From Ivy-League Education to Growing Vines in Napa Valley, Delia Viader Follows Her Wine-Inspired Dream
Napa Valley’s Viader Vineyards and Winery has a strong focus on high-quality wines, sustainability and family.
Behind every successful winery is an inspiring story, and VIADER is no exception. Located on Howell Mountain in California’s Napa Valley, the Viader’s story is about determination, innovation and family.
The story of VIADER begins with its founder Delia Viader, one of the first female winemakers in Napa Valley. Born in Argentina, she spent much of her youth in Europe. After receiving a doctorate in philosophy from the Sorbonne University in Paris, she came to the United States and continued her studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California (UC) Berkeley and UC Davis, where she studied viticulture and oenology.
“I came to the U.S. in the early 1980s as a post-graduate student to attend MIT in Boston. My brother came with me and his help was invaluable as I was a single mother to three young children at the time (a fourth would come later). As an engineering Ph.D. student, my brother made connections with the Berkeley Lab, so we found ourselves traveling to California often. It was during one of these trips that I visited Napa Valley for the first time and immediately fell in love with it. When a friend of a friend presented an opportunity to buy land in the area, I knew that I had to find a way to make it work. It was in this moment of opportunity that I had the idea of planting my own vineyard.” Delia asked her father for a loan to pursue her dream. “I will never forget my father’s expression of concern when I asked for a loan to help cover the down payment, but I was determined to make it work; failure was not an option.”
“Our wines are a reflection of our passion and confidence to do things our way, and our willingness to try new techniques and technologies.”
In 1986, Delia moved to Napa Valley and made her dream a reality. Her children grew up working in the vineyard, like the children of other winemakers like Palmaz, and in 2002, her son Alan became vineyard manager. He became lead winemaker in 2006, and continues to oversee vineyard operations and production, working closely with his mother. He regularly travels to the world’s wine regions and is constantly adopting new technologies and techniques to improve the quality of the wines and the winemaking process.
The VIADER Winery estate is a 92-acre parcel with a 1,200-foot elevation and 32-percent slope on a rocky mountainside that produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Its unique European-style vertical planting method optimizes sun exposure, vine density and erosion control, providing ideal conditions for ripening the fruit, resulting in more concentrated and flavorful grapes.
“Our wines are a reflection of our passion and confidence to do things our way, and our willingness to try new techniques and technologies,” said Delia. “We were one of the first in Napa to plant our vines vertically, as opposed to California’s typical horizontal terracing, an unheard-of proposition at the time. My son has been at the forefront of the science, trial and practice of new vineyard technologies. From more targeted irrigation decisions to knowing the optimal time to harvest each vine, the precision with which we are able to farm our hillside estate is extraordinary.”
As one of the first wineries to experiment with organic and biodynamic farming in the Napa Valley, sustainability has always been important to the Viaders. In 2017, VIADER achieved its Napa Green Winery certification and in 2018 VIADER earned its Napa Green Land certification. Napa Green is a comprehensive sustainability certification program focused on protecting and restoring the Napa River watershed, saving energy and water, and reducing waste. From installing motion-sensor LED lighting across the winery to using alternative, non-chemical pest control methods, the Viaders are continually implementing new innovations that support sustainable farming, efficiency and higher quality fruit.
As one of the first wineries to experiment with organic and biodynamic farming in the Napa Valley, sustainability has always been important to the Viaders.
“As farmers, we are direct observers of nature with an intuitive understanding of the long-term impact that changes can bring,” Delia said. “As an industry, we have an ethical responsibility in sustaining and preserving the land as best we can for those that will come after us.”
On average, VIADER produces about 50,000 bottles (4,000 cases) of wine a year, which can vary depending on climate and environmental factors. In 1989, the winery produced the inaugural vintage of its VIADER Proprietary Red Blend, a wine combining Cabernet Franc’s elegant aromatics and Cabernet Sauvignon’s rich complexity. This wine would go on to be honored as Wine Spectator magazine’s #2 wine in the world on their annual Top 100 list. Today, the VIADER Proprietary Red Blend prevails as the winery’s signature wine and continues to earn praise from the industry’s most respected critics, vintage after vintage.
Over the years, Viaders’ portfolio has grown to include a few other limited production wines. VIADER “Black Label,” created by Alan, is a blend of the best of the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
VIADER “V” is a reserve Bordeaux-style blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 100-percent new French oak for up to 24 months, resulting in bold and rich dark fruit notes, followed by a long, smooth finish. DARE is a single-varietal offering of Cabernet Franc crafted from the estate grapes that go into VIADER’s flagship proprietary blend.
Delia continues to be very involved in the Napa Valley wine community and is an inspiration to women in the industry. “It has been such a rewarding experience to actively promote, mentor and encourage so many brave, tenacious and hardworking women across all facets of the industry,” she said. “What I love seeing the most is this great community of women working together to support each other and lift each other up.”
Delia serves on the board of directors of the California Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners. She helped spearhead the Premiere Napa Valley tasting and auction, which raises money to support Napa Valley Vintners’ mission to promote, protect and enhance the Napa Valley.
“There are so many great things I love about this industry, but what I love most are the people and the camaraderie,” she said. “No matter where you make wine in the world, we all have the same aspirations and it is energizing to be a part of such a passionate community.”