By Doug Fabbioli
You’re winemaker of the year, now act like it!
At the Loudoun Wine Awards last month, some of us were recognized for our efforts in the local wine industry. Bonnie Archer is the tireless co-owner of Zephaniah Vineyards and was acknowledged for her hospitality and leadership in the tasting room. Quintin Garcia, my compadre, learned vineyard management from me many years ago and was recognized for his efforts at Sunset Hills Vineyard as well as the many other vines he has touched over the years. As for me, the acknowledgement was because my feet are big enough that I can float on top of the grapes rather than sink.
Seriously, I could give a big shout out to those that voted to bestow this honor on me, but I prefer to give a nod to those that worked to build us up to where we are today. It all starts in the vineyard with the workers learning and working to give attention to each vine from the day they are planted, continuing through the training and on to working each vintage to help that vine produce the best it can. The key is the leadership from my foremen to keep consistency from the team even as the vines don’t all grow the same way.
We make a plan for a wine long before we harvest the grapes. I sit with Sevi, Meaghan and Ben to review the types and quantities of grapes coming in, and we make the processing plan for each to turn them into the wines we are looking to make. The execution of that plan happens with specific timing as the wine progresses from the grape, through fermentation and on into aging. As we begin blending our wines, I work to use the vision of what these wines should be in the future. I also work to share this vision so my team sees what I see, but also they can develop their own ability to see the wine future. Finally the tasting room staff, or front of house, continues to work to present our wines in a way that shows them as the unique and stylistic wines that they are. I share my thoughts with the team on how and why we made what we did. They pass that knowledge and vision on to our customers in a welcoming and hospitable way.
I have realized that my being awarded Winemaker of the Year for Loudoun County is really about leadership. Winemaking has always been a group effort. Even as a home winemaker, I built a great team for picking, crushing and bottling. But I have worked over the years to build a region in northern Virginia of vineyards and wineries as well. As a consultant, I have helped numerous vineyards get planted and wineries open their doors. But reaching beyond that has been encouraging the other farmers to expand their products, niche farming, other rural businesses and constant collaboration to feed each other’s businesses.
So with our other rural businesses thriving and more on the way, are we creating a community where “Live, Work and Play” is possible? Certainly many folks will live in the country and travel into the cities to work. That won’t change, but the effort to create agriculture based jobs and businesses in the rural areas make this land productive and valuable for generations to come. Helping people see that, promoting governmental policy to encourage that and enjoying our accomplishments in this culture shift is what I have been tasked to do. As an industry leader, this all seems to fit well for the greater good. We may not get filthy rich from what we do, but life is good, the bills usually get paid and we have some pretty terrific views from the office. We even get some great recognition every once in a while.