Exploring VA Wines

Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Who Gets To Judge?

By Doug Fabbioli Any form of competition needs to have people involved as officials, experts, or judges to make sure the process is fair. Wine competitions are no different. But how do people get to be chosen as a wine judge and is there a process that leads to becoming one? In order to be able to judge a subject, one needs to be an expert in that subject. There also needs to be the desire: the willingness to do what is needed to become educated and prepared. For wine education one way to enhance your knowledge is the WSET program (Wine & Spirit Education Trust). The courses start out relatively light and simple at Level 1, and then a person can continue through the program with more challenging wines, subject matter, and tests in order to train the palate as well as the brain. Time in the industry helps a lot as well. Making wine, selling wine, buying wine, even just being intentional about tasting wine with others are all good for gaining the knowledge. The idea is to understand the grape growing and winemaking process in such a way that one can taste a wine, identify characters in the wine, and judge whether that character is good or bad based on the typical characteristics of that wine and style. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? A friend of mine as well as of the Virginia Wine industry is Kathy Wiedemann. She says “My journey to being a wine judge has been long, encompassing a decade of wine studies, tasting thousands of wines, and having a deep passion for wine. I consider myself an unofficial wine ambassador for Virginia wine as it is where I truly found that passion. Having worked for seven years just about every weekend in VA wine,…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

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…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

October in Luckettsland

By Doug Fabbioli That autumn feel is in the air! The harvesting of the crops, the cool evenings, and the changing leaves all help to create a season that makes our Virginia countryside an iconic setting for a fall experience. Out here in Lucketts, just north of Leesburg, October seems to be our busiest month of the year. I refer to Lucketts as Luckettsland: “From the merge to the bridge, and from the river to the Ridge.” We have fabulous farm stands throughout the year but fall brings out more of the color, produce and decor that you can take home. Apples and apple cider, pumpkins, gourds, mums, and cornstalks all help to give that seasonal feel to our region and home. The autumn leaves on the hillsides highlight feel of the season. Our antiques stores have truly put us on the map, and the themes of each vendor or venue show each one’s creativity and personality. Hopefully that inspires your own creative drive to bring home some decor, the hand-crafted plant stand and the plant that goes with it. The produce for your meal and the fruit for the homemade applesauce you used to make with grandma are here in Luckettsland for you to experience and bring home. One of our attractions here in Lucketts is Temple Hall Farm Park. This is a great venue for the kids as it has a play land element along with a bit of education. They have a variety of farm animals as well as farm activities specific for the month of October. Pumpkin picking, hayrides and more will make help to make some great memories for the kids as well as for the adults. October has been Virginia Wine Month for as long as I can remember. Because the wineries are farms…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

The Balance of the Season

By Doug Fabbioli In my 42 years in the wine industry, I have seen plenty of ups and downs in the harvest and crush balance. Wineries have only so much space but they have needs for certain grapes to make their wines, have their own grapes to bring in, and often have long-term contracts to buy grapes as well. Independent growers have their fruit coming ripe and hope that the winemaker’s promise to purchase the grapes holds up through the season. (Some wineries have not been good players in the past on this point.) Sales fluctuate for a winery through its lifespan, and the grapes planted 20 years ago may not be what it needs now, or it may not need as much of it. It may offer that fruit to another winery and can even do a little “horse trading” so that each winery gets the grape it needs. This year, because there was no wide-spread frost damage in the spring, there seems to be more fruit on the vines that will be coming available at harvest. I am seeing a number of wineries posting their excess fruit on the various forums for the industry. We all need to find space for these grapes without throwing off our inventory balance. In a good year when a winery has more fruit growing on its own vines, there may not be as much of a need to purchase from another grower. This is really the challenge of being an independent grower, and each wine region has a lot of them. You want a winery committed to taking your fruit year after year, but the winery you work with may not need your fruit, or may not have the space to process it. I have talked with some growers who would hold…

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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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