What’s Your Style?
By Doug Fabbioli
As I sit back and think about planting and the types of vines I want to put in the ground, I realize that there is a good bit of guessing and prospecting to it. What will the customers be drinking in ten years, and how much of it? What styles will be popular? Is there a grape that will grow in both current and future growing conditions that will fit the bill? Is there already enough of that variety grown in this region? Lots of questions, but how about some answers?
As a relatively seasoned winemaker, I have learned a few things over the years about wine styles and about making guesses as to future demands. Experimenting with new varietals helps us find out what works and what doesn’t, and can lead to “the next big thing” that the customers fall in love with. Planting what grows best in your climate and on your particular site is the most important choice, but experimental plantings can be fun. When you’re trying out a new grape on a small scale, though, it’s important to make sure your experiment fits into the reality of a larger scale operation. This means you can’t coddle the dozen or so vines in your trial in a way that you could not do on a larger scale. On the other hand, you can’t ignore any special needs they may have, either. If planting some vines to experiment, make sure you make time for said experiment.
Getting those grapes through the cellar and into the glass is where the style comes in. Many grapes are used as varietal wines, highlighting the fruit characteristics, tannin structure, and acid balance that each particular grape variety is known for. Other grapes can be processed and blended to become a house style wine or a Rosé, to be sweeter, drier, port styled, or something else. Winemakers have many tools available to create the wines that will sell. Blending varietals can make some fabulous wines that show more balance, fruit, and style. We can use alcohol content, sweetness levels, and acid adjustments to highlight the flavors, softness, and weight of a wine. Barrel aging and influence can make a strong impact, too: oak characteristics can bring dynamic flavors and tannin structure to balance the fruit, acid, and alcohol.
There is plenty of culture and legal structure keeping wine true to its base and traditions, but with today’s ever-changing craft beverage palate, we want to have wines that are approachable and consumer friendly. By using science, market research, local farm products, and a bit of artistry, I think we can have it all, meeting the demands of a broad customer base.
One hundred percent of the liquid in every wine you drink comes from the plants the farmers grow and reflect the farmer’s work and efforts. Recognizing that wines can break away from tradition, staying true to the local farmer, and creating some great flavors and styles that will please the consumer, all while paying off some bills, is important. Virginia is fortunate to have many, many great wineries, winemakers, and farmers producing some fantastic wines. Get out and explore them, and don’t be afraid to try something new with some older roots.