Understanding and Interpreting a Vineyard with Alan Viader
Alan Viader is the second generation winemaker and Director of Operations for Viader Vineyards & Winery in Napa.
In this episode, Alan shares with us the story behind his family’s estate on Howell Mountain, how his mother used dynamite to move rock in order to plant the vineyard all while raising three kids, and how working with winemakers in Argentina, Alan realized that he wanted to become a winemaker.
We then get into the viticultural and winemaking practices used at Viader. From trellising to blending, Alan gives us some insight into the science and art into how Viader wines are made.
They believe that part of the fun of wine is learning about and exploring the many regions from around the world. They also know that it can be difficult to navigate through the vast number of wineries out there. Who makes the best wines from a particular place? How do I get my hands on them? These are the reasons that they started The Grand Tour.
Every month they will highlight a new wine region of the world. They spend that month tasting through hundreds of wines to find what they think best represents the region. They want to take you on a journey through and showcase the different types of wines that help tell the story of that place, while featuring producers that they feel are some of the best; the insiders, the ones who really know what's up.
A subscription to The Grand Tour will get you four different bottles of truly special, sommelier-approved wine for $95 each month (plus shipping), along with expert insight into the stories behind the wines, from the people and places who produce them to how they’re made, tasting notes, pairings and more. So you can go on with your life, leave the research to the geeks, and look forward to enjoying unique, remarkable, trustworthy wines in the comfort of your home.
Full transcription of the episode below
In this episode we mention…
Viader Wine Club
Viader Black Label
Chris Hall, Long Meadow Ranch
Napa Green Certification
University of Bordeaux
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Alan: My name is Alan Viader. I currently live in Yountville, California but I was actually born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I grew up in my family vineyard estate here in Deer Park which is just a few miles up the road on Howell Mountain overlooking St. Helena, northeast side of Napa Valley.
Chappy: So why wine? You grew up in your family’s estate but when did you first take an interest?
A: I mean, I grew up with wine everywhere. It was just kind of an everyday natural part of my day. Our house was built on the vineyard. I grew up with the vineyards. I was here before they were planted and as they were planted as I grew up, that kind of became my front yard. And my mom hosted wine tours with private guests and dinner parties at the house and I was always just kind of in the background, either helping with service or just sneaking around being curious. It was just always a part of my life. My mom always taught us about wines and at dinner table, we always had wine at the dinner table and she would pour a small little splash for my sister and I. She would kind of talk us through it and say, “This type of varietal from this type of region with this type of climate, the winemaker does this and that whatever. You’re tasting all those types of flavors because x and y..” She’s always very focused on terroir and really taught that about each wine, explained that on each wine so I kind of became fascinated with the concept of terroir. And then living in my own little circle here, and I grew up in a pretty unique terroir and I’m still fascinated in all the unique microclimates that Napa Valley has. Just the art of wine is incredible, never ending as far as learning potential and stuff.
C: And you’re in the best place in the world, one of the best places in the world to suck it all in.
A: I’m literally sitting in the vineyard right now looking at one of the best views in the world right now. Just to give myself a little inspiration for this talk today.
C: I wish I was there with you. That would be amazing.
A: You’re welcome anytime. It’s a long swim.
C: Yes, very, very. That’s the one thing about living in England. I moved here in August from North Carolina and started the podcast in October and since then, I’ve been talking to all sorts of people all over the world and they’re like, “You got to come.” Majority of them are in California like, “Yeah you need to come out.” And I’m like, I literally just moved out the country. So I need to come and make a trip, when I do, I’ll let you know for sure.
A: I’ll be here.
C: Perfect. So, was there a particular moment when, you grew up around wine, was there a time when you were thinking, like it hit you, “I want to work with wine.” Maybe even before then like there’s something to this that I want to explore more?
