Farther along

Farther along

A year has passed since my article “From the ground up” appeared in C-VILLE’s annual food issue. I highlighted three families in that piece, each at a different stage of developing a winery. Although all three had the same goal—to make great wine in Virginia—each was taking a different path to get there. A year later, everybody’s farther along. Herewith, an update on 12 months’ growth in the Virginia wine industry.

Michelle and Jeff Sanders pose in front their field now filled with grapevines.


Margo and David Pollak toast to the success of their new winery.

For Jeff and Michelle Sanders, who moved here from Honduras, the past year has seen their dream of owning a vineyard realized. Last year, their grape vines were purely theoretical, and their 22-acre farm in Free Union was home to a herd of cows. The cows are gone, and in their place are close to five acres of grapes supporting eight different varietals. Planted in April, the vines are surprisingly lush and full, looking twice their age. “It’s gone remarkably well,” Jeff says, and after all the expense and hard work they have nothing but fun stories. Still on the fence about whether to build a winery, they are clearly having a good time. In addition to wine varietals like Barbera and Viognier, the Sanderses have also planted a small patch of Concord grapes to make juice for their two children.

Across the spectrum from the Sanderses are the Pollaks with a large, state-of-the-art winery and over 25 acres of vines. When I first visited with David Pollak and General Manager Jake Busching, the huge winery was just a skeleton and their wine was still aging in an old barn. Now Pollak Vineyards has three vintages bottled and the tasting room is up and running. The 7,000-square-foot building seemed a bit large and ostentatious to me last year, but finished it is surprisingly comfortable and homey, like a lived-in Southern plantation instead of an imposing chateau. And if the Sanderses’ vines are rushing to maturity, then the Pollaks’ winery is traveling at hyperspeed, producing great wines and attracting a lot of attention. In the early 1980s, David Pollak was part owner of a winery in California, so for him this is a return to an industry he’s always loved. And this is the right time and place to do it, Pollak notes, as newcomers to Virginia can build on the achievements of the last 10 to 15 years. If you don’t start strong now, Busching adds, then “you weren’t doing your homework.”

The younger and older generation of the Puckett family harvest grapes in 2007.

And finally, the Puckett family of Lovingston Winery, who will always have a warm spot in my heart because they seem to enjoy feeding me and getting me drunk. With three proud UVA grads in the family, moving here from Georgia was a homecoming as much as it was a business decision. Unlike the others, the Pucketts’ winery was completed and their wines were on the shelf when I first wrote about them. At the time, they were weighing the benefits of selling their wines in stores and restaurants versus at festivals and from the tasting room. A year later, they’ve given up completely on the tourist trade: “We’re going to focus our energy on what’s in the bottle and not on what bluegrass band is gonna play here on Friday,” Ed Puckett says. As we talk, the table is covered with six bottles of Lovingston wine being passed between uncles and grandparents and family friends. The winery has yet to turn a profit and the road they’re heading down is hard, trying to compete with wines of the world on store shelves and restaurant lists. “Long term,” Ed says, “it will establish a different view of what’s going on in Virginia.”

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