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 »





Calgary Wine Life: Washington Wine Tasting @ Bricks Wine Company

16 09 2016

If you have been sucked into the vast and wonderful world of wine at some point in your life, I guarantee there will be distinct moments that you can remember with shocking clarity, a series of epiphanies around particular bottles that made you go:  “I didn’t think wine could be like that.”  You form loyalties around those bottles, the producers that created them and the regions that birthed them.  You seek them out, and those like them, and you try to find out everything about them.  They shape what you look for in wine going forward, but they also increase your awe and appreciation of wine in general, and by doing so they give you an incredible gift, a passageway into a realm that bridges art and science, sensuality and precision.

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I’ve had maybe half a dozen such bottles in my life.  One of them was the 2009 Walla Walla Syrah from Gramercy Cellars, which opened my eyes to the remarkable potential of Washington State wine and made me a lifelong proponent of the area, the winery and even the grape.  I’ve discovered since that it wasn’t a fluke:  Washington is filled with a shocking amount of top quality wine, and an array of producers pushing the envelope of what a young New World region should be able to accomplish this soon.  Even the large producers and the entry-level wines of the state come to play, somehow bypassing the plonk basement that consumers of most other areas have to wade through.  Despite all this, the gospel of Washington has been slow to spread, partly due to familiarity (“there’s world class wine WHERE?”) and partly due to price (no $14 slam dunks to be seen, at least in this market).

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All of this is why I was so thrilled to attend a Washington State wine tasting at Bricks Wine Company last night.  Bricks is the newest entry into Calgary’s impressive boutique wine scene, nestled in a historic old brick (natch) building at the start of trendy, funky Inglewood, but despite being in the process of establishing a foothold in the market, it hasn’t held back on inspired and daring wine selections, including one of the best arrays of Washington wines in town.  Regions like Washington need wine-savvy guides to take people by the hand and point them to the great wines nestled where they never thought to look; Bricks is the type of shop equipped to do just that.  And that showed in spades in the lineup of wines we tasted through, an array of luminaries that erased any questions about Washington State’s ability to stand with the elites of the wine world. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2015 Gramercy Cellars Olsen Vineyard Rosé

19 07 2016
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Think pink.  And WA State.

This is the first time in a long time that I’ve sat down to write about a wine just because I wanted to.  I love (and am continually amazed by) the opportunity this blog has afforded me to try new bottles and attend incredible tasting events, but every once in a while it’s nice to step back and recalibrate and share the experience of a wine for the sheer joy of doing so.  And since there are few things that give me more joy in this world than opening a bottle of Gramercy Cellars (my favourite producer and a winery that currently occupies about 15% of my cellar), and since I’ve been waiting for this bottle of rosé to land for months now, this is definitely the wine for the task.

The story of Gramercy Cellars is the story of America’s youngest Master Sommelier, who went from serving, then sourcing, wines for some of the pinnacle dining establishments in various major US centres to making his own in rural Walla Walla, Washington, drawn to the desert in the Pacific Northwest by the potential he saw in the area’s Syrahs.  After graduating from Cornell University, Greg Harrington attained the Master Sommelier designation at age 26 (he was until recently the Chair of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas and is now on the Board as a Chair Emeritus) while working in New Orleans for famed chef Emeril Lagasse.  Stints for Wolfgang Puck in Las Vegas and the B.R. Guest Restaurant group in New York followed, but a chance tasting of Walla Walla Syrah in NYC led to a trip out to Washington State, which very quickly led to Greg and his wife Pam quitting their jobs, uprooting their lives and fast forwarding a far-off retirement dream of making their own wine to the here and now.  For me at least, Gramercy is one of a small group of Washington producers that is unwrapping the state’s wine potential in real time, turning out nuanced, textured and ageworthy wines that turn New World stereotypes on their heads. Read the rest of this entry »





WSET Celebratory Wine Review: 2007 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah

6 02 2012

When people ask me what kind of wine I like, I'm going to pull out this pic.

Ever since I found out that I passed my WSET Advanced course last week, I’ve been wanting to break open something truly special to celebrate.  However, sickness intervened, so rather than crack a $100+ bottle and write stuff like “smells like nothing” and “my throat hurts” in a review, I decided to wait until the congestion clouds had cleared.  This weekend I pronounced myself fit to taste and rummaged through my cellar to find a suitable victory bottle, and as soon as I came to this one, I stopped thinking about any other.  However, it’s a bottle built for the long haul, so I was faced with the quandary that every wine lover about to pull the cork on an expensive bottle has had to face:  should I open the wine now so I can try it, or will I be undercutting its long-term potential by having it too early?  After getting some savvy advice from the amazingly-informed wine community on Twitter (thanks, @peterzachar and @nwtomlee!), I turned to Cayuse’s website for the final verdict.  On their FAQ page, there was a question that said:  “How soon can I open my wines?”  Cayuse’s answer?  “A Latin saying insists, ‘There are four reasons for drinking wine: the arrival of a friend; one’s present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.'”  I opened the wine.

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Wine Review: 2009 Gramercy Cellars Syrah

16 01 2012

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’d think this would be a no-brainer for me.  I pump the tires of Washington wine so hard that you’d think I was born in Tacoma.  (I wasn’t.)  In particular, I love what Washington State does to my favourite red grape of all:  Syrah.  Add in a top notch critically-acclaimed producer and it’s a recipe for a killer review, right?  At the end of the day, that’s definitely where it ended up, but it took a little while for it to get there.

Still just a baby, but clearly on the road to BIG things. Cellar if you can resist.

But let’s back up.  This is another bottle from the wine lineup of Washington’s Gramercy Cellars brought into the province by Highlander Wine & Spirits, cousin to the Third Man GSM blend that I glowingly reviewed back in mid-December.  In case you don’t feel like clicking on the link, here’s the Gramercy story in a nutshell:  young NYC Master Sommelier phenom with high-powered resto-job leaves it all behind to pursue his passion and grow Syrah in Walla Walla.  Gramercy makes other wines too (I still have a Cab and a Tempranillo downstairs waiting to be opened, and the Third Man is mainly Grenache), but Syrah is their heart and their focus.  Did I mention that tonight’s bottle is a Syrah?  And did I mention that Syrah’s my favourite?

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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.

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Wine Review: 2007 Amavi Cellars Syrah

17 06 2011

Yes, I drank the whole bottle before remembering to take a picture. Shoot me.

This is a Pop & Pour first:  a review of a wine that has been previously featured on this site, just in a different vintage.  I have very fond memories of the 2005 Amavi Syrah from Walla Walla Valley in Washington State, which bears the eternal distinction of being PnP’s first 90+ point wine (92 points) and which delivered layer after layer of complex, savoury, intriguing goodness when I had it back in March.  Skip forward two harvests and you get to tonight’s wine, Amavi’s 2007 rendition of the same Syrah from the same region, which I’ve been eagerly awaiting to compare to its predecessor ever since I bought the bottle.  The ’07 had big shoes to fill (I still vividly remember the ’05 three months later), but it definitely delivered, albeit in a very different way than I expected. Read the rest of this entry »