A: It wasn’t always. I’m the kind of kid that, I was the kid that had dirt on fingernails who was always kind of rough, running around camping and hiking, and playing in the vineyard. So, I always had that love for the land and growing up here, I started working in middle school. In the vineyards, I was clearing rocks. I was learning to prune. I was jackhammering the plant vines, working the harvest, doing all those kind of stuff, that’s when I fell in love with the growing aspect of it, which I think is 90% or more of winemaking. It is actually the raw material of the growing of the grapes and where it’s from and expressing that terroir. In high school, I started working in a cellar, learning how to wrap wine, how to move stuff from tank to barrel and vice versa. And that’s kind of what l learned that side of it but it wasn’t until like the early 2000’s that my mom invited me into the blending sessions. That was really a pivotal time for me because it was another side that I have never seen before in the seven years that I worked in the cellar. I just kind of did what I was told up until then I was just managing vineyards and doing nothing production-wise other than, “Hey move this barrel there.” And the blending really showed me that there was an artistic side to it and you could create something like paint portrait. It really opened my eyes, big time! I kind of explored a little bit more in 2004. I started asking some friends. I had to work in the vineyard during the season here so, I was looking in the southern hemisphere for places where I can intern. I found a really nice spot with some friends of my mom in Mendoza, Argentina, a place called Achaval-Ferrer and some good friends there brought me on. So I moved to Argentina and worked harvest there, did only winemaking. We went to vineyards and tasted the ripeness and cold harvest picks and brought fruit in and processed the fruit and then made the blending decision. It was a great experience. We had a completely different set of grapes and varietals that I wasn’t used to my home country. With Argentines, it was so much fun. And that’s when I wanted to be a wine maker. This is what I want to be doing.
C: That’s the life for you.
A: I mean it clicked. It just fit on every level. It was pretty amazing.
C: You talked about your mom. You mentioned your mom quite a bit. She has really been the kind of proprietor in the, I guess catalyst you could say, for Viader starting. What’s the story of how the estate first started?
A: My mom Delia was the one who started everything. It was her vision, her baby. So in the late 80’s, she was, she moved to California with kids under the age of 6 or 7 and was studying in Berkeley and had some friends in the Napa area, some French friends, because she was studying in France and had a lot of connection, loved European wines, and just had a lot of connection with different people. So, she was traveling to Napa and just fell in love with the region, fell in love with the idea that maybe it’s time for her to stop bouncing around the world and create a stable foundation for her family for us to grow up on. So she, quite literally, put on some roots. She found this property. It was an old cattle ranch and it didn’t look like a potential vineyard sight. It was too steep. It’s 32%, on average. I mean, there are spots that are over 35%. It’s a very challenging site, very rocky. It’s all mechanic, rocks some of the size of jeeps. She had a dynamite, like I said earlier, we were jackhammering through the site. There was a lot of rock here. She found this site to be unique and special and with her experience in Europe, with the hillsides and foothill vineyards being kind of the higher quality saying, “This is a pretty nice spot and it’s got potential.” So in ’86, she started looking around, putting some bids and loaned, borrowed money from my grandfather and started planting in ’87, cleaning and planting. We’ve got about 28 acres now so back then, she would have planted 12 acres. But it was always cab franc focused, did 40% cab franc back then and we continue about that same ratio here today, the rest being cabernet sauvignon and we just got a tiny amount of petite Bordeaux and malbec and sirach planted but out bread and butter is cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. She really wanted to bring a sense of Bordeaux to the region, being a single mom, with your background having fallen in love with those wines, the finesse and the elegance they bring, she really didn’t find too much of that. There were very few exceptions but she didn’t find too many. There’s not a big, huge cabernets and the wines have to lay down a bit 30+ years which are all amazing in their own right but she wanted something different and maybe being a woman kind of stirred up some dust here. She had a lot of opposition at first but she wanted to plant on one of the steepest hillsides in the area. She wanted to plant down the hillsides which is also very contrary to the norm everybody was saying, if you’re planting on a hillside this steep. But she said in Europe and Germany, in those areas, they have steeper, in Austria, they have steeper vineyards and they go up and down the hillside and that kind of goes with the natural terrain. You don’t disturb the natural flow of the land. And for us, it’s east-west, its perfect exposure. We have west facing exposure. The vines are oriented east-west. We get extreme sun exposure but I can manage it with my canopy practices. It benefits me more in the cooler vintages and then I have a lot more work to do at hotter vintages but the ideas that I have, tools to work with, that kind of screwed either way.
