Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Stephane Rousset Crozes-Hermitages

18 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

The Cellar Direct offer train rolls on this weekend, and obviously they have my personal wine preferences bugged:  after offering my favourite kind of white wine (Mosel Riesling) last offer, they have moved on to my favourite red grape (Syrah) this week, straight from its spiritual homeland in France’s Northern Rhone.  This relatively compact, narrow winegrowing area runs north-south and is split in half by the Rhone river, with the regions of Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and Cornas tracking the river’s west bank and Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage hugging the east.  There is a part of the Rhone that curves gradually out to the east before almost immediately swerving back to the west; right at that cut-back bend lies the mighty hill of Hermitage, the most esteemed appellation in the Northern Rhone, with its understudy Crozes-Hermitage spreading out in concentric circles to the north, south and east behind it.

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Crozes-Hermitage is both literally and figuratively in the shadow of its namesake, both considerably larger (1,700 hectares of grapes under vine as compared to Hermitage’s 136 hectares) and more varied, a hodgepodge of sites and soils, its wines varying widely in ambition and quality.  Given this level of variety, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle of Crozes; the region itself lacks the automatic pedigree and heightened standards of its neighbours.  So how to approach this appellation, the Northern Rhone’s biggest, which is often promoted as a budget-friendly alternative to its neighbouring luminaries?  Hook your wagon to specific producers or sites as opposed to the region as a whole.  Find those in the most compelling areas with the best soils and sites, those with a relentless focus on quality vineyard and winemaking practices.  I’m aware that this can be easier said than done.  Don’t know where to start?  Start right here. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 18

18 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 18 of this blogging campaign has me starting off the final week with a slight limp but head unbowed. It has been particularly fun this year, truth be told. The calendar has been superbly curated, considering the perfectly understandable constraints of price point and availability of half-bottles. But I don’t think it is just that. The last few bottles have sparked some enjoyable discussion and debate between the three of us responsible for this Advent blogging set, causing me to reflect on just what it is about wine that is so mesmerizing, so able to inspire passion. Upon reflection, I think for me it is the intersection between art and science. If one knows how wine is made, in a technical sense, one can better assess what is going on with a particular bottle. Maybe this is how I naturally veer, given my professional background… “OK, does this wine gel with how I know it was made?” This sort of conceptual funnelling can provide all kinds of helpful cues as to what I’m experiencing. But then again, what if I am pleasantly surprised? What if I just love the lines of this particular sculpture, heedless of how I know it should present? I think there’s room for both perspectives, within me and within the field of wine assessment more generally. I try to be cognizant of this dichotomy when I see that today’s bottle reads “Cotes du Rhone Villages”.

IMG_1386I’m not implying that I’m disappointed. In fact, this appellation is a deliberate step up in quality from the Cotes du Rhone per se. In the late 1960s, several villages successfully petitioned to include their names on wine labels, in exchange for being willing to submit to higher quality standards. These included the requirement that Grenache must comprise not less than 50% of any given red wine, with a further 20% consisting of Syrah or Mourvèdre in any proprotion. A maximum of 20% of other authorized varieties is also permitted, with these including various obscurities permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Terret Noir) along with Carignan. At this point, the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation has expanded to nearly 10,000 hectares, making it the second largest appellation in the Southern Rhone, half of which can add the name of a specific village to the label. Twenty villages can do this at the present time. This is starting to get the feel of the Dodo Bird verdict from Alice In Wonderland, where “everyone has won and all must have prizes”. Further reinforcing this notion is the fact that the other half of the appellation can distinguish themselves from generic Cotes-du-Rhône by adding the term “village”, albeit without a more specific moniker. The present bottle falls into the latter category, although the producer would certainly take umbrage with the notion that their wines are somehow worse than those labelled Visan or Roaix.

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Domaine Roger Perrin is on the young side for the region, founded in 1969. In what is starting to feel like an eerie theme for me during this December blogging run, Roger died unexpectedly during the harvest in 1969, with well-studied son Luc taking charge. Irked at confusion over his name with that of the famous Beaucastel Perrins, Luc embarked on a quality control campaign to distinguish his estate (the two families are friendly but not related). Tragically, Luc succumbed to a battle with cancer, with sister Veronique and son Xavier carrying on the traditions of hand-harvesting and aging in stainless steel (with the exception of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines). The present wine has been described as a “baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape”, consisting of 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Mourvèdre, with a minimum vine age of 45 years. Interestingly, some earlier documentation suggests that the wine was once 5% Counoise and Vaccarese. This wine is made only in good years, with a fairly long maceration period and 20-50% de-stemming depending on vintage ripeness. All this converges on something that is supposed to be an everyday sipper, albeit a step or two above the rest.

