Pollak Vineyards – A New Star in Virginia

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. ‚€œThis 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 ‚€œgaminess‚€ 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.
Pollak Vineyards, 330 Newtown Road, Greenwood, VA 22943. (540) 456-8844. www.pollakvineyards.com .

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