C: What are some of the canopy management practices that you have been doing?
A: Everything here is done by hand. Everything is vertical positioning so it’s up and down. At the top, we have the loose wires. I lie to tie them at the top to create a little protection. The sun is always at the top of the canopy throughout the entire day. It just goes straight through the canopy and I like to protect the berries underneath. I do a lot of leafing early on right around below the fruit zone but I don’t expose the top. I like filtered sun. I like to keep them more protected but we have so much exposure here that even the smallest amount of heat penetrates through. We get some leaf burning and all that because it’s extreme terrain up here. The vines are very stressed so my water management is very critical. I have a lot of technology in place for soil moisture and vineyard water moisture, sensors, my own weather station. There’s a lot of stuff that helps me to monitor my irrigation needs. This site is very challenging but it also rewards with good quality, good concentration, very small berries, not too much production actually. We get about 10 ½ tons per acre. The vines are small. They are tightly spaced. They are planted in very high density and they’re low to the ground. I’m not expecting much out of that either. Like a little bunch of bonsai trees. I’m happy with what I get.
C: It seems that your mom really took the, she almost took like the best of everything of Europe, specifically for this site, vertically, close planting, and everything else. She really, really thought about how to lay it out so it would last a long time. Not only have grapefruit in the first five to ten years but over 20-30 years, you’re going to have this amazing yield and just better quality fruit as well.
A: I mean, that’s what my mom usually does well. She surrounds herself with experts and consultants and different people that know what they are doing in the industry. She hired a day-to-day crew to put the vineyard in, hired Danny Schuster, who’s put a line and a few other vineyards throughout the world. But then, you use that advice and then adapted it and logically to her, this makes sense and this one doesn’t. So she used all that knowledge and her experience from Europe and all that and just kind of adapted it and changed little things to really work with this site. We’re constantly learning this vineyard site. The idea of having one site consistent in the family for generations, you learn things, you adapt. It’s not like big adapt or big changes but little enhancements here and there and you get better and better fruits. I was lucky enough to be born into this amazing site, this vineyard site. I couldn’t ask for anything better as a winemaker. These grapes are amazing.
C: How have you seen the vineyard change since you’ve been a kid really, how is it kind of adapted to, not only the weather changes, but to how your family has approached farming it?
A: Well, we’ve had played around with organic, bio dynamics. We’re not currently sustainable. We follow an IPM, Integrated Pest Management System. I do what’s practical. We continue to farm by hand. Actually, we’re farming more by hand, doing a lot more processes by hand than we used to and we’re really paying attention to each individual block more. Being a kid who kind of knows every corner of this property, I knew where to focus throughout the years and each year, I’m kind of looking at a certain block asking it, “Are you going to help me out this year? Are you going to be a challenge, a pain in my site this year?” I have this intimate kind of connections and relationships with these blocks and it sounds kind of weird but literally, I’ve spent 30 years of my life, most of my life has been on this property. We’ve adapted and we’ve enhanced, we’ve gotten better technology, better equipment that leave a smaller imprint on the estate. I’m working a lot with beneficial insects, really trying to work on birds, and predatory owls and trying to get raptors up here, kind of keep the whole estate a more holistic view. I’m working on compost and different compost that I’m injecting into the soil to enhance the microbes in the soil. I’m planning on every angle to try and make it all better quality.
C: When you bring actually the fruit into the winery, that only just creates a better wine.
