Exploring VA Wines

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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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

From the Vine to the Vat

Exploring VA Wines By Doug Fabbioli From the Vine to the Vat The harvest season in the wine industry consumes time, energy and focus of the winemaker and the team in a way that is difficult to describe adequately. This process of crop preservation has happened since the beginning of agriculture and civilization. In a very short time, all the effort of the growing season is transferred from the vine to the vat. Hot days, rain storms, equipment malfunctions, exhausted staff, long days and nights, and critical decisions all add up to an opportunity to give the job everything you have and to set the bar for the quality of the vintage. I am deep in the middle of this annual event as I write this so you may see a different side of my thoughts.   The weather this season has been inconsistent: hot, cool, wet, dry. This means more challenges and transitions in the vineyard. I could have done better this year: being a little overextended kept me and the team a little behind this year, mainly when the weather shifted and I didn’t react quickly enough. With challenge comes opportunity, though, and I am very proud of how my staff has been working this year. We incorporated some of our Ag School students in with the regular team, which has worked out well. My regulars got a chance to teach and lead more as a result, and to work with people they were not used to working with. I also have had more opportunity to teach and nurture some fresh folks, as well as encourage seasoned team members stretching out of their comfort zone.   In addition to the harvest season, this is normally our busiest time in the tasting room. September and October have traditionally been…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

‘Tis the Season…in September!

Exploring VA Wines By Doug Fabbioli ‘Tis the Season…in September! Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: the grapes are ripening, and the harvest has begun! Harvest time is more than just picking what you’ve grown. Processing the crop to preserve it is a key part of success for a farmer. Most vegetables will last for a bit of time, some longer than others, but eventually they need to be frozen or canned to be useable later. Some sturdier vegetables like onions or potatoes can be dry packed for storage. The method used all depends on the crop and how hardy it is. Although grapes are our “bread and butter,” so to speak, at Fabbioli Cellars we have more than just grapes to pick and process. Harvest season for us usually starts with our hops sometime in mid-to-late August. We have been growing hops for eight years now and have gotten the program down to a pretty smooth operation. To preserve them we first have to separate the cones from the leaves and stalks, and then dry and vacuum-pack them. We use the picking and drying equipment at Vanish Brewery to protect the hops until they are used in our Attitude Adjuster cider or in one of our neighbors’ beers. Grapes are our focus though, and there is not much time to spare once they begin to ripen. Each grape variety from each of the farms that we work is sampled and evaluated so that when we decide to pick it we can make sure we have all the pieces in place to process it. Wine grapes have very little flexibility in time and temperature parameters. Unlike pears, apples, or tomatoes, grapes will not ripen once picked, so we have to make sure they are as perfect as…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

How is the “Farden” Coming Along?

By Doug Fabbioli How is the “Farden” Coming Along? OK, so what the heck is a Farden? Well, it falls somewhere between a farm and a garden. After working countless acres of grapes for four decades, both on our land and others’, I know what a farm looks like and more importantly, how one operates. Working a backyard garden has its own challenges, but it is a pretty big leap to go from a plot of land in the backyard to a full-blown agricultural venture with all kinds of problems, many of which could lead to failure. It’s often easier to take a smaller step first. That middle ground between a large garden and a small farm is what I like to think of as a “Farden.”   We have a few areas on our farm that have great soil but are inappropriate for growing grapes. To be efficient and thoughtful with the land, we have created a new model by leasing this space to others to start their own farm operations on our land. Meet the folks at Sprouting Roots Farm: they were looking for a place to expand their business and connected with us through the Virginia Cooperative Extension office in Leesburg. Vishali and her team have been working diligently to capture this season’s sunshine and turn it into East Indian produce for her family and community. Farming one acre is a lot of work, and as hard as they work they still cannot produce enough to satisfy the demand from their customers. There are worse problems to have, I guess. Another tenant here in the Farden area is Legacy Farms with their floral CSA (prepaid ag commitment) and mentoring program. Laurie and Billy Jo started working the land last year and have grown their program well. Employing…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Let’s Do Business