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The 2016 Domaine Roger Perrin Cuvee Vieilles Vignes Cotes-du-Rhone Villages is mercifully devoid of faults, suggesting that the Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse does not extend to any “baby” versions. Phew. This leads with a sweeping plush bramble attack of red liquorice, blackberry, and black raspberry, with a few spoonfuls of Mission fig jam and cherry preserve and a dusting of broken clay flower pot, the soil from said pot, juniper, lavender, pineapple sage, and fennel seeds. A cinnamon and ginger snap cookie spice emerges mid-palate, carried along by supple ripe tannins. If Tetley conjured up a black tea flavoured with currants, cacao nibs, and ripe strawberries… this is the sort of warm climate wine I can get fully behind. Neither flabby nor jammy, but hardly a lightweight. Science and art.

89 points    

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Cork Rating: 5.5./10 (Reasonably sharp Diam.)





Volcanic Hills II: Eruptive Reds

13 10 2019

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

The Volcanic Hills story is a charmingly Canadian one.  Founder Sarwan Gidda’s father Mehtab moved to the Okanagan Valley from East Punjab, India in 1958 with his wife and children, becoming the first Indo-Canadian family to settle in West Kelowna.  After a few years, Mehtab and family were some of the most prolific apple farmers in the valley, but from the late 1970s onward, slowly but surely, their agricultural vision began to drift to grapes.  Ray’s excellent introduction to Volcanic Hills Estate Winery outlined how Sarwan took the next step from grape farming to wine production in the 2000s, and how his children are now helping to carry on this burgeoning family legacy.

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Volcanic Hills is largely a grower-producer, making the bulk of its portfolio from its own 68 acres of estate vineyards in the West Kelowna area, carrying on the Gidda family’s initial farming mission.  Not only are all of VH’s Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Zweigelt (yes, Zweigelt) and Marechal Foch (oh yes, Foch) wines made from 100% estate fruit, but all such grapes are own-rooted, planted on their own original rootstocks as opposed to being grafted onto disease- and pest-resistant rootstocks from non-vinifera species, as is the case with the bulk of wine grapes worldwide.  However, while the other two posts in this producer series will focus largely on what Volcanic Hills can do with its own fruit, the four reds below are exceptions to the VH rule and are instead sourced from warmer climes with longer growing seasons which can reliably ripen them.  The Giddas have contracts with other growers in Oliver and Osoyoos from which they obtain their Bordeaux reds and their Syrah, all of which are on offer at the winery for well under $30.  The price points of the entire Volcanic Hills library are such that John Schreiner was moved to name a recent article about them “Wines You Can Afford”.  But price is only one part of the equation; do they deliver for what they cost? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rhone-ish Reds

29 08 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Welcome back to Road 13, with my red follow-up of Peter’s prior glowing praise for the white offerings from this Okanagan stalwart. I admit that some inevitable pangs of envy rose up when I heard about just how delicious Rousanne can be in the hands of this  particular producer. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have my opportunity with the reds, one another classic Rhone riff in the form of a GSM blend, the other a more unique joining of a classic stalwart from the same region (the “S” in the “GSM”) with Malbec, a Bordeaux grape that unexpectedly found its fortunes in the New World.

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Road 13’s labels, and indeed its very name, conjure up some pleasant associations for this country boy who has for some time now been irrevocably relocated to the big city. The name came about when the operation then known as Golden Mile Cellars was sold to Pam and Mick Luckhurst in 2003, with the new proprietors wishing to emphasize the more specific location of their winery and the three vineyard sites providing them fruit. A shift to terroir-driven wines occurred, buoyed by an earnest desire to celebrate the region’s rich agricultural history. A natural born gardener, Mick hated just sitting around and loves collecting farm equipment. Pam brought bookkeeping expertise and a natural aptitude as a wine taster. Both sought to learn viticulture, a process they readily admit continued throughout their stewardship of the winery, yet the result of this humbling journey has still been numerous winemaking awards. The last Road 13 red I had, a 2011 Syrah-Mourvedre opened in 2018,  positively dazzled. Hopefully these provide more of the same. Read the rest of this entry »





