“The Wine Mother” – Interview With Delia Viader, Owner Viader Winery
Delia Viader, Ph.D. was born in Argentina and raised in Europe. She came to the United States as a post-graduate student at MIT. With three young children at the time and several degrees, she came to Napa Valley to make wine and find a home for her family. Delia was young, passionate and determined. Determined to make a mark in the industry by making some of the best wines in Napa Valley.
In 1986, she founded the hillside estate vineyards of Viader Wines on Howell Mountain. With her love for old world wines, she set out to make Bordeaux style wines in Napa Valley – with Cabernet Franc as her focus. In a region where Cabernet is King, she bucked the trend and dared to be different by planting Cabernet Franc, which she says is the Queen.
Delia, also known as “The Wine Mother”, was not one to follow the rules, she planted her own vines, her way. She was the first in Napa to plant her vines vertically up and down the hillside, as opposed to horizontal terracing. At the time, this was quite a radical idea for California. Her vision was to produce high-quality wines in limited and small production. Within a few years, Viader(pronounced Via-Dare) wines were highly sought after and had a cult-like following.
As one of the early trailblazing women of Napa Valley, Delia’s story is one of determination, hard work, sacrifices, and dedication. My interview with Delia is inspiring. She shares her journey from student to motherhood, to winemaker; sharing her struggles, her successes, her philosophy, and stories of those that influenced her path.
Me – In 1986 when you first started your winery, it was a time when there were very few women winemakers. Can you tell us what inspired you to make wine? Did you come across any obstacles or hurdles?
Delia – Like many things in life, my path to becoming a winemaker was more fortuitous than anything else. When I initially moved to the U.S. from Europe in the early ’80s, I came as a post-grad student to attend MIT in Boston. I was a single mother to three young children at the time (my fourth son would come later). I had family ties to California, so we found ourselves traveling there often. It was during one of these jaunts to the West Coast that I visited Napa Valley for the first time and immediately fell in love with it; the vineyards, the hills, the familial energy of the community. If I closed my eyes and imagined the ideal setting to raise a family – this was it.
And then, as luck would have it, a friend of a friend presented an opportunity to buy land in the mountains above St. Helena in Napa and I knew that I had to find a way to make it work. This was where I wanted to lay down roots and raise my family and, at the time, this was the driving force that inspired me to pursue planting my vineyard.
So here I was, a 25 year old immigrant and single mom with a Ph.D. in Philosophy who knew nothing about winegrowing or winemaking wanting to plant a vineyard on a very steep Napa hillside with a European design in mind for the vineyard (non-terraced and closely spaced) and wanting to make a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as opposed to a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. NONE of this was the norm at the time and in hindsight, it appears as though I was sitting upon a seemingly unsurmountable task riddled with hurdles and roadblocks. But I was determined to make it work; failure was not an option. My kids depended on it.
Me – You have worked with some of the best winemakers in Napa Valley? Did you have a mentor or someone you looked to for inspiration?
Delia – While not a winemaker, my biggest mentor, helper, friend and role model remains to this day, Mrs. Margrit Mondavi. She was so exceptional and so dear to me remembering her still brings tears to my eyes because I can’t grab the phone, anytime, and hear her sweet voice on the other side.
Me – You were born in Argentina and raised in Europe, with such a diverse background, why did you choose Napa Valley to make wine?
Delia – Napa Valley is, in a word, magical. I fell in love with Napa Valley and felt really at home with the potential. 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.
Me – What was it like – a single mother raising four children on a vineyard? What were the challenges, if any?
Delia – Life as a single mother of four, while simultaneously planting a vineyard, learning a new industry and still keeping my wits about me was … crazy! 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, which certainly helped my desire to be present, even if it meant cross-pollinating “work” with the kids’ playground (aka our vineyard). But – like many working moms who grapple with juggling family and work – I also had to learn to delegate and count on babysitters. Making wine was one thing, but marketing wine was a whole other can of beans! Getting the VIADER name out there and putting a face to the name entailed plenty of traveling and commitments outside of Napa. Without the incredible dedication of others over the years – particularly with childcare – none of this would have been possible.
