Meet the New American Vignerons
The idea of a vigneron, or one who both tends to grapes and produces wine with little to no outside help, is a distinctly French concept. But these American pioneers are embodying Old World spirit and making this traditional practice their own.
When you hear the word vigneron, your mind may wander to a vineyard in rural France where a figure in a dark beret and wine-stained apron works the grapevines with pruning shears in one hand and a Gauloise in the other. Or maybe the character is in a cellar, pouring liquid from a wine thief into a tastevin over a candlelit barrel.
That classic style of vigneron, or winegrower, tended to the grapes and made wine with minimal family or outside assistance. Their main companion in the vineyard was often a plow horse. There were no crews, no enologists, no laboratory or vast array of cellar equipment, only oak barrels.
While only a handful of modern winemakers mirror that profile, American winemakers who embody the spirit and work ethic of the classic vigneron do exist. Here are a few of them.—
Viader Vineyards & Winery, Deer Park, CA
Alan Viader grew up at the eponymous winery estate founded by his mother, Delia Viader, and now is the almost-one-man-band that runs Viader’s 28 acres of grapes which produce about 4,200 cases of red wine on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain. “I have one helper in the cellar, and two in the vineyard, but I still drive the tractor and shovel out tanks.” Occasionally, his mother or his three siblings help out during critical periods. “I like to complicate my life by making 40 to 50 blends,” he says. “Mom was a workaholic, and I inherited that. I’m not a perfectionist, but I like things done correctly.” Mom still helps with the blending, he says.—R.M.