A new winery opened for business near Charlottesville this week, and it appears destined to become a must-stop on the Monticello Wine Trail. Pollak Vineyards in Greenwood, Va., is opening strong with some stellar early releases.
Owners Margo and David Pollak are not new to the wine business. David was a founding partner in Napa Valley’s Bouchaine Vineyards. When they decided to return to the wine business, they looked not to California but instead to Virginia, where they found an exciting wine industry and much more accommodating real estate prices. The couple, who currently live in Ohio, bought 100 acres just west of Charlottesville in 2003, and planted 25 acres to vines.
The site would seem to be ideal - just off I-64 (to attract tourists), the vines are thriving on gently sloping land with a south-southeast exposure. When I visited late last month, a week before they opened their doors to the public, a steady wind blew in from the west through the gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Winemaker Jake Busching said the breeze is fairly constant throughout the growing season, helping keep the grapes dry against Virginia’s humidity and lessen the chances of rot. The mountain breeze also cools the grapes, especially at night, helping keep acids and sugar in balance as the grapes ripen, he explained.
This is Busching’s first turn as chief winemaker. He has worked the past 11 years with Michael Shaps, the Charlottesville area’s leading consulting winemaker who has been influential in the early successes of several wineries and last year opened the state’s first custom-crush facility, Virginia Wineworks. (See my profile of Shaps in the March 2008 issue of Washingtonian.) Shaps is also consulting at Pollak.
My first impressions of the Pollak wines were uniformly positive, and best of all, the prices of these initial releases are not in the stratosphere, as happens all too often. All Pollak wines are estate grown, with the Monticello AVA.
Pinot Gris 2007 $16. In bottle just a few weeks, this wine’s aromas were all over the place at first, but the flavors came into focus on my palate - lean and crisp with pear and some apricot and good structure.
Viognier 2007 $18. A fruit bowl in a glass, with apricot, peach and lime zest. Leaving the grapes to soak overnight on the skins - a favorite technique of Shaps’ with Viognier - gives the wine a little extra body without running the risk of letting it get flabby by leaving the grapes on the vine too long, or by using oak. Virginia is making a name for itself with Viognier, but hasn’t quite figured out its best style or price. The Pollak would be an excellent ambassador - priced so that it could be served by the glass in an ambitious wine program, and showing Virginia at its best.
Rosé 2007 $14. A deep red, attractive rosé color, and more cherry in flavor than the typical strawberry. This wine won’t make Pollak’s reputation, except in that bleeding off 5% - 10% of all the reds helps concentrate those wines.
Cabernet Franc 2006 $20. Virginia’s 2006 reds are being touted as soft, early drinking wines to enjoy while waiting for the 2005s to mature (with 2007 apparently being in the 2005 camp). This Franc is jammy, juicy, almost Californian in style (without the lavish oak, thank you, Jake!), with the peppery nose characteristic of the grape. A fun wine to bring a lip-smacking smile.
Petit Verdot 2006 $18. As he poured me a barrel sample of the 2007, Busching admitted that he has a strained relationship with Petit Verdot. “This is a varietal I don’t like until it hits bottle,” he said, tapping his nose. The grape has an unpleasant gaminess, he explained, that needs strict education in wood to overcome. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about - the barrel sample certainly needed some time to settle down, but “gaminess” was barely apparent to me, if at all. The 2006 in bottle was round and juicy, certainly more mellow, with a dry, tannic finish. Quite nice for Virginia’s new trendy red grape, and also modestly priced.
Merlot 2006 $18. Juicy, cocoa and plum, soft yet with some depth. Quite nice.
Meritage 2005 $24. The winery’s star, Cabernet Franc 44%, Merlot 43%, and Petit Verdot 13%. Quite stylish and tannic, with blackberry and currant flavors from the fruit buttressed by cola and dill from the barrels, and an extremely long, luxurious finish. This wine will indeed reward some aging, if you can wait.