Interview with Delia Viader, Owner and Co-Winemaker of VIADER
One of the cult Napa wines, VIADER is located on the western facing slopes of Howell Mountain dramatically set at 1,300 feet. VIADER (pronounced via-dare) was founded in 1986 by Napa visionary Delia Viader. Delia produces roughly 4,500 cases each year for her club members, as well as some top restaurants. She also has a by-appointment-only wine tasting room to take in the sweeping views of the Napa Valley, overlooking St. Helena. Delia’s story is even more extraordinary than her special wines. Born in Argentina, Delia was largely raised in Europe and came to the United States as a single mother of four, and as a post-graduate student (she has a doctorate in Philosophy from the Sorbonne University in Paris). Delia quickly realized the potential of the Napa Valley and purchased her Howell Mountain property in the mid-1980s. Her first release was the 1989 VIADER Proprietary blend (60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Cabernet Franc) which was quite revolutionary at the time to blend in such a large amount of Cabernet Franc. Since then she has achieved international acclaim for her special Napa red wine. I recently tried her 2015 VIADER Red Wine (WWB, 95), co-made with her son, Alan Viader, and was hugely impressed with not only the quality of the winemaking but the beautiful combination of weight, tension and finesse in the wine. I think you will very much enjoy hearing her story in wine. Here is my exclusive interview with Delia Viader, Owner and Co-Winemaker at Viader Wines.
WWB: You have mentioned that your initial inspirations in wine came from the great wines of Bordeaux. What were some other people and wines that inspired you to become a winemaker?
DV: Wine was part of every meal in our family, like in most European households. My father had a special affinity for Merlot – in particular, the wine produced at Château Pétrus in Bordeaux. As fate would have it, my very first wines in Napa Valley were made at another winery under a custom winemaking contract (while I was building my own) where I had to share the space with none other than Christian Moueix, son of Jean-Pierre Moueix and the Château Pétrus dynasty. That friendship brought me full circle to Jean-Claude Berrouet, the phenomenal artist winemaker at Pétrus for three decades. Both, Christian and Jean-Claude are very knowledgeable and inspiring, passionate professionals in the art of winemaking.
WWB: How did you decide to start Viader on Howell Mountain? Can you talk about the specialness of this site and the fruit that comes from the vineyard.
DV: This place is magical. The community, the terrain, the coastal influence, the beauty … there were so many promising qualities tied to this parcel of land that contributed to this being “the” ideal location to raise my family while also raising (initially) 74,000 vines. And the wine that comes from this very special vineyard truly puts on a show consistently vintage after vintage. When we planted, we paid attention to the angle of the sun exposure; the presence, direction and speed of the wind breezes; the rock composition and variation of the soil; the angle of slope for drainage. We were looking for the ideal connection between soil, rootstock, grape variety, density of planting and vine canopy (height and width) to protect the grape bunches, while also ensuring optimal conditions for slow maturation and concentrated flavors. More than thirty years later, our vines benefit from the rocky terrain and our original planting decisions, particularly late in the summer when the heat from the daylight hours absorbs in the rocks, providing a perfect band of temperatures for the grapes to continue ripening slowly for up to two additional hours past sunset. This puts us at a major advantage for many reasons, particularly come harvest time. That extra after-hours heat expression typically allows our grapes to achieve maximum flavor concentration ahead of most – up to two weeks in some years – which means earlier harvests in our vineyard and avoidance of any danger of rain. All of this combined with our “noninterventionist” approach in the cellar means that we are able to translate all of the magical things going on in our vineyard directly into the glass.
WWB: How were you able to balance raising children on your own and growing your winery into the success that it is today?
DV: In a simple phrase: By working very very hard. And when it comes to my business and my family, one does not exclude the other. In fact, they can be very complementary. I made a conscious decision to build my home on the same mountainside as I planted my vineyard. My commute was a short few steps from my doorstep to the vines … and more often than not, the kids were out running around the vines, the vineyard their playground. Showing my kids at a very early age the direct correlation between certain soil characteristics and the aromatics that develop in the juice, through the “translation” the vine makes of its surrounding circumstance…it was always my children’s favorite story. And it’s a timeless story that is now retold to my grandchildren. 😉
WWB: What are the challenges with being a winemaking team with your son, Alan?
DV: Working together has tremendous advantages; particularly for a seamless continuation and consistency of style in our wines. The truth is, no one knows our vines or our wines more intimately than Alan who literally grew up with them. I’m honored that he grew up to appreciate and love this place as much as I do … so much so that he’s dedicated his career to VIADER. Love for this place fuels motivation and wholehearted dedication. As for challenges, I would say that it is often times hard to “disconnect” and separate work from family time. Wine is our passion and we eat, drink and live it! Which means that work and family time overlap more often than not. And sometimes we disagree and sometimes we need to take a minute. But I love that our mutual love for what we do pushes both of us to never stop learning, debating, experimenting or pushing our limits. At the end of the day, we are always on the same team, as a family and as winemakers, and I think our wines are better for it.
WWB: You and Alan have crafted a scintillating new wine, the 2015 Viader ‘Proprietary Red’ Red Wine (WWB, 95) which shows wonderful terroir, poise and richness. Can you talk about this fantastic wine and the 2015 vintage?
DV: The 2015 vintage was textbook perfect in many respects. Alan made all the right decisions (when to pick what row or what block; how much extraction; how much new oak; how long to age; etc.). When it came to our blending sessions, Alan selected the most promising blocks, followed by another narrowed selection within those of the most ‘worthy’ candidates. Together, we created the final blend, put together like a puzzle of distinct pieces: density, aromatics, length and quality.
WWB: When you are not enjoying the great Napa wines, what are some of your favorite wine regions and producers of the world?
DV: I’m particularly fond of Burgundy. I enjoy the sweat equity and distinct sense of place that some of their Pinot Noirs display with the artistry involved. I enjoy wines that whisper complexity of tannin and structure, but seduce you with layer upon layer of beautiful flavor.