Washington Rhônes; a Session with Greg Harrington, MS

Seattle 034Have you ever noticed the different aromas of grape stems? According to Greg Harrington, Master Sommelier and owner of Gramercy Cellars, it isn’t the color of the stems, green versus brown, that is the determining factor when deciding whether or not to use them in his whole cluster wines. It is the aroma. The stems that smell like sweet peas add not just tannin but also aroma to his wine.

Gramercy Cellars is located in Walla Walla Washington and was founded in 2005 by Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. They came to Washington because they were excited about the Rhône varietal wines that were coming out of the state. Walla Walla is proving to be a great match for Syrah and other Rhône varieties. One thing that makes it a good area for grapes is what the wine makers refer to as ‘the rocks bump.’ Just as the vineyards of Châteuneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône of France are covered with ‘galets’ or large rocks, so too are the vineyards of the Walla Walla region of Washington covered with large rocks. These vineyard rocks add an earthy, meaty quality to the wine that has been dubbed the ‘rocks bump.’

Grenache was the first Rhône variety planted in Washington state in the 1960’s. Through the 1980’s Syrah, Mouvedre and Viognier were planted. The 1990’s saw a good deal of clonal diversity. Today there are several Rhône varieties doing quite well in Washington. The number one white variety is Viognier followed by Marsanne, Roussane, Picpoul and Grenache Blanc. The biggest red planting for Rhone varieties is Syrah followed by Grenache, Mouvedre, Cinsault, Carignon, and Counoise.

The Gramercy Syrah 2011 is a whole cluster wine made with 100% Syrah. It has aromas of blackberry, purple flowers, a hint of the green stem tannins and tangy cherry on the finish . Crisp and full bodied, it is an elegant Syrah. The Gramercy Mouvedre 2011 is 90% Mouvedre with 5% Syrah and 5% Cinsault. They call the blend L’Idiot du Village. The Mouvedre in this wine has the ‘rocks bump.’ L’Idiot du Village has dark fruit and smoky meat aromas with a smooth texture and a silky finish.

Proper Winery, also in Walla Walla makes a Syrah with the ‘bump.’ With aromas of bacon, pepper and black cherry, it is a substantial Syrah.

Kerloo Cellars’ Syrah out of Walla Walla has a distinct kalamata olive aroma with a good crisp finish.

The Ross Andrew winery makes a red blend called Force Majeure from Red Mountain vineyards. There are aromas of iron, smoke, dark fruit, tar, chocolate, cranberry and deep forest with a tangy coffee finish.

Kevin White’s blend is the classic GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre) blend. It has aromas of tangy red fruit with a hint of rose and spice. It is a very fresh tasting wine.

Walla Walla has a lot of new wineries that are finding the terroir to be a great home for the Rhône varieties. It is in area that is growing in more ways than one. Wine makers aren’t just experimenting with clones, they are exploring different ways of making wine, such as, moving to concrete fermentation and employing sustainable practices. But mostly, they are making great wine.

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5 comments on “Washington Rhônes; a Session with Greg Harrington, MS

  1. Rhone has long been one of my favorite regions; it never occurred to me that US wineries were looking to experiment with clones. Very exciting!

  2. bronxboy55 says:

    Does anyone know exactly what effect the rocks have on the wine? Do they add minerals to the soil?

    I’m glad to have found your blog. I know little about wine, so I’m learning a lot.

    • foxress says:

      Great question. There are three things that the rocks do for the flavor of the wine. 1. The rocks retain heat which warms the soil, allowing a longer ‘hang time’ for the grapes. The longer the hang time, the more developed the flavors. 2. The rocks do effect the soil as you suspect. They add iron, calcium and titanium. But rather than those elements giving the grapes a mineral flavor, they give the grapes an earthy, smoky flavor. 3. The poorer the soil quality, the more the vine has to struggle. The more a vine struggles, the lower the yield of the plant, but the more concentrated the flavors in the fruit produced. Rocks make life very difficult (but not impossible) for the vines. These three factors combined are what give the Walla Walla reds their very distinctive flavors. Try one and let me know what you think. Thank you for the great question. And thank you for stopping by!

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