Polo is my life

Polo is my life

Crozet is gettin’ right fancy these days. A few years ago, the town was crawling with movie stars, and now the urban sprawl is getting so bad, it won’t be long before it’s all freeways, road rage, and smog-enhanced sunsets. With at least four wineries in the immediate vicinity, the Californication of Crozet seems to be moving right along, and if Foxfield has been ruined for you by the splatter of co-ed vomit, then let me suggest a replacement: the Pink Ribbon Polo Cup, held every year at King Family Vineyards, a fashionably dressed, family-friendly charity event, all proceeds of which go toward local breast cancer research. Crozet: If the locals aren’t stomping grapes, they’re stomping divots.

Texas transplants Ellen and David King started their winery in 1998, but the 327-acre farm doubles as a vehicle for their first love, polo. While most local vineyards are tucked into hills or sheltered by trees, the view from the covered porch of the King Family winery is truly epic, a sun-drenched sea of soft, carpet-like grass, smack dab in the middle of which is the polo field, one of the few places where Virginia’s horse and mallet junkies can get their fix.

Charlottesville Polo Club President Tayloe Dameron makes the 100-mile drive from his home in Charles City, Virginia, to pursue what his wife, Suzy, calls the “family sport.” Their daughter, Emily, is a forth generation polo player, and the recently graduated star of her high school varsity polo team. In the fall, she’ll be coming to Charlottesville to play polo for UVA. She is easily the youngest rider on the field, and on her pink-accented gray horse, she’s like a more active Daisy Buchanan, beckoning to us from a long ago American dream. Or at least from a strange world where high schools have polo teams.

Mixed double: David King, along with his wife, Ellen, own a 327-acre farm that’s part winery and part polo playground.

At this year’s fourth annual Pink Ribbon Polo Cup, I have the opposite problem from Foxfield: All these horses keep distracting me from my drinking. One of last year’s bigger items of local wine news was the split between winemaker Michael Shaps and King Family Vineyards. Shaps’ name was arguably a bigger draw than the Kings’, and new winemaker Matthieu Finot has large shoes to fill. Tasting the wines in the late morning before the match begins, it’s clear to me that so far he’s succeeding. With Burgundian Chardonnays and reds that are structured and elegant, but not lacking in heft, the standard Shaps set for quality is still being met. The big hit in the summer heat is the Tavel-like Crosé, perhaps the best rosé in the area. It will be interesting to watch this second phase of the winery’s development, as they’ve already begun 2008 with a bang, winning two gold medals, including best-of-show, at this year’s Monticello Cup.

The polo field seems to stretch on forever, the rolling green flecked with pink. Handsome men and women in white pants and brown riding boots swing their arms in gloriously rapid circles, the crack of the mallet on the ball trailing the movement of the arm the way the sound of a jet engine trails the plane. I ask Downtown Charlottesville resident Jon Bray what he thinks of his first polo match. “I think it’s ridiculous,” he says thoughtfully. “Absolutely ridiculous. But it’s awesome.”

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