A: The wine is more balanced.
C: How do you approach having this grape farming, how do you approach making a wine?
A: My mom is always saying that the wine is made in the vineyard. I kind of take that to heart and I grew up wanting to work in the vineyards. I thought maybe someday I’d have my own management company. I’d work at my mom’s place and then maybe have a few other locations and then I, like I said earlier, fell in love with the wine making process. I never stopped feeling that the vineyard is where the wine is made. So as a winemaker and a vineyard manager, I spent 99% of my time in the vineyards. I’m constantly walking around locating sites that need help or sites that are very exciting and watch them even closer come harvest time. And when I’m harvesting, I’m really picking which rows are ready at the same time and harvesting a certain section here. We only have 28 acres. I harvest over a period of like six weeks and we have maybe 50 different blocks in the winery during harvest, fermentation blocks and that’s insane when you compare it to other, I mean, this 28 acre vineyard would be just one acre somewhere. That is because I find, I know this property so well that I find differences in each little block and I can’t just throw them together. I want to see what they can do. Eventually, I’ll maybe throw some blocks together throughout the years in the cellar but at first, I kind of want to see what they have to offer and really get to know the block and maybe enhance a certain quality in the wine. I do a single barrel fermentation. I’ll do a single concrete tank and just maybe a ton or two tons and punching it down my hand or stirring it by hand or gentle punch down. I’m always trying something new but I do a lot of small batch fermentations. Our largest is usually six or seven tons at a time. I have one other guy that helps me in the cellar throughout the year and he helps me during harvest. He’s willing to try new things. We work really well together and we’re hands on. We’re getting our fingers purple. We just love exploring new options and seeing where block A1 is versus B7 and other different blocks here in the property. I express this site so differently because there could be more rock or slightly more southern exposure or whatever the case may be. They do show differences in the wine. My job is really to show the best that this property can be. As a winemaker, I just want to carry it along to the bottle. I don’t want to throw bumper in there, I want to make sure that this wine has represented this place.
C: Absolutely. So, that kind of leaves me to when you are getting ready to blend, how do you approach blending each wine? How many wines do you make?
A: We make quite a few. Most of them are tiny. We have a pretty concise wine club. I like to keep small batches strictly for wine clubs so that they have something special that nobody else could get. So, I’ll do 200 cases of this or 150 cases of this and different things from the estate but the main one that we do is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. My mom calls it the liquid cashmere. It’s our signature blend that we’ve done from day one. Our first release was in 1989 and it was 40% cab franc and 60% cab and that’s what put us on the map. That’s the best expression of this property so when I’m trying to blend that wine, I start with that wine. It’s the top of the top so I want to make sure I have every single lot laid out. My mom and I would go through the blends together. We will taste every single lot, write our notes. This is after six to nine months in the barrel so we don’t really mess with anything before then. I keep things on the lease. We try to keep things quiet in the cellar up until then which is actually around this time, we’re going to start working on 2016 blending. We really want to focus on which blocks tell the true story, which ones are singing loudest, the ones that are really showing the best quality. And out of the 40-50 lots each year, we pick our favorites. We’ll go through and select certain amounts of Viader wines that tell the story. It has to be a certain type of personality. It’s hard to describe it as some wine that my mom and I understand a personality we kind of grown up or I’ve grown up under her leadership. I understand it. It’s hard for me to put into words but Viader personality has a voice that we see or hear when we’re tasting a certain block. So, we’ll go through and talk about the pros and cons of each block and the ones that make it into the Viader cut, we go through and we taste in barrel and make sure that those individual barrels make the cut as well. The final blend is just the best of the best from the estate. The blend changes every year. It’s not always 40% cab franc, sometimes, 50% cab franc, sometimes 25% cab franc. It’s really just what is better that year. Then the black label that I started, I started in 2008 making the Viader Black Label. In the label it says State Limited Edition because my mom didn’t want it just done every year. Let’s put Limited Edition because I don’t know how long we are going to do this because it was so out of the box. It’s a blend I threw in together. I started making the wine as a wine maker in 2006 and I said, as a second-generation I want to do something with a splash. I love what you’ve done with traditional, classic liquid cashmere blends but let me do something different, something to put my name on something. She let me do some blends together and showed her one day and she said, “You know, actually, it’s pretty good. It’s so different that nobody’s going to compete it to the real thing. Let’s go for it.” We did a couple of barrels one year and sold out instantly. Every year, we’ve been kind of increasing quite little. I think it’s 700 cases now. It has become very popular. It’s a Cabernet, Syrah, Malbec, Cab Franc blend that the majority is Cabernet and Syrah.
