Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Visiting Wine Maker Doug Fabbioli and his Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia, USA

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Doug Fabbioli

I recently visited and tasted the wines of Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia. The visit was part of a one-day Virginia winery tour, organized by wine blogger Allan Liska for fellow wine blogger Lindsay Morris.

Allan Liska is well known in the wine world. He runs the wine blog CellarBlog, which focuses on wines from Virginia, where he lives, and on wines from Bordeaux, where he probably would want to live and frequently travels. CellarBlog is among the most influential wine blogs in the United States. Lindsay Morriss came to Virginia to present her MBA thesis and to lead a tasting of Georg Albrecht Schneider wines at the German Wines Society (DC Chapter), which I coordinated. Lindsay runs the wine blog Lindsay du Vin.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller, Doug Fabbioli, Allan Liska and Lindsay Morriss at Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia

The three of us have all reported on the day drip: Lindsay du Vin, Cellarblog and schiller-wine: Touring Virginia Wineries - Fabbioli Cellars, 8 Chains North and Breaux Vineyards - with Virginia Wine Expert Allan Liska.This posting focuses on one of the wineries we visited, Fabbioli Cellars.

Wine Producer Virginia

Virginia is the 5th largest wine industry in the US, with nearly 200 wineries and 2,500 acres of vineyards. Over the past 50 years, Virginia wines have experienced a tremendous development - to elegant and balanced, mostly European vinifera-based wines. Recently, Donald Trump bought a Virginia winery and AOL founder Steve Case is in the process of buying one.

As far as white wines are concerned, the European vinifera grapes Chardonnay and Viognier are the leading varieties today. Increasingly they are made “naked” or with little oak only, with the objective of retaining natural acidity and freshness. It appears Viognier is on its way to becoming Virginia’s official “signature grape”.

Picture: Virginia

For French-American hybrid varieties, Seyval Blanc is still popular, but resembles now the fresh and crisp wines from France’s South West. Vidal has become the backbone of the artificially frozen ice wine (cryoextraction), which I am not a great fan of.

The first ice wine was reportedly produced in Germany in 1794. Today, ice wines are highly prized wines that are made not only in Germany, but also in Austria and Canada as well as other countries, including the United States. Canada has experienced an amazing ice wine boom in the past decades. See about German and Canadian ice wine here. In the context of ice wine, some wine regions, including Virginia, are pushing cryoextraction. This is an approach, which kind of simulates the frost in the vineyard in the wine cellar. It was developed by the French. Instead of waiting for mother nature to produce frosty temperatures in the vineyard, the winemaker subjects the grapes to frosty temperatures in the cellar and presses them while frozen.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Doug Fabbioli

As far as red wines are concerned, there was a shift in top Virginia reds from straight varietal wines to blends. And blends have gone from being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with a significant amount of Petit Verdot. There is an increasing focus on neutral oak and clean, vibrant fruit, mirroring the evolution of Virginia white wines.

Tannat, Uruguay’ signature grape from the South West of France, is showing up in more Virginia wines, usually as a blend. The only red French American hybrid which has performed consistently well in Virginia is Chambourcin, which, with its bright cherry aromas and flavors, crisp acidity and low tannin, resembles the Gamay grape of Beaujolais.

Finally, Claude Thibault, a native from France, has now been producing premium sparkling wines in Virginia. While respectable sparkling wines have been made in Virginia in the past, sparkling wines have been taken to a new level in Virginia by Claude Thibault. His NV Thibault-Janisson Brut, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, which President Obama offered his guests at his first state dinner, is as close as you can get to Champagne outside of France.

Fabbioli Cellars

Our day tour day began at Fabbioli Cellars, where Doug Fabbioli and his team were in the middle of crushing some Petit Verdot. But Doug took the time to sit down with us and have lunch with us, which I appreciated very much. Doug told us that before starting Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia, he spent 10 years working in California. “When we moved to California in 1987, we had in the back of our minds the idea that we could find a piece of land and grow some grapes” said Doug “Kids, life, careers, land prices, cash flow and family steered us back East in 1997.” In California, Doug worked at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma with Anne Moller-Racke, who now owns and runs Donum Estate. Donum produces super premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in very limited quantities.

Pictures: Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia

In early 2000, Doug and his wife bought a 25 acre parcel in Loudoun County in Virginia. The planting began in 2001, along with building the house. The main planting was Merlot with a little Petit Verdot for blending. 2004 was the first vintage.

Today, Fabbioli Cellars produces about 4000 cases. Three quarters of it is sold on the premise. Doug produces 60% of the fruit himself and buys the remainder from others.

Doug is a great person to talk about the Virginia wine industry and he is a great winemaker. “I am still learning” Doug said. “First I had to learn the climate. Now I am learning the soils”. He was very enthusiastic that Viognier has become the official grape of Virginia. “But I am a red wine house”.

