Viader Napa Valley — Details and a Tasting
Visitors to Viader enjoy a breathtaking panorama of northern Napa Valley. They taste richly aromatic and flavorful wines with sensual structure and savory complexity in the peaceful, mountainside tasting room.
But the hand-farmed vines that lead to those wines lead a much less luxurious life. Their vineyard home is steeply sloping and unforgivingly rocky—planting required jackhammers and dynamite. The soil is extremely well-drained, leaving even the drought-tolerant, 110R rootstock continually thirsty.
The tough, infertile landscape, along with high-density spacing, leads to small berries and low yields, about two tons per acre. So, deep concentration comes naturally to the estate wines.
Founding proprietor-winemaker Delia Viader bought the 92-acre property in the early 1980s. She worked with two Napa Valley experts to create the vineyard. David Abreu consulted for planting and orientation. He also managed the viticulture for 10–15 years. (Viader does it themselves now.)
Tony Soter, then at Spottswoode, advised on clonal selections. Delia Viader was looking for beauty, elegance, and restraint, despite a western facing that might ordinarily lead to power and high-ripeness. Leaf-pulling is very selective, ensuring the fruit remains shielded from excessive direct sun. The site’s altitude helps too, by offering more breezes and cooler temperatures. [At 600 to 1,300 feet, it lies only within the Napa Valley AVA. The vineyard is too high to be within the St. Helena AVA, yet too low for the Howell Mountain AVA.]
The vineyard has two distinct zones, distinguished by altitude and soil. The lower zone, which has the most planted acres, primarily consists of Boomer-series soil—deep and very well-drained gravelly loam formed by erosion of volcanic rock. The upper region is Kidd series—rockier, more shallow, and perhaps excessively well-drained. It’s broken-down rhyolite and rhyolitic tuff, along with some ash. That zone is planted to Cabernet Franc, which delivers what Alan Viader, winemaker since 2006, calls “spicy, Euro-style character with raspberry fruit.”
Alan Viader harvests in small lots, just enough for a single barrel of wine each. He has a range of fermentation vessels, including stainless tanks (mostly conical) and concrete (cubes, tapered cylinders and eggs). Viader likes giving fermentations some air space, so the fermenters are usually filled only to 60-70% of capacity.
Vinification begins with a 4–5 day cold soak. Fermentation proceeds with frequent pump-overs during peak. After that, pump-overs are much less frequent, though there may be a daily stirring. Maceration lasts 60–70 days.
Pressing takes place very slowly and gently in a basket press set to a 24-hour cycle to avoid any bitterness or astringency. Alan Viader says “even the last drop is incredible” Once in barrel—all French and about 75% new— the lots mature for roughly two years.
At 16,000 square feet, the winery is much larger than necessary for the 4,000 cases Viader produces. So, despite having 50 or more separate lots, there’s no pressure to consolidate fermentation or aging batches in order to make room for new harvest lots or vintages.
Tasting Three Viader Wines
2016 Viader 97+ 15.1% 750ml $195
The winery’s primary cuvée is simply called Viader. The 2016 vintage, just released, is the 30th for this wine. It’s always a best-barrels selection blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is also the highest volume wine each year, though that’s still not a large amount. There were 81 barrels of the 2016. I’ve not tried back vintages, but Alan says this wine benefits from age and starts showing especially nicely after seven years. If the 2016 is a guide to previous vintages, I’m not surprised. The family is drinking 20-year old bottles at the moment.
The 2016 is 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Cabernet Franc. It’s deep ruby in color with a pretty nose of dark flowers, blackberry, savory spice, lavender, bay leaf, red cherry, dry herb, and dark mocha. The wonderfully flavorful palate testifies to the wine’s excellent aging potential. There’s plentiful acidity and copious tannins which are approachable, yet quite structural. That texture is very fine with both powdery and chalky aspects that last throughout the extremely long finish. Drink now through 2040.
2016 Viader Black Label 95 15.15.1% 750ml $150
Alan’s goal for Black Label is wines that are expressive, vibrant, and enjoyable in their youth. He made 31 barrels of the 2016, which is 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 14% Malbec, and 3% Cabernet Franc. It’s profoundly aromatic and flavorful with aromas and flavors of grilled plum, black cherry, mocha, dark flowers, spice, wood, and Kalamata olive. It’s sensually structured and very long.
2016 Homenaje by Viader 94+ 15.2% 750ml $150
Homenaje by Viader is 50% Malbec, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s an homage to Delia’s home country, Argentina, and her family’s three generations in the wine business. The Cabernet is estate. The Malbec comes from a small vineyard in the Oak Knoll District with which Viader has a long-term contract.
As with their estate vineyard, Viader keeps water availability and yields low for the Oak Knoll Malbec. Alan Viader accentuates body, structure, and intensity with saignée, frequent punchdowns, and rack-and-return. The blend is nearly opaque in the glass with bold aromas of exotic flowers, spice, and syrupy fruit—red, blue, and black. The palate is even more intense, loaded with syrupy berries, ripe red cherry, savory spice, dark chocolate, and expresso. Body is medium-plus and very fine, soft-grained and chalky tannins frame the sumptuous flavors. Gentle acidity encourages one sip after another.
Other Viader Wines
Viader produces two other wines, which I didn’t taste on my visit. Viader “V” is especially low-volume, just 15 barrels in 2016. It’s always a Petit Verdot-focused blend. V sells for $210 and is always sells out before release.
“Dare” is a Cabernet Franc varietal, though not 100%. Volume on that is 25–30 barrels and it sells for $85.
I visited Viader as a writer, but they are open to the public by appointment. The 2-hour sessions cost $100 per person and include not just tasting, but also an educational walk through the vineyard and winery.