Gramercy Cellars has earned an international reputation for fantastic Rhone wines. I recently had the great opportunity to speak with Brandon Moss, who heads wine production at Gramercy. Brandon previously worked harvests at King Estate in Oregon and even in New Zealand. He has a background in fermentation science, as he knew right away that winemaking was the career for him. Upon returning to Walla Walla be became cellar master at Waters Winery before joining Gramercy as assistant winemaker. In 2011 Brandon became a partner in Gramercy Cellars. He and Greg Harrington, MS, Gramercy’s founder, have formed an incredible team. I was very impressed with my recent run through of 2013 releases from Gramercy. Brandon talked about his background with me, as well as some of the great wines that he produces. Here is my interview with Brandon Moss, Production Winemaker at Gramercy Cellars
WWB: How were you initially interested in wine and winemaking?
BM: I initially became interested in wine while I was in college at Oregon State. I was in the Pre Dental program at OSU and was destined to be a dentist. I had a very small wine shop next to my house and started going in to the shop regularly and trying bottles. He would also hold weekly wine tastings that I would attend. This sparked my interest in wines of the world and definitely opened my eyes to wines I would have never tried on my own. Around the same time I started to brew beer with a friend that was in the Fermentation Science program at OSU. As I read more about wine I knew that was really what I wanted to do with my life. I switched majors to Fermentation Science immediately and the rest is history.
WWB: Can you talk about your winemaking background? What was it like working at King Estate and in New Zealand?
BM: Originally out of school I really wanted to stay and work in the Willamette Valley. I knew I wanted to work in some bigger wineries to see all the technology and logistics involved that you do not see at boutique wineries. King Estate was working a lot with Organic viticulture and winemaking which was very interesting to me. King Estate was a great experience as we got to see the Organic side of winemaking from all of our estate fruit as well as making wines using more technology with some of the purchased fruit. I handled most of the inoculations for King Estate which really sparked my interest in different yeast profiles for wines.
After vintage was done at King Estate I knew I wanted to travel. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were always wines I liked drinking so I thought it would be a good fit. I worked at a large winery called Indevin that made wine for some big wineries such as Oyster Bay but also produced wine for smaller producers and farmers in the Marlborough area. At Indevin I helped to run the presses for Sauvignon Blanc which was very intense as we brought in more than 15,000 tons of fruit.
Coming back from New Zealand I was still very interested in working in the Willamette Valley but my best friend growing up had started a winery in the Walla Walla Valley. He told me I should come out to taste and see Walla Walla before going back to the Willamette. I came and was blown away with the wines and decided Walla Walla was the home for me.
WWB: What is it like working alongside a mastermind like Greg Harrington? Have you learned some specific techniques from him in terms of tasting wines and winemaking?
BM: I have learned so much working for Greg. I came on with the winery in 2007 just two years after Greg had started the winery. At that time we were making just about 1000 cases. We have since built the winery to 10,000 cases. Greg’s knowledge of the world of wine has been invaluable. He has implemented many philosophies on winemaking from the Old World such as stem inclusion and non-interventionist winemaking. Many of the practices that he wanted to implement I had never seen before as I had worked in larger more technology driven wineries. Greg has also taught me so much in terms of tasting wines and learning from the wines we taste. We regularly taste bench mark wines so we can assess our goals for our wines and compare our wines to the Old world standards. This has significantly affected our ideas on ripeness in our grapes and how to handle our wines in the winery.
WWB: Gramercy has earned a nationwide reputation for strong Rhone style bottlings. Can you talk about the new 2013 releases and the future vintages of 2014 and 2015?
BM: We have had a string of warm vintages in the last 3 years. 2013 was definitely a warm growing season and was above historical averages. But 2014 came in with even more heat units than 2013 and then 2015 with even more heat units than 2014. I think that dealing with the heat from 2013 definitely prepared us for the next couple of vintages. We learned that despite having a warm vintage we could still pick early in our vineyards and preserve the freshness and acidity in the grapes. Warm vintages tend to encourage winemakers to pick riper but we definitely held strong to our convictions and picked the grapes in our normal 22-23 brix range. The 2013 wines are showing beautifully right now. They are much more open than the 2012’s were upon release. By picking early in our vineyards in 2013 we were still able to keep to the Gramercy style making food friendly low alcohol acid driven wines.
WWB: I was hugely impressed with your 2012 Gramercy 'The Deuce' Syrah which landed at #33 on my 2015 Top 100. Can you talk about this dense, layered and seductive wine, as well as the winemaking behind this wonderful Walla Walla Syrah?
BM: The Deuce Syrah is definitely one of my favorite wines we make at the winery. This wine is created to show our best Syrah sites in the Walla Walla Valley. One our favorite vineyards in Walla Walla is Les Collines. It is on the east side of the Walla Walla Valley nestled up against the Blue Mountains at around 1300 ft. elevation. We love Syrah from this part of the Valley as temperatures there are consistently cooler as well as the vines receive more rainfall. The wines from Les Collines definitely work very well for whole cluster fermentation. Most of the fermentations from Les Collines are 100% Whole cluster fermented. For Gramercy we don’t normally do single vineyard wines as we like to build complexity in the wines by using vineyards that will complement each other. We blended in 15% SJR Syrah from the newly created, Rocks District of Milton Freewater. The wines from the “Rocks” consistently show savory and umami flavors backed up a core of blue and black fruit. It blends very well with Les Collines and definitely brings out the savory nuances in the wine.
WWB: When you are not drinking Gramercy reds, what is typically in your glass? Do you have any favorite Washington wines?
BM: I definitely love the wines of the Northern Rhone some of my favorites are Pierre Gonon, Jamet, Chave, and Thierry Allemand. But I change wine preferences depending on the season. It is nearly Rose season so right now stocking up on Peyrassol and Tempier rose as well as some Txakoli. I also love drinking anything from the Loire as well Oregon Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In terms of Washington I am really liking the wines made at Reynvaan, Rasa, Cayuse, and Rotie Cellars. They are making really unique Rhone wines and I definitely recommend getting your hands on any of the wines from these producers.