Pictures: Crushing Petit Verdot at Fabbioli Cellars

“After spending 10 years in Sonoma at Buena Vista Winery, I worked at Tarara Winery and Doukenie, both in Loudoun County.I also worked with numerous wineries as a consultant when they started up including Old House Vineyards, Hillsborough, Corcoran, Sunset Hills, Bluemont, Northgate, Notaviva, 8 chains and Hiddencroft.”

Environment, Education and Economics

Doug Fabiolli on Environment, Education and Economics: “In trying to define the business and its greater mission, I have been focusing on three “E”s: environment, education, and economics. Environment encompasses the efforts I make to use sustainable agriculture practices, investing in our geothermal climate control system and generally follow good practices that will help us find the balance between Earth and man. The education aspect focuses on Fabbioli Consulting, interns, staff training, wine education programs and encouraging education on all levels to make us all a little better. The economics angle can be harder to explain. The business needs to make a profit and grow, but the larger picture of the wine industry and the local green economy is what I feel will help keep this land, western Loudoun County, in a healthy balance between houses and open space. Healthy industries can affect decisions. People who work on profitable farms will work to protect the land.”

Sustainable Agriculture

Doug on sustainable agriculture: “We have implemented many sustainable practices at the winery and are continually looking for new ways to do things in a more earth-friendly fashion. The following are highlights of some of the practices that have been put in place due to our emphasis on the environment and common sense about doing things right.

Pictures: Doug Fabbioli

One of the most important things we do is to be in the vineyard on a daily basis, monitoring the vines. The early detection of problems allows us to limit the pesticide sprays to spot locations, before more drastic measures would be required. This is a critical element of sustainable agriculture.
•    Cultivation and mulching of the raspberries keeps them healthy and weed free without commercial fertilizers or pesticides.
•    Non-irrigated vines help preserve our water supply and allow the vines to adapt more favorably to the true local climate.
•    Horse manure is blended with fermented grape solids and adjusted for pH to create a compost and mulch mix of all-organic matter that is used for fertilizer and weed control.
•    Fungicides used such as sulfer, prophyte, and oxidate are organic in nature and have a low impact on the soil and surrounding flora as well as reduced resistance development.
•    We have planted and continue to plant nursery stock to conserve the soil. Trees do a better job of conserving the soil than grasses. Also the trees will be transplanted to other areas of the farm or sold to customers for them to plant. We never can have too many trees.
•    A new winery storage area was created by burying used shipping containers to create a cellar with reduced need for cooling and heating. This is not only ecological, but notes have been taken and this method will be taught at seminars for other wineries to learn.
•    The winery/house uses a geothermal energy system for its hot water and for climate control.
•    A return and reuse program is being put into place for the Raspberry Merlot, Pear Wine and Rosa Nera wine bottles. This will save on shipping, printing, and glass. A dollar for each bottle will be returned to the customers for their help.”

The Fabbioli Cellars Wine Portfolio

2008 Fratelli - Cabernet Sauvignon

This big Bordeaux varietal makes a wine with balanced fruit, spice, and oak up front. This wine has a firm mid palate and a bold finish.

2009     Cabernet Franc

Red berry fruit, spicy and smokey.

2010     Chambourcin

Lighter with ripe red berry fruit, bistro wine.

2009     Tre Sorelle

Bordeaux blend. 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petite Verdot. Flagship wine.

2009     Tannat

Earthy, rich, and rustic. This unique varietal wowed a lot of people and garnered many fans in its debut year. Pairs excellently with rarer and gamier meats (think venison, bison, or pheasant) as well as the softer and more aromatic cheeses.

Picture: Fabbioli Cellars Tannat

2010     Paco Rojo

Paco Rojo is a blend of different cultures without losing individual character or respect. Cheers to America, the continent. It has aromas of black cherry with flavors of black plum, black cherry, and licorice.

2010    Sangiovese

The 2010 Sangiovese has a bright color and a nose of smoked cherry. The soft tannins allow flavors of dried fruits and smoked cherries to come forward. The toasted oak rounds out the body of this wine to make it a complex; food friendly; sipper.

2010     Rosa Luna

Dry and Crisp with notes of pink grapefruit

2010     Something White

Fabbioli Cellars’ newst addition. A blend of Traminette and Vidal Blanc. 


Red wine blend - smoked cherries, cloves, warmth, holiday spices, cinnamon, and cranberry. A wine to open Christmas presents with.

Raspberry Merlot

A combination of raspberry wine and Merlot.

Rosa Nera

Black raspberry wine. Half a pound of fresh ripe black raspberries goes into every bottle.

Aperitif Pear Wine

This wine comes from the Asian pear tree in the vineyard.

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