Last Fall, I was out in Walla Walla, Washington for a few days to ride my bike and taste some wine. And it was wonderful. The riding was great and the wines were even better, but I have not really written much about the trip in the months following the visit. Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons (some of which I hope to resolve today), but some of the best wines I tasted on the trip were at a winery that no one seems to talk about much anymore.
And I think that is a shame.
Let me back up a bit. Gramercy Cellars was founded in 2005 by Greg and Pam Harrington, New York transplants who wanted to make fabulous wines with minimal intervention. In 2008, Greg teamed up with Brandon Moss (who I have seen referred to as Assistant Winemaker and Co-Winemaker) to form a fairly formidable winemaking team and instantly started producing wines that soared to the top of nearly every list of best Washington (or even U.S.) wines.
In 1996, Greg Harrington became, at 26, one of the youngest Master Sommeliers and proceeded to run wine programs at some of New York’s top restaurants. He is one of only 261 people worldwide who currently claim the title of “Master Sommelier” generally regarded (along with “Master of Wine”) as the apex of wine knowledge and service.
(You knew there was a “but” coming….)
In the Fall of 2020, the New York Times published a rather astonishing piece by Julia Moskin, The Wine World’s Most Elite Circle Has a Sexual Harassment Problem, in which she cited six Master Sommeliers (MS) that had been accused of sexual harrassment (and cited a seventh who had already chosen to resign from the Court of Master Sommeliers based on the many allegations against him). Among those six? Greg Harrington.
Since visiting Gramercy last Fall, I have done a bit of research trying to find the nature of the allegations made against Greg Harrington, and I have still not seen them. That does not mean they don’t exist, but I am fairly certain they are not public knowledge. I did, however, find another article in the Times, roughly a year later (Nov. 2021), receiving much less attention at the time, which stated that the Court had conducted an outside investigation and concluded that six MS were to be expelled from the organization.
Not listed among the six? Greg Harrington. So even though he does not list the MS credential on his LinkedIn page, Greg Harrington appears on the websites of both the Court of Master Sommeliers in England (which is one of the absolute worst websites I have ever seen), and the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas as a current Master Sommelier (the six listed in that second Times article are not listed).
So while arguments can certainly be made about the lack of transparency from the Court, for whatever reason(s), it found that Greg Harrington’s actions did not merit his expulsion (again, I looked tirelessly for more information about the investigation, but there simply wasn’t any).
I have never met Greg Harrington, much less ever talked to him about this (or any other subject), so I have no idea what his side of the story is or how he feels about the Court or the original article in the Times. I do know that since that initial 2020 Times article, I have seen very little (if any) references to Gramercy Cellars either in “traditionall press” (The Enthusiast has published some tasting notes, but I did not find anything in The Spectator) or across the blogosphere (I have to admit, there are soooo many wine blogs, I may have missed it).
The question I pose: Is that right?
I want to make one thing clear: I am not suggesting that claims of sexual harassment are trivial or should be forgiven out of hand, but it appears that said claims against Greg Harrington were found to be not sufficient to warrant expulsion from the Court of Master Sommeliers (again, the lack of transparency from the Court is appalling, at best).
Is that enough?
I don’t know, I really don’t, but I do know that my tasting at Gramercy was incredible, some of the best wines I have tasted in a while.
And I think that is just fine to say. I would love to hear what you think.
2020 Gramercy Cellars Viognier, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $28. The grapes were picked a bit on the early side to maintain acidity. The nose exhibits really bright fruit (grapefruit, pineapple) as well as the white floral notes that one expects from Viognier. The palate is bright and fresh with really tart grapefruit, and a lengthy finish. Really fantastic. Outstanding. 92 Points.
