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What’s trending in the Virginia? An exploration with five talented winemakers in Monticello AVA.

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Monticello AVA, view from Pollak Winery with the Blue Mountains of the Appalachian range in the background

Blind Mondays in London was the fabulous concept of Guillaume Raffy. A team of wine lovers would meet on Monday evenings in a pre selected London restaurant and bring along hidden wines, following a theme.

I’ll never forget the Nebbiolo evening.

One wine stood out. More full bodied and fruit forward than Nebbiolos I’d had before, but with that lovely seductive perfume and classic structure.

The wine was revealed – Barboursville vineyards, Virginia, Nebbiolo, part of the Zonin family.

That was about ten years ago and I’ve been planning to visit Virginia since.

To further whet my appetite the book ‘Billionaires Vinegar’ helped set the scene.

A bottle of Lafite, with the initials of Thomas Jefferson, dated 1787, was offered to Christie’s by Hardy Rodenstock, a German wine collector . He refused to say exactly where it had come from. Allegedly a hidden cellar in an unidentified 18th century house in Paris, possibly part of a Nazi hoard.

Jefferson spent time in France and was an avid wine lover. He regularly sent wine back to Monticello, his home in Virginia. He set up some of the first Vineyards in Virginia in the 1800’s.

Bottle of Chateau Lafite from Jefferson’s house in Monticello

There are now 1200 hectares of planting and 220 wineries. The AVAs are Eastern Shore, Monticello, Northern Neck, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley.

I will focus on Monticello AVA and have chosen five wineries to visit based on reviews in Decanter Magazine and from personal contacts in the wine trade.


Suggested places to stay in the area include – The farmhouse at Veritas winery, Afton mountain Vineyards and Boar’s Head Resort, near Charlottesville.

Benoit Pineau – Pollak Vineyards

The supremely talented Benoit with degrees in Oenology and Viticulture from Bordeaux Blaqufort

Winemaker Benoit Pineau took me on a mini safari around the 100 acre property, planted with 34 acres of vines.

It’s a beautiful property with a large decked tasting room overlooking a lake with the blue ridge mountains providing the backdrop.

Benoit discussed the disease pressures here in Virginia. They have high humidity and high rainfall in summer. Up to 900mm to 1000mm annually make it a relatively high rainfall region for viticulture.

Note the mounding at the base of the vines to protect the graft site for the winter

They can’t grow organically as pesticides are required. Furthermore there is a frost risk. In 2020 most of the vine growth was wiped out. Then there’s the small matter of hurricanes, which can wipe out a harvest. Not to mention Deer and Bears necessitating the perimeter fencing . Oh, and netting to prevent the birds stripping the grapes.

It’s a wonder they can make wine here at all!

The soils are mainly clay with silt so Merlot and Cabernet Franc do well here but there’s less Cabernet Sauvignon which ‘doesn’t like it’s feet wet’. They are planting their first Nebbiolo vines which explained the mounds of soil surrounding each vine base to protect the graft sites throughout the winter as in the photo above.

Wines tasted – white wines

Pollak Sauvignon Blanc 2021

French style Sauvignon, French clones, restrained

Neutral oak Crisp fresh

Served a bit cold and then opened up.

Lovely balance

Pollak Chardonnay 2020

Hints of peach, banana apples pear

Beautiful balance again

Pollak Viognier 2021

Floral and apricots.

Lovely texture, Viognier typically has lower acid

Difficult to press as skins thicker often giving a Rich oily texture

Very smooth with good length. Lovely

Pollak Pinot gris 2021

Delicious, ripe pear on the nose

Mouthfeel Is rich and slightly oily, balanced, alive, Skin thicker, Lees 4 months, Little battonage

Award winning wine. Beautifully crafted

(Vin pair voted in top 50 wines of the world)

Wines tasted – red wines

Red wines. Benoit generously served one of their best vintages 2017 which he described as perfect.

The ‘perfect’ 207 vintage selection

Pollak Cabernet Franc 2017

Fantastic with a nose of blueberries, raspberries

Tons of fruit, No greeness No herbaceousness

Delicious ripe soft tannins. Really enjoyed a Cabernet Franc without all that Capsicum greeness.

Pollak Meeitage 2017

CF 60% merlot 24% petite Verdot 16%

Beautiful balance, 18 months 40% French oak

Bordeaux blend

I didn’t realise they have to Pay a dollar case to use the name Meritage!

Ripe delicious tannins, smooth and well balanced.

Pollak smuggler 2017

Merlot 56% cf 24% CS 20%

Slightly more pyrazine and black currant

Beautiful balanced too

More structure more tannic than Meritage

Pollak Mille fleur

100% petit manseng

Petit Manseng is Popular in Virginia following Horton winery winning a competition in California.

It is however difficult to grow, has high acidity but can lose acid fast in the heat.

This was fortified and stored in barrels for 5 years

Really complex, Brazil nuts, Prunes.Delicious

A wine transfusion? Benoit’s creativity demonstrated here with bag of red wine connected by tubing to maintain full barrels

This was a great start to my exploration of Virginian wines. Benoit is passionate and focused and brings experience from working in France, California Australia and even a spell making rum in Guadaloupe! The wines tasted were top quality. It’s a shame I can’t get them at home in the UK!

One thought on “What’s trending in the Virginia? An exploration with five talented winemakers in Monticello AVA.

  1. Some of us like a bit of capsicum greeness 😉

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