Exploring VA Wines

Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Training Day

By Doug Fabbioli Life got turned upside down for all of us about two and a half years ago, and we continue to work our way back to some sort of normalcy. One of the largest and most visible industries still affected by the pandemic is our food service industry. I include our tasting room operations under this tent, as we have the same challenges as everyone else in finding people who can and want to work serving others. We will get through this staffing challenge eventually, just like we get through our other challenges, but this one is pretty widespread and will take lots of training to get through. I guess training is a part of mentoring, if you stop and think about it. We need to find the folks and convince them that this work experience will fit them now and help them in their future life. We need to teach them to put themselves in their customers’ shoes for a moment. They also need to understand the business and get a feel for my shoes as a business owner in order for us all to be successful. They need to learn how to become a part of the team, pulling together with their co-workers to provide an experience for the guest that is welcoming and comfortable, and at the same time productive for the business. When I am out and about, I recognize more training going on than ever before. Many people new to their position find their learning hat and wear it proudly, and their trainer takes the time to show them what they need to know to be successful. Everyone has had to go through this job training part, and if we are successful, we keep learning and looking for more ways to do better….

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

 The Heat of the Season

By Doug Fabbioli As all farmers know, one of the biggest elements of our business is free: sunshine! But it takes other, more costly components to allow us to capture that sun and turn it into a sellable product. We also need the rains to come at the right time to make all the growing happen. That magic balance we ask Mother Nature to provide is not always delivered in the way or with the timing we need. The rain and storms are usually the most unpredictable part this time of year. We can count on the sun coming up tomorrow and we even know what time it will rise, but the summer rains, the hail storms, and gully washers that can make or break a crop are harder to forecast as exactly. We want some rain, but not too much, and we want it spread out enough so the plants have the moisture when they need it. In many winegrowing regions the weather patterns do not provide the summer rains we have here in the Mid-Atlantic. California is relatively dry from March into October, and farmers there rely on deep roots on their vines and drip irrigation to keep the vines in balance and get the fruit to the best condition for harvest. They have some control over the dry season only if they have access to the water they need when they need it. Here on the East Coast most vineyards do not have irrigation. When a new vineyard is planted, we need moisture for those young roots to grow. Oftentimes we can count on those summer thunderstorms to bring the rain needed to get the vines off to a healthy start. Older vines have deeper roots and can handle some dry spells during the growing season. However,…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Why Agritourism?

By Doug Fabbioli As I was wrestling with finding a theme for my writings this month, I realized I had an appointment scheduled this morning that could help. I met with Wine America today in order to talk with US Representative Jennifer Wexton about her bipartisan bill on Agritourism. Wine America is a nationwide trade association and I got to meet a number of winery reps and regional reps from winegrowing regions across the country—Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Texas to name a few. We all have embraced the idea of having a business that is based on farming and encourages folks to visit the farm—see what we do, sample the wares, and bring some home. There are a few key points about this relatively new concept that make Agritourism a “win” for the county, state, or in this case the country. Tourism doesn’t need to bring people from far away. Many times it’s only a short trip from the city to visit the farm where the crops grow, the houses are spaced further apart and the air feels more natural. During their visit, people may buy a meal down the road, visit a local park, shop at a local store, and hopefully bring home some goods from their destination. If an overnight stay occurs, the economic impact on the region goes up dramatically. Agritourism is about more than just economics though; it is also about land use and open space. Businesses that utilize the land in a sustainable way give the land a better chance at staying open rather than being developed into another shopping center or subdivision. Keeping the urban sprawl in check helps to keep the land working for the community and attractive to visitors who are looking to get away from the city for a while….

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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…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Cooperage Is Space and Spice

By Doug Fabbioli When I worked in the wine cellars of Sonoma, California a few decades ago, much of my time was spent with the barrels. I was purchasing over 2000 barrels each year, both new and used, for our wines at Buena Vista Winery. I got to know the coopers, the other winemakers, and the wines they aged in those barrels. I learned about the oaks used, the toasting and charring, and more. I don’t buy nearly as many barrels these days but that experience has not left me. With the expansion of the craft beverage industry, many folks have reached out to me about getting some used barrels for their projects which means there are a handful of uses other than wine that I have had a hand in lately. There are a number of good reasons to re-use wine barrels for other spirits. The barrel will impart the flavor of what was in it before, especially if I do not wash out the barrel. This is the preferred method for these folks, as the wine characteristics left in the barrel are what they are looking for. The wood of the barrel will add its own set of flavor notes, and these can be different based on where the barrel wood was grown, the aging of the wood before being made into a barrel, the toasting process used and the level of that toast, and how many times the barrel has been used. Another aspect of barrel-aging a product is the slow, low-level oxygen that is imparted into the wine through the pores of the wood. The barrel does not leak, but it does breathe. As the barrels sit, the air slowly goes in and a touch of wine evaporates out giving the barrel room a unique and…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Get Caught Trying

