Calgary Wine Life: Gramercy Cellars Master Class @ Divino

26 05 2017
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Greg Harrington, Gramercy Cellars

A month ago I had never been out to visit my all-time favourite winery, and they had not yet had the opportunity to come to Calgary for a tasting event.  Three weeks ago I finally made it out to Walla Walla for the first time, and among other amazing wine memories made, I paid a couple visits to my wine pinnacle, Gramercy Cellars, attending their Spring Release party on my birthday.  Almost immediately after I got off the plane in Washington State, I got an email inviting me to Gramercy’s first ever tasting Master Class back in Calgary, led by the winery’s founder and winemaker Greg Harrington.  That tasting was held this week at the marvellous Divino restaurant, and I left thinking that my next trip to Walla Walla couldn’t come fast enough.  It would be an understatement to say that this month has ticked a lot of boxes.

FullSizeRender-612Washington State has both the sun to grow big red grapes and the soil and climate to make them interesting.  The main wine areas are all in the southeastern part of the state, separated from lush, drizzly Seattle by the Cascade Mountain range, whose rain shadow blocks most of the coastal precipitation and creates a warm, dry canvas for grapevines to thrive.  The Walla Walla Valley, straddling the Washington/Oregon border, is bounded on the east side by another mountain range, the Blue Mountains, gaining both altitude and cool nightly winds off the slopes as a result.  Over millennia, the historically recurring Missoula floods have laid fine sandy soil, massive rocks and other alluvial deposits over an already-impressive volcanic basalt soil base.  Put all that together and you end up with an area that sees heat and sunlight during the day but features significant diurnal temperature drops at night, ideal for prolonging ripening and retaining acid in grapes; fine soils with intriguing mineral content that drain well and in which (thanks also to the cold winters) the vine scourge phylloxera cannot survive, allowing all vines to be planted on their own rootstocks; and a remarkable array of slopes, aspects, exposures and microclimates in a relatively concentrated area, letting farmers and producers match specific varietals with specific sites to maximize their potential.  In short, it screams winemaking opportunity.

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The Gramercy winery and tasting room, Walla Walla.

And it screamed loud enough to bring Greg Harrington there.  Harrington, a Master Sommelier holding a prestigious position for a group of New York City restaurants, had a chance tasting of Walla Walla Syrah lead him to a trip to Washington State and then to a life-altering decision to change careers and time zones, all in the span of a couple years in the early 2000s.  After a crash course in winemaking and some assistance with grape sourcing from Washington wine pioneer Norm McKibben of Pepper Bridge in 2004, Gramercy Cellars came into existence and released its first vintage in 2005.  It has been honing its style and its craft since, continually looking for ways to sharpen its approach.  While Gramercy has always aimed for lower ripeness and alcohols and higher acid and longevity in their wines, as of 2014 it strove for further complexity by switching over to all native-yeast fermentation and introducing large square concrete tanks to its winemaking armada.  Future plans include going fully organic with its growers in the vineyard and gaining additional control on the farming side of the process, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of the well-regarded Forgotten Hills vineyard just south of Walla Walla.

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Concrete.  Badass.

Greg Harrington spoke of these things and more across two riveting and information-packed hours with the Calgary wine trade, and at some point while we were at it we also found the time to taste through the bulk of Gramercy Cellars’ portfolio, starting off with the ultra-small production 2016 Picpoul (electric limes! on fire!) as we came in the door and not stopping until we had gone through FOUR consecutive groundbreaking Syrahs that firmly established Washington State’s place as a New World powerhouse.  Buckle up. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Kung Fu Girl Riesling

9 07 2012

Best served chilled (as shown by my glass), especially when it’s 30C in Calgary.

New KFG!!  Mid-year is an exciting time for oenophiles, because that’s when many white wines from the previous year’s vintage start appearing on store shelves, and since this particular white is one of my all-time favourite value wines, its release turned an otherwise-mundane outing to Superstore into a cause for celebration.  My love for Kung Fu Girl is partly predicated on my adoration for both Riesling (my all-time favourite grape) and Washington State (one of my go-to wine regions, still criminally underrated despite producing world-class wines) and partly just due to the fact that it’s an awesome bottle of wine for under $20 CDN.  And my excitement obviously not an isolated phenomenon:  my review of last year’s 2010 Kung Fu Girl Riesling is Pop & Pour’s second most popular post of all time, with 2,444 unique views and counting.  I guess when you make something of high quality that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is priced to sell, people pay attention.  Charles Smith, I salute you. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2005 Andrew Rich “Les Vignes En Face” Syrah

4 07 2011

What a difference a day makes.  I first cracked this wine last night and was sort of ambivalent about it, despite the fact that it represented my current ideal red wine region and grape (Washington State Syrah); as a result, I was fully gearing up to write a “nice try, but…” 85-86 point review tonight.  But then I had the rest of the bottle tonight and everything changed:  the rough and rustic edges had softened, the fruit was better balanced, and every component of the bottle was suddenly in harmony.  How cool is wine, that 24 hours in the fridge can make that transformative a difference?