Let’s Do Business Farming has been one of the earliest forms of business in our civilization and continues to be critical to our society and culture. In some ways, I feel like business has gotten a bad rep over the years. Yes, big business has been able to manipulate people, governments, markets, and regulators to favor their own interests, but good, simple business is a critical way of producing the products we need and want. If the bottom line of a business is measured in sustainability as well as dollars, we can keep this capitalism thing working well. When young folks tell me that they don’t know what to study in college for their future I always suggest they study business. Every job has a relatively simple purpose: doing work for a financial payment. I studied business and then I learned how to make wine. And after that, I learned how to farm. The business education helped me to understand the value of each process, each person, and each input. It also taught me how to make decisions in cost effectiveness, quality, and labor distribution so the work got done better and helped to meet the business’s goals. Some businesses have lost sight of the responsibility of sustainability along the way. They may go for the easy dollar rather than going for the long term, more conscientious way. But a business is a part of its community, through employment, products, and output. We have the ability to work within our community to do good as well as doing business. It is important for people to recognize the businesses that engage with the community. There is no rule that businesses must do the right thing, but sometimes knowing that the community is watching can help them make the right choices. As…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Father’s Day 2021

By Doug Fabbioli Father’s Day 2021 Over the years, I have developed something of an eye for the father/son relationship. I am fortunate to have had a good man as a father. Not perfect… but he certainly tried time and again to do the right thing. I’m sure he gained that from his own father. I have those moments where I feel my father’s teachings coming out in my words, actions, or attitudes. And I have tried to be a good father to my sons; not perfect either, I know, but I hope they will retain some of what I have tried to teach over the years. In a small family business, the father/son relationship is quite prevalent and clear. As I work with clients, suppliers and fellow business owners, I get to see the dynamics of that generational dance again and again. One of my suppliers is a fourth generation apple farmer and packer. Four generations is quite impressive if you think about it: we give our kids so many options to choose from for careers, but to have your children follow in your footsteps shows a real commitment on their part. Each of us gets to choose, at some point, if we want to do as we are taught or try a different path. Many of our farms do not survive the generational succession because the kids see firsthand just how challenging it is to make a farm pay for itself. As my friend and his brother work their part of the apple business, they have enough autonomy from their dad to make their piece succeed, but it could fail without hurting the main flow of the operation. Maybe that is a key to success and succession: autonomy and room to work. Many times, it’s the grandkids who take…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Rosé in 2021

Exploring VA Wine By Doug Fabbioli Rosé in 2021 When I was a kid growing up in Upstate New York in the early 70’s, my parents didn’t really drink much wine. There was always a Gallo Hearty Burgundy in the cabinet for the spaghetti sauce, but they would buy a bottle of Mateus when guests were coming over. It was a pale pink wine in a uniquely shaped bottle, and everybody knew it. The wine had a little sweetness and it certainly was easy drinking (or so I’m told…). In the early 80s a new wine product from Sutter Home was becoming popular: White Zinfandel was on the market and people were drinking it like it was going out of style. It was sweet, pretty pink in color and a little bubbly, and all the wineries got on the band wagon. At the time, the red Zinfandel wine was out of fashion and the price for the fruit reflected that. White Zinfandel was born out of an attempt at making something saleable out of grapes that weren’t selling. Pressing the grapes prior to fermentation gave the wine its unique pink color and left the tannins behind. The result was more of an entry level wine for the beer and sweet flavored wine crowd, and it was all the rage for a while. Unfortunately for rosé producers in that timeframe, there was no market for their wines—those drier styles of pink wine with a solid acid structure that are so food-friendly. Somewhere in the early 2000s, fortunately, the trends started to shift again and the old school dry and off-dry rosés began their resurgence. The foodie movement helped move this forward, and rosé wine has now gained a widespread following. Virginia wineries have ridden this wave too, creating many lovely wines…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Get Out of the Cab Once in a While

