Taste Camp 2012: Walking the Vineyards with Virginia Winemaker Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars

Smart, entrepreneurial, industrious…that’s Doug Fabbioli.

Now in the business for thirty years, Doug started his career in Sonoma at Buena Vista Winery. When he decided to come to Virginia he went to work with Jim Law at Linden Vineyards. Now he’s growing his own grapes on his seven acre property just outside Leesburg, Virginia…Fabbioli Cellars.

We started our Taste Camp 2012 vineyard walk in what Doug called the worst part of his vineyard…the lowest lying area that in May 2010 cost him a pretty penny. A late season frost destroyed the grapes. Lesson learned. He bought a crafty frost protector machine, looks like a little alien in the vineyard, to prevent future casualties. His other comment about this area…it’s a great learning experience for others. Pick the right site!

We talked pruning, suckering and canopy management. On top of the hill is his big healthy growth of Cabernet Franc. Doug works to 4 to 6 shoots per canopy foot. Early in the season, it’s time to prune. “People are scared to throw away buds but you must…that’s 1 of 150 things you need to know about growing grapes in Virginia.” He grows his rows nine to ten feet apart which allows use of regular size tractors. “If yours is on the fritz, you can borrow the neighbors.” He’s also growing Tannat as his ‘big boy,’ the grape originally from South West France and now seen frequently from South America, as his ‘big boy.’

Doug has great analogies and wisdom to share…”All farmers are solar energy engineers. We use the sun to make what goes in the bottle.” “As the leaves and grapes grow, you want to be able to see a naked person on the other side of the row and know if it is a man or woman.”

While growing grapes and making wine are the main focus, there’s a lot going on in the Fabbioli Cellars world. Next to the vineyards are rows of garlic and asparagus. They’ve started doing wine pairings with the vegetables, an interesting comparison as all grow in the same soils. Doug also introduced us to his Asian pear tree. He’s using these and pears he’s growing on a leased orchard to make Pear Wine. There are even pears growing in glass bottles on the tree…they make a great statement bottle when filled with the wine. He recently won an innovation award for that.

Most importantly Doug believes in passing on his knowledge. Doing a “So You Wanna Be A Winemaker Series?,” he realized people need more agricultural skills in Loudoun County. “Two-thirds of the county is designated rural and the kids aren’t learning agriculture.” So he’s partnered to start the Piedmont Epicurean Arts Center dedicated to educating “the next generation of people to be responsible for the land and the bounty that comes from it.”

Sitting on their patio outside ‘Chateau le Garage’ (what they call their tasting room built quite nicely in the bottom of Doug’s house), we tasted the 2011 Pear Wine paired perfectly with a ginger cookie to pull out the spices from the wine. Doug pointed out their cellar…buried shipping containers under the hillside. Then inside with Doug’s friendly team, we tasted through five Fabbioli wines…2011 Something White, 2010 Chambourcin, 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve, NV Raspberry Merlot, 2009 Tannat…as rock music played in the background. Fabbioli focuses on red wines, but as people were always asking for ‘something white,’ they introduced the Something White made of Traminette and Vidal Blanc.

Fabbioli’s motto is “real people, earth friendly, fabulous wines.” We left with a true sense of what Doug and the team have set out to accomplish.

Cheers to Doug and Fabbioli Cellars!

Our next walk, Jordan Harris with Tarara Winery.