2018 Gramercy Cellars “Third Man” Grenache, Olsen Vineyard, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $44. 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre. 85% whole cluster. I assume this wine’s name comes from the fact that the folks at Gramercy never intended to make a Grenache, they just wanted some to blend with the Syrah and Mourvèdre. Fairly light in color but rich in aromas of red berry fruit and plum with oodles of spice. Rich, intense fruit with a lovely flinty aspect and brilliant acidity. Great on its own, better with some grilled meat. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2016 Gramercy Cellars “Forgotten Hills Vineyard” Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, WA: Retail $60. 100% Syrah. 50% whole cluster, fermented in cement eggs and aged in neutral oak foudres. Estate vineyards right at the base of the blue mountains. Very cool climate. The vineyard was named thusly by Jeff Hill, who planted the vineyard in 1990, because he felt his children forgot about him when they went off to college. Fairly light in the glass and close to translucent. The whole cluster really comes through on the nose as a bit of dark earth along with lovely red raspberry and spice. Bright and focused on the intense raspberry and cranberry fruit, bookended with significant spice and a zingy tartness. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2017 Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Red Willow Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $65. 100% Syrah, 90% whole cluster, 10% new French oak. A “lagniappe” is an extra gift, a bonus, which is the way Gramercy saw this wine, originally a blend of juice from Yakima and Walla Walla. Since 2010, fruit from Red Willow Vineyard was increasingly added until 2016 when it became a vineyard-designated wine. The vineyard boasts the first Syrah planting in the state, and the nose exhibits rich red and a touch of black fruit with oodles of spice. Rich and unctuous on the palate and definitely on the big side of Syrah. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2017 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $60. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot. From several vineyards, one 50 years old. Rich and lovely blue and black fruit with a refreshing herbal (mint?) on the nose, this is even better on the palate with explosive, expressive fruit, a shot of acid, followed by some supple but noticeable tannins. Could use a bit of cellar time. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2016 Gramercy Cellars John Lewis Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, WA: Retail $85. 85% Whole Cluster. A barrel selection of the three top vineyards associated with Gramercy: Forgotten Hills, Red Willow, and Les Collines (Block 46), and winemaker Greg Harrington proclaimed this 2016 to be perhaps his favorite wine he’s made at Gramercy. And who am I to argue? Whoa. Lovely nose punctuated by that woody, flinty whole cluster aspect. Black raspberry, black pepper, clove. Yowza. Rich, luscious fruit. Really gorgeous fruit. Whoa. But far from being a fruit bomb, this is still decidedly Old World in attitude with healthy amounts of acidity and verve. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2017 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Reserve, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $95. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Same two vineyards as the standard Cab: Bacchus and Phinny Hill. Only the best barrels are selected, which usually ends up being about 5 or 6 barrels. Whoa. Lovely color and enchanting nose of blackberry and blueberry. Plum. Luscious, but nowhere near over the top. Whoa. Holy cow. The fruit is intense but well-trained—not one to show off barking or jumping all over you. Great acidity and depth with some tannins, yes, but once again soft and approachable. I am by no means a “Cab guy” but this wine is on the verge of transformational, causing me to rethink what wines I like to drink. Yowza. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.
2018 Gramercy Cellars Estate Cabernet, Walla Walla Valley, WA: Retail $60. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. Produced in the same fashion as the reserve. Whoa. Pretty closed on the nose (a bit cold) but the palate is amazing. It starts out quite slowly but then roars in on the mid-palate with that classic intense but reserved fruit that seems to be Gramercy’s jawn. Yowza. Outstanding. 93 Points.
What a shame. A stupid shame. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will ever end. Sad for his family and business. But that viognier looks perfect. I’ll see if I can locate some here.
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Thanks for the comment, Mimi. I am not sure if it will ever end, but I am pretty sure it won’t without more transparency. “The Court” has been an old boys club for so long, it has been challenging for it to change.
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Great article. Outstanding wines and from what I know, a great guy. An unfortunate set of circumstances.
Thanks for the comment. I really liked the wines (so much so that I paid retail for a couple of bottles!). Hopefully, the Court will figure it out.