Argentinian-born Delia Viader has brought a unique interpretation of Napa Valley wine to the table, with a European influence. She was brought up in France mostly and developed an enthusiasm for the wines of Bordeaux (especially Cabernet Franc-scented St Emilion) which is apparent in the wines Viader now produces.
Having completed her studies in California, Delia became intrigued by the possibility of making wine there. Her father owned property on Howell Mountain that he had intended for a retirement home, and which he sold to Delia. She began clearing the hillside scrub and planting vineyards in 1986. It was a phenomenal task requiring a small fortune and the removal of thousands of tons of rock. The cépage of the first vintage of Viader (1989) was based on that of Cheval Blanc: 40% Cabernet Franc, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc remains an integral part of the blend, producing a style which is unusual for the Napa Valley, more floral and blueberry tinged.
Planted on the lower reaches of Howell Mountain at an elevation of 1200ft, the soil of the Viader vineyard consists mainly of the rocky remnants of a volcano. The volcanic loamy soils offer excellent drainage for the four estate varietals: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah. The lack of topsoil stresses the plant and forces the grapevine to concentrate all of its resources into the production of the fruit.
The vineyard was planted in order best to represent the distinctiveness of this challenging terroir. The vine rows are oriented east/west, running down a steep 32º slope. These characteristics give the optimum conditions for fruit ripening. The afternoon sun shines directly over the top of the canopy of the vines, which filters the light and prevents the grapes from receiving direct sunlight which can damage the fruit. In addition, the mountain breezes can easily flow between the rows, positioned up and down the mountain, as opposed to the traditional method of close-to-contour terracing. This is especially important in the hot months before harvest, and during the last months of winter, when temperatures drop and there is threat of frost. Moreover, the volcanic rock component in the ground absorbs the heat, and releases it after sunset. Vine spacing is 2,200 vines per acre, planted every 5'x4' (about 5,500 vines per hectare and approximately four times the average planting density of the Napa Valley, another nod to Bordeaux). The vines are organically grown, hand-farmed, with very low yields per acre. Average yields are fewer than 3 tons per acre (around 45hl/ ha - not especially low for Europe, but low for California).
A true family winery, the whole family is involved in some capacity, most particularly Delia’s son Alan as winemaker (aided and abetted by Michel Rolland as consultant) and Janet Viader who heads up sales and marketing Viader has a character very much its own. As Stephen Brook puts it: “Viader remains an extremely robust wine, with sumptuous fruit but less of the obvious fleshiness of more conventional Bordeaux blends from the valley floor and the benches. This is a wine with backbone, a touch of welcome severity and a good deal of spice.” Viader dares to be different and is all the more welcome for that.