By Doug Fabiolli A few months ago I heard a phrase that caught my attention: “If it goes wrong, at least I’ll get caught trying.” On the other hand, the great mentor Yoda says “Do or do not. There is no try,” but as a farmer, I have been challenged by these words of the wise one numerous times. Farming is all about trying: trying, failing, trying again (and again), and learning—both from your own failures and successes and from others who know better. It’s true that sometimes trying to make something better can make things worse. But not trying means that no effort will be made and, whatever the situation, other forces will define the outcome. In the vineyard, trying to grow grapes is quite an undertaking. I have known people who planted wild wines, spent no money on a deer fence, and had no plan for the diseases and pests that would attack their plants. I guess you could say they tried, but they didn’t try to learn anything from experts or from research first. Trying in this situation is just wasting lots of time, effort, and resources because they chose not to try learning first. There are times in the vineyard, like when an impending frost is in the forecast and the vines are at a vulnerable point in the spring, when I will try anything and everything to keep the plants from getting damaged. Burning brush piles might help add a degree or two of warmth to the vines or it might be a wasted effort, but at least I’ll try. Trying is putting energy out there and hoping some good comes from it. In the winery, trying something new can have dire consequences if the effort is not thought through first. Sometimes a wine in…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

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…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

A Time to Learn a Bit More

By Doug Fabbioli A Time to Learn a Bit More It’s easy to think that once the grapes are off the vine and the wine is in the barrels, the work is done. As I have touched on in the past, we have many jobs and priorities after the harvest. One that is easy to forget but critical to the success of the operation is gaining knowledge for personal or professional growth. Each level of our organization needs to look at what we can do to improve, and find whatever training, research, or seminars that are available to help us learn and grow. I am always looking for ways to learn more about improving wine quality. This can be through different techniques, products, or equipment that can help with the challenges in the winemaking process. Or it can be through making a job more consistent so the wine is less vulnerable to spoilage situations. Working with the Winemakers Research Exchange has helped me to address challenges I have had and I have gained knowledge from the experiments that others have already tried. This organization has been a great help to me in growing my wine knowledge and quality and in helping me avoid problems. For my production team some of this down time is spent in language classes. We have had a teacher from Loudoun Literacy come to the farm for weekly English classes for several years now. Our teacher has the program and support that helps to provide our team with the language skills they need both for their work here and for the support of their family and kids. Having the words and the ability to communicate with your child’s teacher or with a health care professional is an important life skill that is just as valuable to…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

The Shift of the Seasons

By Doug Fabbioli The Shift of the Seasons Farmers know the change of the seasons more than most people. It’s not just the fewer hours of daylight and the cooler temperatures, it’s how the daily job focus and planning changes from absorbing sunshine to dealing with the “hibernation” season. No, we certainly do not hibernate around here, but the seasonal shift in our work efforts keeps the job interesting and challenging. One seasonal change for me is getting out in the public more in these few weeks than during the rest of the year. This is the busiest time of the year for wine sales, so I need to get my face out there to build the brand and get folks excited about our wines. And I’ll admit, this is invigorating to me as well. When I am in the tasting room and customers enjoy our wine, I know I have the “home field advantage.” Folks come to us for Fabbioli wine, and many already know what they are getting. But out in a shop or at a public pouring, I know this is frequently the first time people have tasted our wines. When they come back for more, or ask for a wine recommended by a previous taster, I know they have found a taste they will remember pleasantly, and I hope they will find their way out to our tasting room. Another area in which we shift for the season is maintenance. It’s not really sexy, but very critical to our success. As most farmers do, we do as much of the work ourselves as possible. We have specialists we depend on for mechanical issues, heating systems and the like, but we take cleaning, repairs, and build-outs as far as we can ourselves. I have hired too many…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

What Am I Thankful For?

By Doug Fabbioli What Am I Thankful For? In life, there are some things that you only get a chance to do once. I have had a number of these types of opportunities come my way. But I am truly grateful and thankful when I have the opportunity for a second chance to make things better. We all have bad days, and thoughts or actions that show our humanity. If we are fortunate we have the chance to learn from some of these challenges and are able to improve, revise, restart, or simply say “I’m sorry” to make the problem a bit less than it was. There was a post the other day on a social media group about a small business owner making a mistake with a client and trying to recover from that. The advice was to always be open about the “oops” and to bring a solid solution to the problem along with that openness. I’ve learned to start off a relationship with a new client by telling them “I will make mistakes, but I will try to keep them small and be open about them.” With forty years in the wine industry I have made my fair share of mistakes and recoveries. There is very little hiding possible in this business. We had a situation in the tasting room on a recent Saturday afternoon when a small bus of rather intoxicated women decided they needed to come to our establishment for one more round. We informed them as they were finishing off their previous round in the bus that we were unable to serve them any further alcohol. We offered water and use of our restroom facilities, but a number of the ladies got rather vocal and upset. The situation did not end on a great…

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