C: That is different.
A: Yeah, it’s totally different. It’s all from the estate. It goes along with the theme that we’re in a state-driven producer. It’s something that we did. It’s a personality that’s a little bit more lively and racy, a little more intense. It’s a fun wine. Everyone that opens it either loves it or hates it, it one of those kind. It has a lot of black pepper and things from the Syrah which is really nice because I do 100% stamen included in my Syrah. The Syrah comes out very powerful, a little lively.
C: Sounds my kind of wine.
A: A little goes a long way.
C: Sounds really good. Has it been difficult working, as you said earlier, to your mom’s tutelage?
A: She’s very powerful, very opinionated but I guess the beauty is that so am I. We’re very alike. We’ve actually done personality tests and we are right-smacking on the same spot. So you either, we’re both kind of full speed in the same direction or we can butt heads. Usually, I kind of bow down and say, “You started everything, it’s your deal, it’s your baby.” So I respect that. What momma says, momma does, momma gets. We definitely have some back and forth and she respects my, I mean I grew up here and worked with her, directly with her for over 15 years. We really had a good relationship back and forth. And we know we’re both kind of working towards the same things, it’s not that challenging. It’s easier than it probably should. We actually work really well together.
C: That’s good though because I feel like a lot of family businesses, there’s just a lot of conflict in them.
A: It can be if you don’t have the right vision. Both of us, even my sister, she works here too. We all want the best for this property. We don’t want this company to just go from one generation to another and stop. We’re not looking to make a quick buck. This is something that we want to go forever. I consider myself just a steward for the next generation. So, we’re all kind of working on every decision that we make is based on how we’re going to benefit the property or the company or the future. We’re not looking in the now.
C: Do you consider winemaking an art or science?
A: I think it’s a great mix of both but more art. The blending is definitely art. I don’t look into numbers to plan. In fermentation or harvest, it’s all gut feeling, all art. You just taste something and you feel like it needs more of this or less of that, higher temperature or low. It’s all gut feeling but I do usea lot of science to maybe backup those decisions or help kind of lead to higher quality ones. But definitely, you can be artistic as you want but when you’re not following the numbers and you make a bunch and it spoils so you got to balance, you got to have a little science in there too. I use a lot of testing. Leading up to harvest, I track all the acids, I track sugar and water, berry size, circumference, and all that. There is a lot of science behind it but I don’t use any of those in particular decisions. I can walk through the block and taste it and say yes or no. There’s a blend.
C: And I think once you know a property that well then, having that instinct is just heightened over those 36 years.
A: When I was a little kid running around when my mom was berry sampling in the beginning when she was making wines, I would go behind her tasting grapes all day and she would tell me it’s not ready but it tastes good to me. As I did that for years and years and years and then I learned, it’s getting closer to being ripe, now it’s ripe, and next week we harvest it. It kind of gets ingrained in my palette. Over the years you know, you can taste a berry, you can actually, I’ve gotten to a point where I can feel it as I’m pulling the berry off, how close it’s not. I mean, it’s not scientific but you can feel the pressure that once something is ripe, it’s very easy to pop off the cluster, when it’s quite not ready or when you’re clenching a seed, there’s a certain type of crunch. So you’re looking for the seed that’s ripe. It’s hard to quantify it, yes.
