What’s New In Wine Country?

November 3, 2011

We in the greater D.C. area have been fortunate enough to be involved in the growth and expansion of our own wine country. Virginia now boasts about 160 wineries, with more on the way. Maryland is at about 30 now and growing as well. This industry is agriculture based and therefore has a lot of advantages and challenges. Vintners spend a lot of capital getting started through learning the process, acquiring land, planting and training vines, constructing buildings, purchasing barrels, tanks and equipment and setting up tasting rooms to present our wines. The great thing about all of this investment is that these businesses — and the industry as a whole — should be here for a very long time.

Planning for the future is a very important thing. As I get a new customer in our tasting room, I always feel that if we do things right, we will see them again. Good quality, hand crafted wines at a fair price, polite and personal service focusing on education and comfort, and appealing grounds and décor make a difference to people. They may return or look for our wines in their local wine shop or restaurant. This objective is shared by many wineries across Virginia, and the customer base continues to grow. People that buy my wine will purchase many other wines as well, both locally and from around the world. Because we all invest so much up front, we have to stick around a while in order for this thing to make sense. The best way to continue is to always work to improve quality. Exciting wines are being made everywhere that people focus on quality. As you visit a winery, be sure to let them know how you like their wines and the visit in general. This new sport of winery hopping is really catching on.

Here are a few thoughts about what is actually going on in the vineyard and cellar of our winery and probably most of the wineries in the area. The fruit in the vineyards has just set. The berries are about the size of small peas, but are growing every day. The leaves around them are getting rather thick, so our task today is to pull some leaves and some small lateral shoots to open up the area around the fruit, increasing sunlight and air flow. This will prevent mildew and other fungi from developing on the fruit and help it develop deep, rich and ripe flavors at harvest time. We may come through the vineyard two or three times to open up the fruit zone, depending on how much rain we receive during the growing season. The other main job is hedging. As we tuck the long, green shoots into the trellising wires, they will continue to grow towards the sun. We will trim these so they will not flop over and shade the fruit they are supposed to ripen. Warm days, sunshine and rainfall all add to this dance we call canopy management. The work is very labor intensive but also very therapeutic. Knowing that the time you spend will greatly increase the quality of the wine made is a great feeling.

At Fabbioli Cellars, we are preparing to bottle wine next week. The 2009 Cabernet Franc blend was first made on the bench level. Samples are taken from each of the barrels and then tasted for attributes and characters that will add to the blend. Then the wines are measured using graduated cylinders and pipettes to make an accurate sample blend of the wine. This process can be done numerous times, adding or removing barrels or parts of barrels for the blend. To season a wine to perfection, many winemakers will use a little wine made from other varieties, bringing some more character to the aroma or smoothing out the finish. Legally a winery can use 25 percent of other varieties in a blend and still use a single varietal name on the label. But it is always important that the name on the label reflect the character of the wine in the bottle. Once we finalize the blend, we pull out the pump, clean the tanks and pump the barrels to make the blend. Most wineries in the area use one of four mobile bottling lines in the area. These are basically an assembly line inside of a truck. We schedule these well ahead of time and can bottle about 1200 cases of wine per day. It’s one big piece of equipment that we do not have to invest in ahead of time.

Many wineries offer different opportunities to experience the winemaking process. Check Web sites, calendars of events and ask about how you can learn more. We are all in this business for the long haul and we appreciate all of the loyal customers we have gained over the years. Be sure to buy local and visit your local winery or farm for a taste of nature’s bounty. Cheers.
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