Me – You are fondly referred to as “The Wine Mother”, please share and elaborate on the significance and meaning behind it?
Delia – So many levels! At VIADER, I am the mother of the vines (I had them planted myself, my way); the mother of the wine (I ‘created’ our Cabernet-based wine to be highly influenced by the terroir with a high dose of Cab Franc and remain, highly influential at the final assemblage-blend); and I am the mother of the winemaker, my son Alan Viader.
Me – What makes Viader wines so special? Can you talk about the brand, the wines, the location, soils, and terroir?
Delia – Our wines are a reflection of our passion and confidence to do things our way, and our willingness to try new techniques and technologies that achieve our end game of crafting superior, great-tasting wines. We were one of the first in Napa to plant our vines vertically up and down the hillside, as opposed to California’s typical horizontal terracing – an unheard-of proposition at the time – and one of the first in Napa to showcase Cabernet Franc as a deserving blending companion with Cabernet Sauvignon.
We were one of the first to experiment with organic and biodynamic farming in the Valley before it was even on people’s radars, and more recently, my son, Alan Viader, winemaker, has been at the forefront of the science, trial, and practice of new vineyard technologies. From more informed and targeted irrigation decisions to knowing the exact optimal time to harvest at each vines’ peak ripeness, the precision with which we can farm our unique 92-acre hillside estate is extraordinary. It’s this constant desire for improvement and not resting on our laurels that have catapulted our wines to the top of the spectrum in the craft of super-premium, luxury winemaking.
Me – Three decades later, from when you started making wine, how has the landscape changed for women winemakers?
Delia – Quantum leap difference! Today, there are more ladies of the vine than ever before and I passionately believe that it is our responsibility as the ‘oldies but goodies,’ to mentor and keep widening the path for the next generation of younger ladies to carve their way forward. What I love the most about the landscape today is this great community of women working together to support each other and help lift each other.
Me – You make great Bordeaux style wines in Napa Valley. What inspired you to this? Any particular wine, winemaker or winery?
Delia – Growing up, wine was part of every meal in our family, like in most European households. My father was particularly fond of Bordeaux-style wines, which we poured regularly at home. So when I decided to plant a vineyard in Napa, I knew that I wanted to model my vineyard and style after the wines that I had grown up enjoying with my family.
My father had a special affinity for Château Pétrus. 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. As a young winemaker who had the opportunity to befriend and learn from the personalities behind the wine I grew up drinking – I felt empowered and inspired to forge on in my quest to grow and make extraordinary wine.
Me – In Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is king, but you also make exceptional Cabernet Franc. What was it that drew you to grow Cabernet Franc? You not only use it as a blending grape, but you make Dare Cabernet Franc. Do you have any plans to further expand on this grape variety?
Delia – I’ve always had an affinity for elegant blends with Cab Franc as a component and I am particularly drawn to its aromatic component and finesse in the way you can display its tannins. For sure Cabernet Sauvignon is King in Napa Valley, and if that is the case, to me, Cabernet Franc is Queen; and a very elegant and refined one when perfectly adapted to the soil/terroir. Cabernet Franc brings a beautiful floral bouquet and a quasi-cashmere texture to a well-structured mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon like ours.
For our DARE Cabernet Franc, our goal is to showcase the most aromatic and pleasing attributes of Cab Franc grown on our estate.
Currently, we bottle only what we grow on our estate and do not have plans to expand in the near future.
Viader Wines to Try
The Viader “Black Label” showcases their mountain vineyards by blending the best of four distinctive, low-yield red varietals grown on their estate vineyard on Howell Mountain. The wine is bold, structured and richly textured. The “Black Label” is a powerhouse cuvée of their top lots of estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
DARE by Viader is single vineyards, single varietal mountain wine made from Cabernet Franc. The wine is focused and a clear expression of their unique terroir.