PnP Panel Tasting: Midnight’s Children – The Many Syrahs of The Hatch

14 06 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

It has been a prolific week for PnP Panel Tastings! This one was a doozy. Peter, myself, and PnP spirits guru Tyler convened to open some Okanagan wines; we also ended up taking a massively (possibly Okanagan-wine-induced) deep dive into ’90s alternative rock, which was good for a monumental spike of nostalgia and a slew of earworms for the rest of the weekend. Sometimes hangovers sound like Wide Mouth Mason. The company was of course excellent, tolerant of my occasional requests for overly long Rush tunes (OK, it wasn’t all ’90s). That aside, this was the sort of night from which memories are made, frivolously pleasant and soul-searching alike, and what better vinous companion for me than The Hatch?

The-Hatch-Wines-West-KelownaYou see, four of the suspects hailed from the cellars of the Hatch, subject of a previous PnP Panel Tasting and still my favourite BC winery. I defy you to find a similar blend of idiosyncrasy, creativity, whimsy, and sheer stubborn courage in our westernmost province. There is a true artist’s aesthetic behind the wines. These guys do what moves them, unabashedly and without any discernable pretense. That kind of genuine interface with the world at large is becoming an endangered species other than in the world of wine, where uniqueness has long been a virtue, one that has likely only gathered steam in recent years. I think The Hatch has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, pushing well beyond some initial growing pains into the world of truly fine wine, even as they never truly forsake the uncanny, the weird. After all, “a poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep”. The Hatch shall continue to keep us awake (except perhaps if you kill all four of these on the same night. Not recommended.) Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Paul Jaboulet Aine Tasting with Adrien Laurent @ Calgary Petroleum Club, Part II

2 05 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

To read Part I of this epic tasting write up, click here.

IMG_1356I was attempting to pace myself until the second half of this tasting, wishing to avoid palate fatigue and endeavoring to preserve a fresh mindset for the crown jewels near the end. That delicious St.-Joseph in particular made this sort of patience challenging. I glance to the end of the written materials and there’s even a dessert wine to close things out. Wow. We did move quickly and this was a good thing. There was just enough time to analyze and enjoy some brief discussion about each wine. Part II begins with the “roasted slope”, peaks on Hermitage hill (the big reason we are all here!), and ends in … Beaumes de Venise?! Read on, faithful.

2015 Cote Rotie Domaine des Pierrelles (~$123)

Cote Rotie could serve as the centrepiece in a tasting such as this, and no one in the know would complain much. An appellation short on geographical landmass but long on excitement, some of the steepest viticultural slopes in France are found here, so much so that the region became moribund in the 1970s: The back-breaking labour required did not provide sufficient economic returns. Eventually the folly in this view was recognized once and for all. The vineyards are angled so as to maximize the ripening effects of the sun (thus the moniker), although the wines are not baked in what is still a rather stark and harsh climate, instead evidencing a sublime savoury perfume. These grapes hail from a 1.5 ha biodynamic plot in Cote Blonde, known for graceful wines suitable for early consumption (relatively speaking). The vines are 40+ years old and are rooted in soils composed of mica-schist and dusty old exposures of iron oxide. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Paul Jaboulet Aine Tasting with Adrien Laurent @ Calgary Petroleum Club, Part I

29 04 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Not a bad way to dust off my blogging chops after a lull. A chance to taste a 100-point wine? Sure thing. The fact that said 100-point wine happens to be the 2015 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle causes my already surging excitement to soar into the stratosphere. Although I am not personally enamoured with the Parker-style point system nor its myriad effects on winemaking and consumer preferences, such a feat STILL means something even to this skeptic. I am truly happy for winemaker Caroline Frey. My sincere congratulations! This was a generous enough spread of wines that two posts are in order. I shall try to do the first set of these marvels justice here, stricken as I have been (by Bacchus himself?) with some sort of virulent bug that makes my bones feel like rheumy old birch twigs stashed away in a mausoleum. And I was hoping to sip something while writing this … Discretion is probably the better part of valour.

