As Washington Wine Month continues, the spotlight has shifted from an online retailer in Full Pull Wines to a winemaker. This time, Greg Harrington, winemaker and owner of Gramercy Cellars, talks about Washington wine.
Washington has a gaggle of great wineries, which goes part and parcel with the great grapes that farmers and growers have tended to in eastern Washington. There are a host of ‘big name’ wineries that have accrued high scores and acclaim, all with good reason of course. Greg Harrington’s Gramercy Cellars continually puts out wines of note that are distinctive and unique. The wines tell a story and make for an interesting taste. Much like the wines, Greg is a pretty interesting dude. He started out as a Master Sommelier at restaurants on the east coast, but a siren song of winemaking drew him to Walla Walla. The rest is history.
What were some lessons you’ve learned when working with Washington grapes for your wines?
Most importantly, especially with Syrah, we are a world-class region that aligns with the best in the world. Also, we have learned that each grape and more importantly, each vineyard, has an optimal harvest date. It’s easy to say I want to make low alcohol wines or rich, powerful wines. But you can’t do it if the grape and vineyard aren’t in the optimal spot for the wines you want to make.
We have also learned that our wines lean towards a more elegant style. We have, in the past, particularly with Cabernet, tried to make a more powerful style, but it doesn’t work for us. Our palates just don’t blend wines that way. I think it’s important for the winemaker to understand their palate. For us, we trend towards more elegant wines. In the past few years, we have made changes and additions to the vineyards we work with to align with what we want to make.
Also, let the wine make itself. Don’t get involved with the fermentation and elevate more than necessary. The less we do, we are finding the better the results.
What are some of the AVAs that you’re excited about? What are some specific vineyards that show particularly good fruit?
Horse Heaven Hills – Mourvedre. It’s a fantastic spot for the variety. Perhaps as great as Bandol in France. We are also huge fans of Phinny Hill for Cabernet. We had Dick Beightol plant five acres in a rocky parcel specifically for us. Even at five years old, the vineyard is already giving us fantastic grapes.We are also looking at some cooler places to plant. We have a vineyard in Lake Chelan – Antoine Creek. It’s absolutely fantastic. One of the problems with Viognier in warmers spots is that the grape is prone to sunburn and tends to ripen extremely unevenly throughout the cluster. There can be 3-5 degree differences in the same cluster. We don’t see that from this vineyard. And it retains acidity.
We are also looking to Lake Chelan and Columbia Gorge for Syrah. We are hoping for a few spots where Syrah will get ripe at 22–22.5 brix. Also, we are hoping to plant the Serine clone of Syrah, which is monumental in the Northern Rhone.
What’s one thing you’d like to teach a Washington wine drinker that they might not already know about our state’s wine?
We have the best of both worlds. We have New World fruit and intensity and Old World earth and elegance.
What trends are you seeing in the wine industry?
I followed all the trends when I was a sommelier. I guess if I was still in the business I’d be all about Jura, Mt Etna and pet nat wines right now. But as a producer, if you want to be world class, it’s not about trends. It’s about matching variety to place to make the best wine for that place. And that takes a long time – much longer than the fickle trend cycle.
When someone asks for your elevator pitch on Washington wine, what would you say?
Washington wine is about balance, intensity and complexity. It’s a diverse place with many climates that suit many different varieties. It’s a place for both world class Rhone and Bordeaux varieties. Best of all, we are just beginning. Imagine the next 20 years.