gramercy cellars

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Even in a crowded marketplace and a down economy, some new wineries will manage to stand apart from the field. Gramercy Cellars, the project of Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife Pam, has already won a decade’s worth of accolades. In addition, his project with Jamie Brown, the cleverly-packaged, affordably-priced Wines of Substance, has acquired a ballistic life of its own – witness the rave write-up/offering from Jon Rimmerman at Garagiste. Writes Rimmerman:

“Substance (the winery) broke through last year and they haven’t looked back. Their graphics, methodology, web site and youth-movement pro-consumer pricing have made them a large presence in the pseudo-underground here in the US. Very popular with the under-30 literary college set (no surprise), the name of the game here is value and a new take on the term “New World”. Instead of over-oaked, slathered “exciting fruit” and high alcohol, they prefer to under-oak (or none at all), tone down the fruit and allow the northern climate of Washington State to provide actual natural acidity (instead of adjusting it). The result is a wine that is slightly shocking for domestic fans as it can under whelm when the palate expects to be hammered with “substance” of a more extractive form.”

On my own recent visit to Gramercy, we skipped past Substance and went directly to the namesake syrahs, cabs, tempranillos, and a new grenache being offered. It was a classic early fall day, with skittering clouds, soft air, and lush scents of harvest. The winery – still in the facility shared with Waters, though that may change – was in full fermentation mode, and Harrington noted that all the tempranillo was already in, the cabernet coming early, the merlot coming late.

He pulled out some old releases, current releases, and previews from next spring. What stood out was not just the overall quality of these wines, but that Gramercy Cellars has quickly reached a much more elusive objective – defining, probing, and producing an identifiable, individual style.

Harrington earned the Master Sommelier degree while still in his mid-20s, and had carved out a very successful career before moving from Manhattan to Walla Walla four years ago to make wine. He is driven, dedicated, and smart, and his palate was honed to perfection before he ever crushed a grape. The results speak for themselves.

On his website, he clearly states his winemaking goals: “Master Sommelier Greg Harrington spent his career overseeing some of the most prestigious wine programs in the country. His goal was always the same - to find balanced wines with limited new oak influence that taste of a specific place. This philosophy continues at Gramercy Cellars. We believe that great wines share common traits - great vineyards, minimalist winemaking, time and patience.”

The Gramercy Cellars wines are picked early, fermented on the stems, aged in mostly neutral oak, and never racked. They are not afraid of either tannins or herbal character, but they soften the tannins to a fine silkiness that sits like velvet on the palate. The fruit flavors are never monochromatic; the herbal and earthy notes always well-integrated. The vineyards are selected with unusual creativity. For example: the Gramercy Cellars 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) blends four vineyards – Pepper Bridge, Va Piano, Phinny Hill and Portteus – from three different AVAs. Great depth and intensity are the hallmarks of this muscular, intense wine. The mix of fruits, the overall balance, and the beautifully silky tannins are exceptional.

Syrahs are the primary focus here. There is a Columbia Valley syrah, a Walla Walla Valley syrah, and a reserve called John Lewis. All are outstanding. “Syrah is more like pinot noir than cabernet,” Harrington believes. “We do not pump or rack the wines; we do very gentle pushdowns; and we pick really early. If syrah doesn’t scare the s--t out of me in the fermenter it’s not right.”

Though production is climbing quickly, Gramercy’s mailing list is a good one to get on while it’s still open. New releases come out in the spring and the fall, but some wines may be pre-ordered. Highly recommended.

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