Napa’s Next Generation: Alan Viader
Delia Viader, mother of Alan Viader, describes herself in this way: “I call myself the ‘Wine Mother.’ I’m the mother of the vines; and the mother of the wines; and the mother of the winemaker.” Delia arrived from Argentina over 30 years ago, with 3 children, determination, and a vision that has created a highly respected Napa Valley cult wine. But, more importantly, it describes how she nurtured not only nurtured the land and the vines, but her son. At the age of 25, Alan assumed the mantle of winemaker and today is one of the leading next generation, carving a path into the future of Napa Valley winemaking.
Alan is soft spoken, with an innate intelligence, plus energy that seems to be constantly bubbling just below the surface, ready to spill out at any moment. He has a defined vision for the future, displaying a passion for life, wine, and family. Unsurprisingly, when you sip Viader wines, you will experience the same complexity and subtleties. They (whomever “they” are) say that wine is grown in the vineyard-but I have found that a great wines also reflect the winemaker’s personality and vision as well.
Alan is humble, respectful, introspective and unassuming. Alan’s formal education (spanning different continents) became laser focused on the complexity of soil, plus the need for sustainability and protecting the environment. He is a perpetual hands on student, and says, “There is always something new, somebody pushing the status quo, and I’m happy to experiment until I find what works on our particular site.” However, Alan’s most influential teacher, unsurprisingly, was and continues to be, his mother. Alan naturally fell in love with dirt, vines, grapes and wine while growing up, working the vineyards, and learning to drive a tractor at the age of 12. He says his mother “positioned” him well….never pushing, but always encouraging him to keep going. He remembers his mother saying, as people would visit the winery: “Here I am, here are my wines, now meet my son.” Alan is aware of the responsibility to carry on the family legacy, and easily accepts the challenge, mentioning that he and his mother blend well together. Delia always challenged Alan by having him take on more and more responsibility. At 21, Alan became vineyard manager, four years later, in 2006 Alan became head winemaker. Always eager to learn, and always encouraged by his mother to look beyond the horizon, Alan plans for the future of Viader, and Napa Valley winemaking.
Sipping with Alan, he talks about the “changing of the guard” that is taking place in Napa Valley. This is a generation that is not afraid to “push the envelope” and experiment with the non-traditional, whether it be in trying different blends, style of winemaking, or taking the leap to recognize soil types and micro-climates that are better suited for planting different and more unique varietals than may have traditionally been planted in the past. However, there is one thing, above all, that Alan is focused on in his farming, winemaking and leading the way for this Next Gen: Protecting the planet, reducing the carbon footprint, organic farming, and striving towards sustainability. Alan feels passionately that new, fresh perspectives are needed, such as the Porto Protocol, “a sustainable initiative which motivates companies and individuals to do more to help than they are doing at the moment,” (refer to www.portoprotocol.com). This next generation is bringing new viewpoints to farming, winemaking, business and life in general. They are a “voice for the small guy.”
As dedicated, passionate and in love with the earth and vines as he is, Alan leads a well-balanced family life. He and his wife Mariela have three children: Two sons ages 10, 8 and a 4 year old daughter. As Alan played and worked in the vineyards when he was a child, his two sons, who he describes as very outgoing, enjoy working, bottling, tasting, and following Alan around. Who knows, but they may well be the third generation of Viader winemakers in another decade or so!
Personally, a goal of Alan’s is to be an industry leader in the move towards sustainability and protecting the environment. He feels strongly about “doing what is right.” This theme carries through to his volunteering with the local search and rescue team, which gives him an immense amount of joy. But in the end, everything is about respect…..for family and for the planet. To work hard, do what you love, to do what you can for the environment and future generations, and taking ample time to enjoy your family.
There are many components to Alan Viader-the farmer, the explorer, the scientist, the winemaker, the community leader, and the family man that meld into the whole person-just as there are many elements that come together, maybe magically, to make a wine so expressive that it’s aroma and taste describe the man who oversaw its creation. Maybe one day Alan will call himself the “wine father,” father of the vines, father of the wines and father of the (next Viader) winemaker. One thing is certain: Alan Viader and this next generation are leading Napa Valley and the culture of Napa Valley, on a road to the future: This is their time, and they embrace it wholeheartedly.
As we spoke on that idyllic June morning, overlooking the valley, Alan mentioned something he was told long ago by one of his professors at UC Davis. This, seems than anything to sum up Alan’s philosophy and vision. “Dr. Boulton at UC Davis once told me that success isn’t about doing just one thing 1000% better, but finding 1000 things and doing each of them 1% better.” On a daily basis, Alan continues to look for and uncover that “one more thing” to make 1% better.
At the end of our conversation, Alan made a comment that, perhaps, describes himself, and his personal outlook on life the best. Preparing to leave on a business trip to Chicago, Alan mentioned this was to be a quick turnaround trip, because: “I have to be home on Friday in time for my daughter’s first recital.” And, when he said that, you should have seen the smile on his face.