Ridiculous name, but give it time...it'll grow on you.

Let’s back up.  I was tremendously excited to try this wine because it was simultaneously recommended to me by both my favourite Calgary wine shops (Ferocious Grape and Highlander Wine & Spirits) and because it was a good-quality Washington State Syrah for under $30, not a common combination.  The grapes for Les Vignes En Face came from two of the better Syrah vineyards in all of Washington, Ciel du Cheval (the vineyard that spawned my poor cork-ruined Andrew Will wine a few weeks ago) and Klipsun.  Even better, it was a 2005, so it had already had some time to settle down in the bottle before making its way into my greedy hands.  The only downside was its unfortunately pretentious faux-French name, which as far as I can tell roughly translates to “The Vines In Front” (note to producers:  if you’re not in France, don’t name your wines French names), but questionable nomenclature notwithstanding, I still had high hopes. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Mercer Columbia Valley Merlot

19 06 2011

Special delivery from the tasty factory.

Right after reviewing a wine (the 2007 Amavi Syrah) that was identical to one reviewed previously but for the vintage, tonight I’m tackling a wine that’s identical to a prior review but for the grape.  I reviewed the 2007 Mercer Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of March, and tonight I stick with the same vintage (2007), the same producer (Mercer) and the same subregion (Columbia Valley in Washington State), but I’m subbing out one full-bodied red (Cab) for another (Merlot).  As I look back on my previous Mercer review, it strikes me how similarly these two wines have been put together; both are built to pop, pour and enjoy in the near term, with big accessible fruit and no hard edges, and both are ripe, friendly and easy to drink.  Both are also a direct shipment from the tasty factory — they’re absolutely delicous, the Merlot even more so than the Cab.  I bought this wine over the weekend from Highlander Wine & Spirits because it was crazily on sale:  half off normal retail price at $20!  It’s one of my rules in life not to turn down Washington State wine when it’s 50% off…I’m principled that way. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Owen Roe Abbot’s Table

7 06 2011

Great label, insane blend, great wine.

From delicate Old World white to bold New World red in the span of a day!  This wine gives new meaning to the term “red blend”: it’s comprised of (wait for it) 25% Zinfandel, 20% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 7% Blaufrankisch, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Merlot.  I feel like that should add up to 250%…I can buy into the use of the first 5 grapes, but I think the last 4 are just for showing off.  Unsurprisingly, this info is left off the label, as it must prove abjectly terrifying to most consumers (including me).  The precise blend for the Abbot’s Table changes every year, and with this many grapes involved, the focus of the producer must be to create a wine that’s of a similar style and flavour profile every year rather than one that’s reflective of one or two particular varietals.  And I have to say, even if it takes nine different grapes from disparate world wine regions to make it happen, the end result is quite worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2005 Woodward Canyon Merlot

7 04 2011

Ever watched a movie where only the first half hour was good?

I’ve been trying to drink a little more Merlot.  It’s one of the best known and most classic grape varietals in the world, and it’s responsible for some of the most famous, memorable and expensive wines out there, but compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah I drink relatively little of it, especially in unblended form.  When I found out that my new wine region man-crush, Washington State, was well known for its high-quality Merlots, I decided to dive in, and I scooped this 2005 Columbia Valley Merlot from an iconic Washington producer, Woodward Canyon.  It was on the pricier end of the wines I usually buy ($30-$40), but being from a pioneer of red wine in this area, I figured it was worth a shot. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Mercer Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

30 03 2011

Beige label, non-beige wine.

Another day, another journey to what is rapidly becoming my favourite New World wine region, Washington State.  Today was one of those days where work was busy, I hit a traffic jam on the way home, the baby wouldn’t sleep, and I didn’t get to sit down to have dinner until almost 8:00; by that time, all I wanted with my meal was a welcoming, easygoing, easy-drinking (no more beer commercial adjectives, I swear) wine, a leather armchair by a fireplace in a glass.  That’s exactly what I got with this Mercer Cabernet. Read the rest of this entry »