By Doug Fabbioli
There is a lot of tradition in the wine industry. France is probably the most consistent enforcer of the traditions. Their laws insist that only certain grape varietals are planted in certain areas. We in America are fortunate that we have the right to plant any varieties anywhere we choose. Mother Nature will decide which vines will thrive, and which ones will be more challenging to grow. Some may show promise but don’t develop the flavor. Some may have great flavor, but only produce a small amount of fruit – making it inefficient to grow. We make the choices, but many times Mother Nature feeds us the answers.
The great thing about this process is that we can discover varieties that can grow here that would not have been considered in other systems. Viognier, Tannat, Petit Manseng, Albariño and Petit Verdot have all found success in our state because we have the ability to try new things. Virginia has somewhat committed that Viognier is the state grape, but I am hard pressed to find a grower or a winemaker that is all in on this decision.
Some other regions have latched onto a certain variety and make that their signature. Oregon has made a strong commitment to Pinot Noir. This has worked well for them but it has its downside as well. There are microclimates in every growing area. Some smaller pockets of land may be great for Cabernet Sauvignon, but the general public will assume that only Pinots can be grown in Oregon. The state is kind of big, and not all sites are the same.
Also, wines can go in and out of favor with the American wine public. Fifteen years ago, Rose styled wine was out of style like bell bottoms. Well, now I hear they are back and more popular than ever. Now Rose is a style, but the consumer preference game can shift at any given time. Ask the Zinfandel growers in the 1970’s. Before White Zinfandel, you could not give away a Zin grape.
At Fabbioli Cellars, we have been quite diverse in our product line by including a few fruit wines, ciders and ports along with our more classic reds and whites. As a smaller producer, we can make smaller batches and have the ability to increase or decrease production based on demand. We may sell off excess fruit or create a new blend with the juice that needs a home. I never suggest that other wineries copy what we do, but I believe that Virginia is still a very new wine region and needs lots more history to find concurrence on a few grape varieties. Winemakers and grape growers like their freedom to work their fruit and styles. By picking one variety for the state, we automatically downgrade all of the other varieties we have planted.
Virginia can make some outstanding classic Bordeaux styled reds as well some beautiful varietal wines that show the purity of the fruit as it is grown here. We also produce stylistic wines with artistic flare using techniques or fruits that may have been rediscovered by the latest generation of industry leaders. All of this comes down to embracing our options. A well-made wine can always find a following even if it’s small. Enjoy our diversity!