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We were greeted with some entry level Jaboulet Parallel 45 Cotes du Rhone bottles … A red, a white, and a rose … I sampled them all, of course. 😉

Our host Adrien Laurent felt like a kindred spirit, keeping things scholarly while occasionally flashing an understated charisma or busting out some hilarious off-colour jokes about the French distaste for monarchies (you had to be there). This tasting featured not just the one legendary new release but THREE Hermitage selections, plus an additional spread of whites and reds in what turned out to be a guided tour of nearly the entire Northern Rhone, through the lens of a single producer. How utterly marvellous. I shall cover them all, after first providing some background on the region and this historic producer. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Reds

5 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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The big guns.

As I have mentioned in reviews past, my first thought of Okanagan Falls’ Stag’s Hollow Winery is always as a forward-thinking, try-everything trailblazer, the continual vanguard of varietal suitability and experimentation in British Columbia, constantly checking in on whether the next potential star grape of the province (be it Albarino, Grenache, Dolcetto, or any number of others in its viticultural Rolodex) might be one that few had previously considered.  So it’s a fun change of pace tonight to sit down and see how they handle the classics, those big red varietal stars so often seen across the Old World and New World alike, the first grapes you expect to see on any wine store shelf.  This review set is a particular treat, because all three of the bottles below hail from Stag’s Hollow Renaissance line, the winery’s premium flagship tier of offerings, produced only in vintages when the wines can live up to the bottle’s special black label.  I have heard rumblings that the 2015 Renaissance set breaks new ground in terms of quality and longevity; I had not previously had the opportunity to test this theory for myself, but it would not surprise me out of a winery that always seems to be improving. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: A Special Evening with Cinzia Merli of Le Macchiole @ Centini

15 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

It was while reading my very first book on wine, the 6th edition of Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s “Wine for Dummies”, that I first encountered the term “Super Tuscan”.  I instantly became enamored with the concept.  Some Tuscan producers became wary of traditional wine-making laws that they perceived as stifling innovation. Part of the motivation here was that these producers wanted to experiment with “international varieties”, particularly those famous for yielding Bordeaux blends in France.  Such grapes could be grown.  The kicker was that wines made from them could initially be labelled only as “vino da tavola” (or table wine), as they clearly violated Italian DOC production guidelines which emphasized native varietals.  However, it became apparent that parts of Tuscany were in fact better suited to growing international varieties than native son Sangiovese.  It was absurd to equate quality wines from such areas with the multitude of serviceable but undistinguished table wines found across the country, and thus the marketing concept of the Super Tuscan was born – described on the Italian Wine Central website as “a maverick wine of great breeding but living outside the Establishment”.

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Cinzia Merli does not resemble any stereotype of a maverick.  My initial impression was one of a quiet, conservative, perhaps strict woman, full of resolve and perhaps possessing a keen wit underneath her stolid outward presentation.  She first apologized for her English, which by my reckoning is quite good.  She then provided a fantastic overview of the Bolgheri region and her own wine estate, Le Macchiole, during which her passion and unrelenting dedication to her craft became apparent.  I was already in awe coming into this event:  these wines are legendary.  Cinzia’s presentation only served to stoke the flames.  This evening shall live on in my memory as one of the most fun tastings that I have ever experienced with total strangers (strangers no more!).  I should add that Centini provided exceptional dinner service and perfect ambience.  Read on for my takes on five burly reds (including two vintages of the iconic Paleo), plus a sprinkling of relevant history.

IMG_1110 Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Black Market Wine Co. – Contraband Portfolio Tasting

15 11 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

What do you do if you’re a busy Calgary-based professional with a hectic day job, multiple kids, a swath of family responsibilities, yet an ever-increasing burning passion for wine?  If you’re me, you start a small local blog and struggle to publish one post a week.  (Last post:  13 days ago.  Sorry guys.)  If you’re Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk, on the other hand, you pick up the hustle, go about 20 light-years further and start your own garagiste winery in the Okanagan on the side, while still juggling full-time careers, volunteer activities and parenthood.

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Branding majesty.

This cunning Calgary cabal has managed to work around their weekday gigs (Rob is in corporate finance; Michelle is a flight attendant) and their location in another province, forge relationships with local growers, learn the ropes of the winemaking business and come up with maybe the single best suite of branding for a winery anywhere in Canada, creating a bit of a cult following along the way.  Add in an early embrace of online sales and the Black Market Wine Company is quickly accelerating from illicit side dream to successful reality.

