Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Mentoring Leads to Success

By Doug Fabboli

Each of us has been mentored in one way or another. Whether it is a parent, a teacher, a coach, a scout leader, a supervisor, a camp counselor, an older sibling, a religious leader, or any other person who has been a little further down the road of life and is willing to lend a hand to the next person coming along, everyone can point to someone who has influenced and taught them.

I have been fortunate enough to learn my craft from some solid mentors who helped me along the way. Some were seasoned cellar workers that taught me the operations of wine, while others were well regarded consultants that knew the right words to say to me at the right time, giving me the boost or lesson that I needed in order to move forward. The more I find myself mentoring others, the more I look back to those who taught me. And after all these years in the business, I try to keep my humility and continue learning from others I admire, even if from afar. That, by the way, is the biggest lesson: keep humble and keep learning.

Over the decades, I have taught many people the process of grape growing, winemaking, and building a business in this industry. Some took a few classes from me, some paid me as a consultant to teach them and their team, and others worked for me gaining the experience here at Fabbioli Cellars. Back in 2008, Melanie Natoli had been working part time in a tasting room, but wanted to learn the process of winemaking. She asked me which university she should choose if she wanted to pursue this career. As she already had a master’s degree in Physical Therapy and a full time job in that field, I gave her the opportunity to work here part time to see if this was really what she wanted. A higher education is always helpful for a winemaker, but it isn’t a necessity. The ability to learn and apply is the key, along with the physical capacity to do the job.

Melanie worked with us for a number of years, eventually shifting to a full time position at the winery and finding her own style, preferences, and internal drive to make great wine. She arrived here as a physical therapist and left as a winemaker. This transition was because of her desire and commitment to learning and change, and my commitment to investing my time and energy into training her. We both won. Fast forward nine years and Melanie is celebrating being the first female winemaker to win the prestigious Governor’s Cup of Virginia. The Cana Vineyards 2019 Unité Reserve blend received the honor under Melanie Natoli’s supervision as vineyard manager and winemaker. I can’t help being proud when the kid hits a dinger out of the ballpark!

So have other mentees I have had over the years done as well? Each has their own goal. One has started his own wine brand using some of my grapes, and another has plans to begin his. I have had many clients who are going strong in this industry, and have grown bigger than me. I am proud of each and every one of them.

The commitment to being a mentor is not easy, and in some cases, it’s not a natural connection. Everyone needs a mentor at some point, and I feel that being one makes me a better person. If anyone is interested in learning more about mentoring, in any field, we have some good programming at The New Ag School. Send an email to info@newagschool.org.

The Virginia Wine industry has grown strong quickly by folks helping each other in the business. Our competition has never been with each other, and mentoring is at the heart of our success. Embrace that thought and consider all the connections that brought you the wonderful glass of Virginia wine you are enjoying. Mentoring makes it that much better!

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