From the Sorbonne to Howell Mountain
If strength of character is an asset in winemaking, it’s no wonder that Argentina-born Delia Viader is so successful at what she does. Viader’s strength was tested four years ago, when she arrived home one afternoon after shopping and heard her 3-year-old son, Alex, calling to a “kitty.” He then suddenly screamed in pain.
Viader dropped her groceries and raced to her son, who had been attacked by a large, red, frothy-mouthed fox. With the help of her 17-year-old son, Alan, and their dog, the vintner managed to rescue young Alex and capture the fox for analysis. Sure enough, it was rabid, and all three family members were forced to endure a four-month-long series of painful rabies shots. (Tragically, the county imposed a terminal “Old Yeller” sentence on the dog.)
On the wine front, Viader displays equal force of personality. “When I started out in 1989, it was a low period for the wine business,” she recalls. “I wasn’t really comfortable in the beginning. I felt like I still had to prove myself, especially to my father,” a well-traveled diplomat with great expectations for his Sorbonne-educated daughter.
“I never imagined not succeeding. But it wasn’t very clear how to get there. Not only was 1989 a difficult vintage, but I was struggling with a different culture and language.”
Viader’s father’s job meant a lot of international travel for his family, and one special discovery for his daughter. Delia discovered California when her father, who now lives in Barcelona, purchased 92 acres on Howell Mountain in the early 1980s for a vacation home.
“Land was cheap then,” Viader recalls. The property eventually became her vineyard and winery location. “I finally bought my father out in 2001,” she notes with evident pride. “But the price tag had risen 1,000 percent from the original cost.”
Viader originally moved to California in order to finish her MBA at Berkeley. “My first love was California—not wine. But I wanted to stay here, because I saw a lot of opportunity. To be here legally, though, I needed to find a husband or a job.”
The husband approach was sketchy, but a career in wine looked promising. “I couldn’t find a job I wanted, even though I had good business skills. So I created my own job,” she says. After finishing her MBA, Viader built her winery and planted her vineyard while studying enology at the University of California, Davis.
Not one to sit on her laurels today, Viader is again pushing the envelope: She recently planted Syrah on six acres of her steep hillside property. Her first vintage, 2000, is scheduled for release in the fall of 2002.
However at home in the Golden State, Viader hasn’t gotten Europe, where “life is easier” and “the pace is slower,” out of her system. Last year, to cement her links to the Old World, she purchased a 17-acre property in Tuscany, where she plans to grow native Sangiovese—and some Merlot, just to buck tradition.