Collaboration through the Industry and History
By Doug Fabbioli
Before water, there was wine. Well, maybe not before water, but we can trace the first wine making all the way back to Georgia in 6000 BC. Wine has been bringing people together for celebrations, mournings, and simple meals for most of our history. The land, air, water, and people, transform the humble grape into our chosen companion to our lives.
Terroir is our term for the character of the wine that is unique to its special place on the land. A fine quality wine will express those unique terroir characters along with the varietal characters of the grape. Where that grape was crushed and crafted into wine, how it was aged, watched, stored, and cared for, all play a vital role in turning out what we ultimately pour into our glass. All this takes attention, sound business models and investment, and in the very best models, a community of collaboration.
For many generations in the European winemaking regions, each town had a cooperative winery. The grapes were grown by individual growers, and brought to the winery for processing. The batches of grapes were kept separate from others so each grower had their own lot for sale or bottling for later. The larger wine companies would buy the finished wines from these coops in order to fill their needs as well. Or the owner would decide to have their own label and brand, or have the wine blended with others to make the house wine needed to feed the neighborhood.
The idea of making a winery that houses many different wines has been in use here in the new world as well. This has also been the model for the dairy industry as well. Daily deliveries of milk to the coop dairy continues today in certain areas where the dairy industry continues.
Here, in Northern Virginia, when the community dairy in Fairfax closed down in the 1960’s it essentially shuttered the industry of small dairy farms in Loudoun, as well as the W&OD railroad which was used for daily delivery. Our region was destined to make other liquids. But I digress!
A number of local established wineries have helped out their grape growing neighbors by processing their grapes in their home winery. Some wineries have taken this act to a business model of a custom crush facility in order to make the wines for others. I do a bit of this at our winery. This both helps the client with their needs, and helps pay for my team and equipment without having to travel to other wineries, use other equipment, and train other staff.
The experience, intention, and mindset of the winemaker has a big impact on the success of the outcome. I always want the unique terroir and individuality of the vineyard to shine through in the finished wine. I spend time with each client to understand their vision so their wine is their style and character. Winemaking is a trade, an art, a process and a profession. Sometimes the grapes can be in better hands at a neighboring facility with well trained staff and higher tech equipment.
The state of Virginia has adjusted its definitions and licensing of farm wineries in order to help and protect the farmers, the reputation of the industry and still allow this model of custom crush to continue. From this winemaker’s seat, quality products come from quality farm operations, knowledge, and experienced staff. Allowing the owners to focus on the grapes is a model that works for keeping the quality up in the region. Asking your winery where the wines are made is good, but where the grapes are grown is the most important.
Enjoy the craft of what we grow, make and share. Bring Virginia wine home to share with others this holiday season.
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.