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Hello friends. I feel like it’s an ever-rarer occasion when I get to write about a new Washington winery. It’s a combination of two factors: the pace of new wineries has slowed a bit, and the amount of room we have on our calendar for newbies has shrunk considerably.

But when Robin Pollard reached out recently and let me know her new winery is up and running and ready to roll with a Cabernet Franc from the estate vineyard, I hit reply in the affirmative about as quickly as my fingers would move:

2016 Pollard Cabernet Franc Pollard Vineyard - $33.99 (TPU $29.99) 
Because there are debutantes, and then there are debutantes. This particular debut comes from someone with a point of view honed to razor sharpness through years of working in the Washington wine industry. She’s working with estate fruit from her exciting new vineyard, with a talented grower who knows this part of Washington as well as anyone, and with one of the finest winemakers our state has ever produced.

Let’s begin with Robin herself. Farming helped define the early part of her life. She grew up on an Iowa farm and has a master’s degree in agriculture. She followed that well-trodden trail from the Midwest to the Northwest in 1994 and quickly earned a job as the state’s tourism director, a gig that introduced her to the burgeoning Washington wine industry. Robin served as the Washington Wine Commission’s Executive Director from 2005 through 2011, a serious boom period where the number of wineries more than doubled, from 360 to 740. For her next act (or one of them, anyway; Robin also has a successful coffee roastery on Vashon Island), she decided to return to her agricultural roots, and plant a vineyard in her favorite part of the state: the Rattlesnake Hills.

She teamed up with Patrick Rawn (Two Mountain Winery, Copeland Vineyard) to plant out the site in 2014. In addition to Cabernet Franc, the vineyard also has Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Rawns are extremely capable, influential growers in this part of the Yakima Valley, and the high-elevation sites that they farm are becoming more and more in-demand as winemakers chase the stylistic pendulum towards freshness and purity.

The winemaker for this project is Chris Camarda of Andrew Will fame. His own estate Two Blondes vineyard is about two miles away from Pollard, so he is quite familiar with fruit from this part of Washington. But he seemed positively dazzled by the quality of the Cabernet Franc coming off Pollard Vineyard in its third leaf, and as soon as I smelled the wine, I could see why. It pours inky into the glass and comes roaring out with a beautiful, can-only-be-Franc nose, combining raspberry fruit with Franc’s compelling green notes – spicy cress and poblano pepper – and evocative dried flowers. Everything about the growing and winemaking is meant to express the fruit and the site. Yields (1.5 tons/acre) are miniscule; new French oak (20%) is judicious. And the result is a wine pulsating with energy, a seamless stainer that seems to effortlessly fan out and coat the entire palate with Franc goodness. It’s texturally glorious, classy and polished as can be. You can practically taste the fun Chris Camarda is having working with a terrific new site like this; it’s like handing an expert painter an entirely new color.

There are really only two parts of Washington I find consistently compelling for Cab Franc: the Gorge for Brian McCormick’s Chinon ringers under the Memaloose/Idiot’s Grace label, and the Rattlesnake Hills, which can produce compelling Francs in a range of styles, from Michael Savage’s cool-climate marvels out of Copeland and Two Blondes to Sheridan’s robust, delicious examples. Pollard’s version (14.1%) falls somewhere in between. It is a balanced beauty; one of the finest debut Washington wines I can remember sampling in the past year. It’s also quite limited: just 122 cases produced, and I suspect it’ll go fast once the press catches wind of it. No promises on reorders, but we’re getting in nice and early here.


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