Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Back to Basics

By Doug Fabiolli


Back to Basics


      Our agricultural mentoring program got a big boost a few weeks ago. Now I really need to step up my game to teach better, say the best words and act like a grown up. I hope I can keep the illusion of knowledge going.

Along those lines, I wanted to say a few words about making great wine. I was talking to a potential winery owner the other day and found myself giving advice as I usually do. So here are a few thoughts:


Have a vision for your wine: Plan your best to match the grapes available with the style of wine you want and with what the customers will be looking for. If it’s a small batch, being experimental or creative is fine. But if you are making a large batch of wine, it’s best to stay on proven ground. Some folks have more ability to absorb a miscue than others. Our first batch of Raspberry Merlot was a lot smaller than our current batches.


Focus on the fruit: Making flavorful wine is much more possible if you have flavorful fruit to do it with. Good canopy management, timely fruit thinning, balanced vines and the right varieties grown in the right location are all important subjects for growers to focus on. As the winemaker, you have to build the relationship with the grower that can deliver you the quality you need. Best is to be a grower first before you are a winemaker. As you can grow your own you always have it available – you just need to make that commitment.


Harvest Decision: Make sure that the fruit is to the ripeness level that fits with the vision. The ripeness for the Rose’ is going to be different than for a full bodied red. Sometimes Mother Nature may change the vision of the wine because of weather and fruit conditions.


Don’t overplay the Oak: It’s easy to add new barrels to a wine, it only takes money. Using the right barrels at the right amount takes experience and that cannot be purchased. Trust your cooper, keep the fruit forward and do some experiments to find your style. Oak can be added but not removed.


Keep it Clean: 90% of winemaking is cleaning. Keep the tanks, barrels, equipment and cellar clean. If there is funkiness in the cellar, it will make it into the wine. That is not terroir, it is an infection. Filtering can help keep the bottles consistent but regimental cleaning will keep many challenges away.


These are just a few thoughts to those few folks that may be thinking about this industry as a career change. A few other folks may appreciate the big picture we use sometimes to keep the little details in site. The perspective may change but understanding the big picture is always a good way to learn the things that are important.

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