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2023 sisterhood-spotlight-Melanie-Natoli
Melanie Natoli
Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Cana Vineyards & Winery of Middleburg

As Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Cana Vineyards, Melanie Natoli crafts delectable Virginia Wines for all to enjoy. As the recent winner of the 2022 Governor’s Cup Winemaking Competition, Melanie formulated the newest edition of the First Lady’s Cornus Virginicus wine which will donate all proceeds to Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom. The wine industry is a indispensable throughout Virginia and is responsible for more than 10,000 jobs and contributes $1.73 billion to Virginia’s economy. In this Sisterhood Spotlight, Melanie tells us about the Virginia wine industry, how she got involved, her work on the Cornus Virginicus II, what she studied, and her success as a female in the field.

October is Virginia Wine Month. Tell us something about wine produced in Virginia that people might not know?

Growing conditions in Virginia can vary greatly from more classic wine regions, and even from year to year here in Virginia. This will always keep us growers and winemakers on our toes and working hard to create great wine. It also means that the same wines may vary significantly from vintage to vintage. When you open a bottle of Virginia wine, you can taste the year in which it was grown, adding another layer to the narrative. Every wine will tell the story of where in the state it was grown, the year in which it grew, and the winemaker that crafted it. Take the time to listen as you sip.

Although Virginia boasts more than 30 female winemakers, you are still in the minority.  Share how you got involved in the industry?

I first worked in a local tasting room on the weekends to learn more and get closer to my passion. It didn’t take long before I was sure pursuing a career in wine was my calling. In 2009, I changed my fulltime status as a physical therapist to per diem. I worked 3 days a week as physical therapist to pay my bills and interned at Fabbioli Cellars in Loudoun County for 3 days a week to learn a new craft. After two years, I transitioned to a fulltime assistant winemaker position. With the support of my mentor Doug Fabbioli, resources such as Virginia Tech Viticulture, Loudoun County Extension, the Winemaker’s Research Exchange, and a network of amazing colleagues in the industry, I’ve grown into my own winemaker, and I’ve been leading production since 2014.

Cana Vineyards & Winery won the 2022 Governor’s Cup Winemaking Competition, and as its winemaker, you recently collaborated on the First Lady’s specialty Cornus Virginicus wine.  Tell us about this wine and how people can purchase it?

It was an honor to collaborate with Frist Lady to create the second edition of Cornus Virginicus. The wine is a 2021 vintage blend of Petit Verdot and Merlot, strength and elegance. I blended wines crafted from fruit sourced from both my estate vineyard at Cana in Loudoun County as well as from Silver Creek in Nelson County. Bringing together two of our biggest growing regions creates a truly Virginian wine. The wine can be purchased directly from Cana Vineyards by visiting our tasting room or purchasing on our website. Additionally, the wine may be special ordered from ABC to pick up at your local store.

All proceeds from the sale of Cornus Virginicus support the Virginia Farm Bureau’s “Ag in the Classroom” – an effort to educate the next generation on agricultural pursuits.  Did you study winemaking and if so, where?  If not, what did you study?

I was not exposed to wine when I was younger, so it couldn’t have been my first career. As a student, I always loved science and that led me to a career in healthcare. Thankfully, the background in science has been valuable as a winemaker. I don’t think careers in agriculture are always prominently presented to young students. I’m thankful that Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom is changing that, because agriculture is critical for all of us.

What is something that Virginia’s Women+girls should know about being a winemaker or the vintner industry?

If you don’t take the risk and follow your heart, you’ll never know what you could have been. Women are in the minority in the industry and that certainly presents challenges, but the challenge makes the reward even greater. If you are not freely given a seat at the table, sometimes you just need to bring your own chair and push your way in. For as long as I’m in the industry, I’ll make space for you.

About Melanie Natoli

Melanie was born and raised in New Jersey. She was first exposed to wine just as she was finishing her Master of Physical Therapy at the University of Scranton. Melanie traveled around the country working as a physical therapist until she landed in Virginia in 2006. After living in a state with such an amazing wine industry, her interest in wine was no longer a hobby, it was a passion she had to pursue. Melanie worked in a local tasting room on the weekends and fell even more in love with the industry. She quickly realized that her heart was leading her to make wine. Her journey to become a winemaker began as an intern in 2009. When not at the winery, Melanie can be found out hiking with her partner Kenny or home relaxing on the mountain with their two cats, Gus and Winston.

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