. “Kim’s parents did an awesome job (with the property and the house) and we view it as our responsibility to keep this going for several more generations,” Larry said.

“The vineyards really provide the vehicle to do this,” added Kim.

With Carter at the helm as executive winemaker and plenty of excellent vineyard sources to draw on, the winery certainly has a pedigreed team for producing stellar wines. And who knows? With a little more time and polish, Bayernmoor Cellars may indeed become one of the brighter gems on the Washington wine scene.

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