Harvest Time in Loudoun
By Doug Fabbioli
Jim Law, a fellow winegrower and a leader in our industry, has compared the growing season for grapes to a pro football season: the 16 scheduled games get us to the veraison time frame when the grapes are ripening, but the playoffs at the end of the season count the most. Things get hectic and exciting. With a good growing season behind us the fruit is in good condition to come in, but the weather is unpredictable. We work each week of the harvest season with an overall game plan but we must stay flexible, creative, and productive in order to treat each lot of grapes coming into the winery with the attention and time that it deserves. The more fruit coming in at once, the more hectic things can get. Sometimes it’s like chess in the cellar, trying to make space for the next grapes coming in.
This season was defined by the rains. As the warnings came of a large storm brewing in the Caribbean whose path was predicted to track right over us, growers and winemakers had to make some important decisions about picking some or all of their crop: How close to ready are the grapes? Will they hang well through the storm? How bad will the storm be? Rain will dilute the flavors and sugars of the grapes a bit, depending on intensity of rain, soil types, and condition of the fruit. A few days of drying after the rains is good for the grapes, and it’s always better if the weather cooperates. Cold temperatures may not bring big sugar levels, but the extra time definitely helps mature the grapes away from greener characteristics and into darker fruit and spice flavors.
In Virginia we were relatively fortunate. The remnant of hurricane Ian was not as intense for us as it was in other areas. It did hang out in our region for a number of days, but the temperatures were cooler and potential rots and diseases did not blossom as they could have. And almost two weeks of good weather after that storm allowed the grapes to ripen a bit more. There was another round of evaluating the grapes and another flurry of picking before the next storm came rolling through.
While the focus during harvest is on the grapes, it could not happen without the people. Much of my team has worked with me for a number of years so they know what to expect and how I work and think. We have a solid core team, but we also have a number of vineyards that we grow, so when harvest comes we need additional help in order to get the job done in a timely fashion. Two of my team members stay at the cellar while the others are out picking in order to keep the fruit and wine flowing in the right direction. I give Arturo the leadership role on the cellar floor. He will do what’s needed and direct others in order to make sure the jobs get done. I will pick up fruit, drop off bins, schedule the work, evaluate progress, and make changes to the plan as needed. The jobs of our team will change from vineyard to cellar depending on the workload and focus, and they all can pivot from one task to the next.
Sometimes I will loan out my team to help other vineyards get their fruit picked. Much of the extra help we get during harvest comes from Maya Vineyard Services, the business that Severino started many years ago when he was working more with me. Sevi helps me, I help him, and his clients do what they can to help each other as well. We are all working hard to get the fruit picked and processed in a timely manner. At one point this season, Sevi had 35 people on one site to get the grapes picked! This is not a normal situation, but it’s good to know what can be done if it’s needed.
Overall, the season has gone well. We are seeing good flavors and ripeness on the fruit. Even with a major weather event, our grapes came in and our crews did the work, sometimes with headlamps in the early mornings or late in the day. Yields are strong again this year and many wineries are at max capacity. I urge all of you to BUY VIRGINIA WINE and help move it out of the cellars. Give it as gifts, enjoy with friends, open a bottle on any given Tuesday and enjoy! We want these wines to flow out as they flow in, in a solid, balanced way. We pay our workers, our growers, and our bills with the funds we get. There is nothing more local than that. Thanks for your support over the years, and keep it going as we continue to strengthen our industry through quality and recognition.
About the Author: Farmer, winemaker, entrepreneur, educator, and leader, Doug Fabbioli has been accelerating the growth and quality of Virginia’s wine industry since 1997. With his wife Colleen, Doug is the owner/operator of Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, VA. He is the founder and director of The New Ag School, which focuses on teaching the next generation of farmers and agriculture-related leaders. No wonder they call Doug Fabbioli the Godfather of DC’s Wine Country.