Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

We Farm – We Don’t Hibernate

By Doug Fabbioli

We Farm – We Don’t Hibernate

Many folks may think that farmers get to hibernate for the winter months until the sun warms the ground back up to a reasonable temperature in the spring. Mother Nature gives us a grand season each year to reap the sunshine and turn it into a product that will last for years to come, before cooling things off for a rest period. The animal farmers are always working, but we horticulturists get a bit of a seasonal shift. In agriculture, one is always in tune with the daily weather, the changing seasons, and the shifting climate. I will admit that once the grapes are all harvested, I have a bit of “empty nest syndrome.” I go out in the vineyard to scout but there is nothing I really need to look at. After seven months of daily changes to the vines, it is a weird feeling to not have the pressure of observation, evaluation, decision making, and job execution, which all greatly affect the business, on my mind. There is always work to do, though, and winter is time to catch up on the other stuff.

Shutting things down for the winter is always our first priority for this time of year. Putting antifreeze in the sprayers, taking in the garden hoses, and pushing the water out of our irrigation system are jobs that prepare our farm for colder weather and hopefully prevent damage over the winter months. We will also take down our shade tarps, put away the shade umbrellas and make sure all of our heaters are in working order. Oh yeah, how about the firewood? We have had fire pits here at Fabbioli Cellars since long before there was a winery. Hopefully we’ve cut and split enough wood early enough to give it time to season and burn well through the cooler months.

The biggest winter project that we have on the farm is pruning all of our grapevines, raspberries and fruit trees. The raspberries are rather simple but the grapes and pears are a skilled process that will define the next growing season and beyond. We will break these projects up into manageable jobs recognizing weather, crew skills, and location. We can do rough pruning and brush removal when it is colder, and keep the crew moving, warmer, and working through the chillier times. Finish pruning takes more thought and skill, so we tend to do that later in the season on those late winter and early spring days when the sun is warming and we can feel the new season awakening.

The change of seasons also gives me a chance to evaluate the year and plan for the next year. The vineyard and winery business is very long term and high capital. Making good choices along the way is critical to the success of the business and industry. Taking the time to look at trends, review inventories, build relationships, and evaluate products can be the difference between fruition and frustration. Really, these are all just fancy words that give me the excuse to sit by a fire, sip on some fine local wine, enjoy a cigar and contemplate. The grapes are in, we are still working, and life is not bad. Cheers!

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