Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Mentoring Should Never Stop

By Doug Fabbioli

Mentoring Should Never Stop

When I look back at my career as a winemaker, I realize it started without a real mentor. I had a boss at the vineyard that overlooked one of the Finger Lakes so many years ago, but he was trying to figure out what he was doing as well. One of the reasons we moved to California was to hopefully find a position where I could learn winemaking while earning a paycheck.

Leo Hummer ran the cellar at Buena Vista Winery. He took on the mentoring role without ever making it seem like work. My first harvest, I was one of 20 temporary workers hired to help turn those grapes into wine. I was fortunate enough to keep my job through the year and when my second harvest season came around, I was leading the night shift crew. I not only learned to be mentored, but I was then teaching others the skills that I had learned the year before.

There are a number of winemaking education programs in the country, but none of that counts if you don’t have the experience. Cleaning tanks, connecting hoses, washing barrels, sorting grapes and using the forklift are all important skills that must be learned by doing. Mentoring is a practice of giving others an opportunity to make small mistakes in a way that they can learn, grow and improve.

Once I learned the cellar operations, the work ethics, and fundamental pieces needed to get the grapes through the process and into the bottle, I was ready for another level. I was guided by our head winemaker to run the barrels program covering the fermentation and aging of 4000 barrels. This gave me plenty of responsibility, but I had the guidance I needed to keep me from doing anything too stupid. I realized through those early years of my career how fortunate I was to have the culture of learning and mentoring in the workplace. This gave me the opportunity to become the winemaker and mentor that I am now.

Each of us should look back once in a while and recognize the folks that made us become who we are. Clearly our parents and teachers had an important role, but there are those that put that extra effort into giving us that helpful hint, or that seat at the big table telling us to keep our ears open and our mouth shut for the first hour. We each have those moments and those people in our lives that help make that difference. As much as we may learn in school, we need to learn so much more in the workplace and having good mentoring in place is key. Are you one of those people making the opportunity for others to learn?

This year, I have started teaching a mentoring program for our farmers through the New Ag School in Loudoun County. Teaching makes me think even more about my mentors over the years, and about who my mentor is now, even if it is from afar. I am proud to have helped a number of folks in this industry find their skills, career and business. The work of having a mentor and being a mentor is never done. If you are interested in our opportunities at the New Ag School, please send an email to info@newagschool.org.

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