By Doug Fabbioli
It’s Virginia Wine Month. Our local vineyards are bringing in the new crop and celebrating the harvest. There is music, food, good company, and, of course, good wine toasted against beautiful blue skies. Amidst the celebration and excitement of a bountiful harvest, the wine industry – world wide – is facing challenges.
I have a wine writer friend who is putting together a story about the current state of the wine industry. I decided to share my thoughts in this forum as well.. It may be a bit heavy and a bit in the weeds, but it is a reality for us and important to share with those we have come to call friends and those we rely on, our customers and appreciators. We can weather any changes together. What follows, are my answers to his questions.
As shown in a recent wine industry report, the wine sales trends are down. What do you see as a tailwind to keep you positive?
First, having been in this industry for four decades now, we have seen a number of highs and lows in the demand for our products. This will shift again but we need to ride out the storm and evolve as best we can. As grape farmers, we have to keep growing our fruit to keep our vineyards healthy. Taking a year off is not an option, so we try to find new homes and new markets.
Second, I am always encouraged to see young, energetic folks wanting to work in this industry. We need them and their excitement and energy to be part of this industry and help it thrive. Old codgers like me need to welcome the new folks as they will help take our wine trails, regions and reputations to the next level.. There is a lot to learn, but also a bit of old school to embrace. New vines thrive when grafted with the old.
- What are headwinds or challenges that you see need to be addressed?
A friend told me recently that, “bourbon is the new IPA,” we need to understand that all beverages seem to have their moment. We need to redefine and promote our next thing, new or old. For example, the younger generation is generally not looking to build up a wine cellar —hey barely have furniture. Seasoned wine folks bank up wine. We need to recognize this trend and educate about the value of cellaring wines. It can be a tough sell.
- What are you doing or hope to be doing to carry your business through this trend?
My wife has been our mixologist in the tasting room. We have monthly themes and with each theme, she creates different wine cocktails, sangrias or mulled wine to fit —using our wines. This enables us to offer not just great wine, but a little something new and different. We have also been selling wine in different containers — not strictly traditional bottles. Quality wine in a pouch or a box is a relatively new thing. We started this a few years ago and it has grown well with our retail customers. We have also been making smaller batches of new wine, and making more styles of wines hoping to stay relevant to consumers tastes and wants. This is not easy!
- Some say that the wine industry is not working together to address the obvious demand issue in the wine category. Agree, disagree, and what could they do better?
Well, we have been down this road before. I think we are addressing it as an industry but we can do better. Our local wine industry is a product, wine. But we are more than just our product. We have evolved into a fabulous experience where visitors can come out for a glass of wine, music, and great food from the winery or a food truck. But, at the end of the day, if visitors are not bringing wine home, the farm wineries are not meeting their business needs. We are farmers that need to sell our product. Selling by the glass, or wholesale to the wine shop is not enough to survive. We all love what we do and we want to share that love with our guests. Selling our bottles makes all of the difference. Got Local Wine? Maybe that could be a new slogan to help our local and regional wineries spread the message.
There is an old adage in the wine, whiskey, and bourbon industries — the angel share. When our precious wine is aging in the barrel, some is lost to the angels as a bit inevitably evaporates and we lose a little of what we started with. Maybe it’s time in the industry to let the angel share go. Let go of what isn’t working, hold on to what is, and make room for the new innovations and ideas to take root.
As this is Virginia Wine Month, we all look forward to seeing you at the wineries, dinners and events to celebrate what we have done over the past few decades. Keep us going, share a bottle with a new taster, visit your old favorite winery or discover a new one. Your patronage will make all the difference in our industry! Thank you from our roots!
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.