Name: Greg Harrington
Location: Seattle & Walla Walla
Winery: Gramercy Cellars
How long have you been at this: 6 years
1. Who or what inspired you to become a winemaker?
A trip to Washington. Visiting Walla Walla, we realized that one could make earthy balanced wines. We decided to retire there in the future. This quickly became “let’s sell everything we own in NYC this year and move to Washington.” I would advise our business plan – no winemaking expertise, shoestring budget, in a place we had only visited once.
2. If you weren’t working with wine what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Writing greetings and poems for Hallmark card…I’d probably still be in the restaurant business.
3. What current wine trend do you particularly like (or dislike)?
I LOVE the Rosé trend. I also love the trend towards more balanced wines, especially by wineries that are pushing the envelope. I can’t stand natural wines that people rave about just because they are natural. Why is one wine fault bad, but then you put three faults together and the wine is now good? Chocolate wine is also a silly trend.
4. What is your go-to wine (varietal, region) – other than Washington, of course!
Nebbiolo in Piemonte – Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero. I’m also really intrigued by Nerello Mascalese in Sicily, the Etna region. Amazing elegance and balance.
5. What’s your favorite wine and food pairing?
The best food and wine pairing I ever had was 1985 La Tache and mashed potatoes. Seriously. There is something about potatoes and Pinot Noir that is absolutely amazing. For a basic paring, Syrah with any grilled 4 legged animal is fantastic. Food and wine pairing in 5 sentences –
1) If a white wine is crisp without oak, if you can put lemon on the food, the paring works
2) If a white wine is full bodied with oak, if you can put butter on the food, the paring will work
3) If you have a red wine that you can read the newspaper through, it will go with fish that weigh more than 20 lbs and two legged animals
4) If you can’t read through the wine, it will go with 4 legged animals.
5) Fruity sauces get fruity wines, earthy sauces get earthy wines.
Anything more than that, and you are over thinking it.
6. What advice can you offer to a first time wine drinker?
Figure out what YOU like, not what the critic likes. If you get into imported wines, look at who imported the bottle. Chances are you will like other wines imported by the same company. That’s the easiest way to start learning imported wine. Remember, not all wines are made for sitting on the porch and drinking. Some wines absolutely require food and only reach their potential with food.
7. “I want to own a winery and make wine.” – Any Advice?
Get a job on Wall Street or as a flight attendant. You will need massive cash and free travel. Definition of winemaking – 49% cleaning stuff, 49 % moving heavy stuff around, 2% drinking beer. It’s a super tough industry. You have to have a focus, great story, reason for existence and sheer determination. With a little luck, it is possible. But you will eat, sleep, and always be thinking about or working on the winery. And you will not get rich, but everyone will ask you for donations.
8. If you could make wine with any winemaker in the world, who would it be?
1- Jesus at Cana
2- Marius Gentaz-Dervieux in Cote Rotie, but unfortunately he is passed.
9. What do you like to do when you are not making wine?
I seem to have a passion for airplane seats. I love to get outside in Washington’s outdoors. I climbed Mt Rainier in 2009. And cooking. We just remolded our house and it looks like the kitchen at the French Laundry.
10.What charitable organization pulls at your heartstrings?
As a Christian, I gravitate towards anything that is human needs based – food, water, shelter. I volunteer at Union Gospel Mission, especially in the kitchen. I highly suggest this and they always need help. I also think FareStart is a great organization.
11. What do you think Washington wines will be known for in 25 years, as compared to now?
Cabernet, Syrah and Grenache. Especially Grenache. It’s an outstanding varietal in WA and we are only just beginning to understand it here. This could be the best place outside of the Southern Rhone for Grenache. Tempranillo also shows well, especially on the Walla Walla Valley floor.
12. Who in the wine industry should we be watching?
The lobbyists. There are too many people with bad, protectionist agendas and big checkbooks. Small wineries – this is the heart and soul of the business. People like Jon Martinez at Maison Bleue, Anna Shafer at aMaurice and Justin Wylie at Va Piano.
13. Winery pet and name?
Hyde. Our assistant winemaker, Brandon Moss’ dog.
14. What’s something about you that few people know?
When I was 16, I was asked to break dance on Italian television. I also never had a glass of wine until I was 21. It was at the Cornell Hotel School with Prof Steve Mutkoski. The class had 800 students. It’s pass/fail and I almost failed it. Now they actually ask me back every year to guest lecture.
15. Something about your winery that few people know?
We invite random people from the tasting room to dinner all the time. We usually all have dinner together on Saturday nights (I make some mean Texas BBQ) and often, when we find customers in the tasting room that we really connect with we invite them over for dinner. Sometimes it really freaks them out as they think there is a catch. But we absolutely love doing this. The customers are the best part of the entire business. I also make all our employees read Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. A winery is a restaurant in slow motion and restaurant hospitality really lends itself to winery customer service.
16. What is the strangest place you’ve served your wine?
My Mom took a bottle to Antarctica.
17. Describe your wine in 5 words or less.
Elegance and balance in Washington.
18. What do you like most about the Auction of Washington Wines weekend?
Seeing customers, winemakers and friends all in one spot.
Meet Greg Harrington at the upcoming Auction of Washington Wines 25th anniversary celebration, August 16-18.
Visit www.auctionofwashingtonwines.com for more information.