Once, twice, three times a wine

"We were probably at the brewery.” Emily Hodson Pelton is recalling a fateful conversation with fellow winemakers Jake Busching and Matthieu Finot, when Busching chimes in.

“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if…?’”

Matthieu Finot (left) of King Family Vineyards, Emily Hodson Pelton of Veritas Vineyard and Winery and Jake Busching of Pollak Vineyards combine their efforts and expertise to develop 3,
a limited edition collaboration wine.

And that, wine lovers, is how great ideas are born: A couple of brewskis in Nelson County and an idle rumination about other kinds of unexplored fun. Or at the very least, that’s how the winemakers from Veritas Vineyard and Winery (Pelton), King Family Vineyards (Finot) and Pollak Vineyards (Busching) came up with the concept for 3. Or, as Pelton explained at a recent blending trial that brought the winemakers together in Finot’s barrel room: “Three wine-
makers, three wineries, three vineyards, three varietals, one wine.”

3 will be a limited edition blended wine from this trio of young and successful winemakers. As Pelton says, they “work within spitting distance of each other.” And they’re all friends. King Family is located in Crozet with Pollak a few miles west in Greenwood and Veritas just over the Nelson County border in Afton. “For me, it was making sense,” says Finot, the Frenchman among the group of three friends. “Three wineries working on the same hillside with the same terroir. And our objective as winemakers is the same: to make premier wine.”

On this early November afternoon, when they invite a reporter and photographer to leave the office for some wine tasting of the 2009 vintage and conversation (Please! Twist our arms! Harder!), they are concocting the final blend for 3. Pelton contributed the Petit Verdot, with Finot  adding the Merlot and Busching the Cabernet Franc. “The nose on it—it’s working,” Finot declares.

But while the assertive, fragrant red wine seems destined for quick success—and at a 150-case run, you’re well advised to buy it as soon as it’s available at the wineries, because it will certainly run out—it required a tad of persuading to get the winery owners to sign off on the concept.  “It took a little explaining,” says Pelton. “I don’t think anyone else in Virginia has done it before so, yes, it was unusual,” adds Finot. 

Finot, Busching and Pelton are each closing in on about a decade of winemaking, and they are trusted colleagues. But, as Busching points out, winemaking is a highly individual creative form, too. Tapping into that was as much a motivation for 3 as any marketing across wineries might have been. “People say it’s artistry,” he says. “A lot of what drives us is creative desire. To get outside of what is not exactly a routine—but still—to get outside of that is very refreshing.”

It’s easy to think that with an ever-growing regional wine industry, wineries and winemakers might be competitive and unwilling to collaborate. Pelton says that if one winemaker asks another about techniques or styles in a way that cuts too close to the bone, he might get rebuffed. But those instances are rare. “There’s not just one way to make wine,” adds Busching. “There’s an appreciation for creative differences amongst the group. There are not a lot of closed doors in the Monticello AVA.”

3 will be bottled over the winter, and beyond that the only other outstanding detail is getting all the interested parties (e.g. the winery owners) to sign off on a label, which all agree should look like the kind of hand-drawn chalk mark that a winemaker leaves on a barrel of aging wine. Meanwhile, the trio of 30something Virginia winemakers is at work creating the 2010 vintage of 3. And they’re looking ahead to a future that sounds remarkably like the start of their combined venture: “The idea of sitting down to dinner in a couple of years and drinking this wine with these guys is great,” says Busching.

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