By Doug Fabbioli Get Out of the Cab Once in a While This winter we had a bit more snow than usual, and the snow removal process is something that we get to do ourselves out on the farm. I heard the comment from somebody, and I cannot remember who, that “the plow driver does not get out of the cab of the truck.” I understand the logic of this: keeping that machine moving is the most efficient way to get the job done. There is always more snow to push and the machine sure does it fast. But the machine cannot do it all. A little shoveling or fine tuning is needed sometimes to finish the job. Ok, but what does this have to do with the wine industry here in northern Virginia? As good as we farmers are at our jobs, we need to make the time to teach the next generation what we have learned. I often hear someone grumbling that the younger generations do not want to work, but part of that may be simply that our generation is not willing to teach! You can’t mentor a new learner from the cab of the tractor; you need to get out and share your thoughts once in a while. The understanding that goes along with the actions is the key to the success of the job, and the skills learned through experience give credibility. I remember many years ago being at a cooperage assembly forum hosted by a few barrel companies from France. I was quite impressed because a couple of the reps were the owners of the company, with the same last names as the ones branded on the heads of the barrels. I was even more impressed when two of these grey-haired gentlemen pulled off…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Defining the Art of Winemaking

Exploring VA Wines By Doug Fabbioli Defining the Art of Winemaking Winemaking takes a lot of science, a good bit of artistic creativity and, although many don’t like to talk about it, a fair amount of challenging business sense. And it’s all based on the fruit that the winery grows or can buy and turning that into wines that the customers will buy. In an ideal winemaking world customers would buy all the wine the winemaker makes, and the winemaker would be able to grow and use all of the grapes they need. But that’s not realistic. Many times, more grapes grow of a certain variety than the customers are buying, so the winemaker needs to find a home for the grapes they don’t need. Buying and selling grapes at harvest time is an important part of the business of a winemaker. Later in the process, they can sell off excess wine after their own blends are made, or purchase someone else’s excess to use. Sometimes, a winemaker tries to get creative with the extra grapes, making new styles of wines or blends in order to utilize that fruit: what can I make from what I have extra of and can I repeat that style of wine in the future? Chambourcin, for example, is a grape that grows very well in our region and I usually have more grapes than I need for our dry Chambourcin. We sell a fair amount of the grapes to another local winery for their Rosé, I started making our Paco Rojo, a Chambourcin-based blend, about 10 years ago and it is now one of our best selling wines, and recently I started making a sparkling wine out of this grape as well. Having some extra wine in the cellar can add to my creative…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

A Nice Package

Exploring VA Wine By Doug Fabbioli   A Nice Package In these writings I sometimes make an attempt at explaining a few of the different parts of my job, sharing insider tidbits and hoping to make it interesting to both the wine geeks and the non-wine geek consumers. This month I want to get a little deeper into the bottling and packaging of wines. Wine has been stored in many different vessels over the centuries. Oxygen is not a friend to a finished wine, so storing it in smaller vessels, always full, is an important part of the planning. If you were quenching the thirst of an army in Roman times, drawing wine right from the barrel into pitchers to fill mugs worked just fine and barrels were the best way to store it. Those soldiers drank a lot and drank it fast. Finer wines are usually consumed in much smaller quantities than a legion of Roman soldiers might put away, so bottles make more sense. Although wine bottles have been around for ages, it is still an evolving process: when we consider consumption, cost, and perception, some winemakers are changing things up quite a bit. Canning wine has become popular but I found that our volumes are such that I could not make the numbers work. Even with the ciders, I would spend more on the package than on the product inside. We have been using the three liter pouches for some of our wines, and that seems to be working out well. As the pouch empties, air does not enter so the wine can stay fresh for months. This method will not work for the ciders, though, as the effervescence will dissipate as the pressure of the pouch drops. We have been using kegs for the ciders as…

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