Calgary Wine Life: Gramercy Cellars Master Class @ Divino

26 05 2017
FullSizeRender-614

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.

FullSizeRender-616

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.

FullSizeRender-617

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 »

Advertisements




Wine Review: 2009 Gramercy Cellars “The Third Man” GSM

17 12 2011

I’ve wanted to try a bottle of Gramercy for over a year.  Last fall I bought Wine & Spirits Magazine’s annual Top 100 issue listing their hundred best wineries in the world for 2010, and there for the first time I read about a Washington producer called Gramercy Cellars, started by Greg Harrington, a Master Sommelier (the youngest to earn the title in the US) who quit his prestigious position as wine director for a group of NYC restaurants in order to move to Washington State and start making Syrah, despite no prior winemaking experience and no connection to the Pacific Northwest.  He was inspired by a chance tasting of Walla Walla wines that he attended, moved by their balance and sense of place to such a degree that he was motivated to drop everything and start a new life.  Gramercy Cellars was born in 2005, and within five years it was officially considered a force on the American wine scene; in addition to the top 100 honour in Wine & Spirits in 2010 (a distinction repeated in 2011) and other awards, Gramercy was named Best New Winery by Food & Wine Magazine in 2010 and promptly celebrated, uh, well, like this:

Since all you have to say to get my vinous attention is “Washington” and “Syrah” in the same sentence, I’ve been waiting and hoping to see a bottle of Gramercy around Calgary somewhere, but until very recently it simply wasn’t available.  So imagine my surprise when one of my go-to wine shops, Highlander Wine & Spirits, announced last month that they had arranged the provincial exclusive to carry Gramercy wines and were making a number of them available for immediate sale…it felt like some kind of strange karmic reward.  This particular bottle was an XMas gift from my friend Elliot (thank you!!), but needless to say I also stocked up on some of Gramercy’s varietal Syrah to enjoy at a later date.

Read the rest of this entry »