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I first came across Black Market a couple of years ago and was instantly drawn in by the Illuminati-meets-Ponzi-scheme labelling, looking like the back of the US dollar in some horrific alternate Dan Brown universe.  The striking images on the front labels draw people into the intentional web of secrecy and intrigue expressed in snippy verse on the back of each bottle, piquing curiosity and pulling people further into the glass for answers.  By then, you’re in the winery’s hands, waiting to be led where they want to take you.  It certainly does not hurt that the juice within does not disappoint (and that its creators are from my hometown), and I have followed their progress ever since that initial encounter.  This is the first time I have had an opportunity to taste through the entire Black Market portfolio, but not the last time I will be cracking these wines and letting the mystery wash over me. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Dirty Laundry, Pink & Red

26 10 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Okanagan label mastery.

Dirty Laundry is a winery best experienced in person, as it features a combination of location, history and brand awareness that is next to impossible to top.  It is perched up above the ideally named Summerland, BC, elevated over the Okanagan’s main highway, with vineyard views for miles and a patio strategically located to be drenched in scenery.  This spot was once, back in the era of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s initial construction, the home of a renowned and well-attended laundry service run by an AWOL railroad construction worker who had found a more lucrative calling; his fortune, and the popularity of his laundry business, was due in no small measure to the brothel being run discreetly on the upper floor while the clothes were cleaned below.  A couple of centuries later, the business currently occupying the land knows a good story when it sees one and has turned the tale of the dirty laundry into a branding behemoth that seeps into everything from wine names to labels to tasting room decor to the guest homes for rent on the property, the Bordello House and the Parlour House.  They commit to the identity, keep their humour on high alert and leave their prudishness at the door, and people keep coming back.

The wines themselves may be in a state of flux, caught between wanting to appeal to the widest possible audience and the crowds in for a good time and a novelty bottle-stopper and aiming for a higher level of quality, a product that captures attention in a different way.  I am rooting for them to succeed, as personality and creativity and branding effort are more than welcome in my own world of wine.  The below releases, recent rose and red offerings from Dirty Laundry and the first of a two-part review series, were an excellent chance for me to check in on the winery for the first time in a while and see where they were on their cheeky, quirky voyage. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Stag’s Hollow Fall Reds

18 10 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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If this is where we are in the Okanagan, we’re in good hands.

What’s this?  Two reviews in the span of three days??  Is this inspiration or panic?  Turns out it’s a little of both.  For reasons that will shortly become clear, the next couple of months are going to be content-intense here at Pop & Pour HQ (aka my kitchen table), which has me geared up and focused on my current inventory of samples to make sure everything gets its full and proper due.  But I’ve also had a lingering eye on these particular wines ever since they landed on my doorstep, as they represent the latest missive in a wonderful conversation I’ve been having over the past months and years with one of the most intrepid, curiosity-filled, quality-focused wineries in the Okanagan Valley, Stag’s Hollow.  Over the summer I looked in on the white and pink side of their portfolio, but now that my trees no longer have leaves, the time has come to fully commit to autumn, and tonight’s trio of reds has me in the mood to cast off thoughts of T-shirts and shorts and embrace my favourite season.  This lineup features an Okanagan stalwart, only rarely done justice; an utter Okanagan rarity, borne of winemaker Dwight Sick’s unabashed intention to push viticultural limits in the region; and a burgeoning Okanagan star that will hopefully soon get the attention and acreage it deserves.  Pinot Noir, Grenache (!), Syrah. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: $21 Old World Supremacy

11 07 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

FullSizeRender-676This will be the last PnP post for a while – in a couple days I’ll be escaping the country on summer vacation and will not be thinking much at all about word counts or flavour descriptors while I’m gone.  Expect palm tree and sea turtle Instagram pictures and not much else until the end of the month.  I therefore felt compelled to send off July on the blog with a double-feature, a head-to-head review of two Old World value level wines with near-identical just-a-shade-over-$20 price tags and almost nothing else in common.  It’s Italy vs. France, a contest of different grapes, winemaking styles, vintages and approaches, with the main unifying links being longstanding traditional estates and a quest to over-deliver on quality for a supermarket price tag.  Enjoy the summer! Read the rest of this entry »





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 »








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