C: Yeah. I feel like if you have to, if you’re still using science to do that it’ll probably be really good but there’ll be something missing.
A: Well you use science to do, depends on what style you want, you can get the most tannic areas you want based on purely scientific numbers but whether you get the extraction in the cellar after that, it’s all on you. And it’s going to make a good wine. You can’t find that from the numbers. You have to taste it.
C: So what’s the story behind the cellars of Viader because they’re pretty unique, I think.
A: We have a really nice real property here that’s on this west facing slope, the house is built right in the center. So we have, down at the bottom, there’s this huge reservoir about 600 feetand our property spans all the way up to about 1300 feet. There’s a lot of natural vegetation. There’s a bunch of oak trees and lots of tall mansanita trees, lot of beautiful vegetation here. And my mom didn’t want to clear cut and just put in a huge winery. She wanted to make as much underground as much as possible. Typical kinds of European where the couple different layers of the winery, fermentation on top, you have barrels below, we couldn’t do that here with the way that our property is so sloped it’s hard to do. So what we did was the winery and then burrowed into the mountain and built the barrels into the mountain. So we have caves that spans about 16,000 square feet underground and we do everything underground. We do from start to finish. We harvest here all by hand at night under the lights and flashlights because it gets really cold here at night in Napa and you don’t want to do it, trust me, we’ve done it for years. We did it in 100 degree temperature and we did it in 45-50 degree temperature at night. It’s so nice. Guys work faster. You’re happier. The quality of the fruit comes in better, more fresh, just everything across the border is better. So, we harvest, we process first thing in the morning, bring the fruit in and it does not leave the mountain for another two years until it’s actually bottled, labeled and packaged by us. We control everything 100% from start to finish under our little cave structure over there.
C: That’s really cool. I see nice pictures of them and they look absolutely incredible.
A: It’s very utilitarian. I mean, it’s not a fancy, showy winery or caves. I mean they’re pretty small and simple but we do try to keep every detail and all the sanitation is very important for us, cleanliness and just aesthetics are just very important. My mom always wanted to have the winery to look beautiful and the floors as clean as a hospital. She wants everything spotless so we worked really hard at aligning the barrels and all stacked on top of each other. There’s no racks. They’re just on top of each other and then there’s every barrel was painted and cleanedso you have this really nice contrast with the red, middle of the barrels with the black hoops, and a nice clean wood. We only use French Oak and they’re really beautiful pieces of art themselves. I mean, they’re handmade piece of furniture.
C: Are you using a new French oak every year or what does that kind of look like?
A: We do 75% or 60% of the French oak every year and the rest are previously used. I work really hard with the bridges and I actually fly each year to go see forests and state mills and make sure that the coopers are keeping up with the technology and the quality standard that I require. So, I’ve been really happy with the barrel quality so far with the ones I’ve worked with and I’m very anal about all that stuff. I go to Portugal to see where my corks come from. I go to France to see where my wood comes from for the barrels. It’s very important for me. Every step of the way needs to be controlled and the quality has to be there. I mean it’s something that we’re creating from scratch and every step of the way, we’re working so hard and I hate to have it go to waste when you have a bad piece or cork or something.
C: I can’t imagine that there are that many winemakers out there that would go that far. I mean, sure there are a lot, obviously they’re making their own product and they want it to be the best that it can be but I feel that there aren’t many that would go as far as going all the way to the forest to see what kind of wood is coming in the next few years.
A: I find it fascinating to do. To watch a tree fall is a magical experience. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but the guys in France know what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it for hundreds of years and it’s pretty incredible to see the operations they have in place. They good companies, they, just like as I take so much pride and care in my vineyard, they do the same in their state mills and barrel making. I went to my first forest when I was 12 in Bordeaux and saw state mills and even threw a barrel together and took me way too long but, it’s a jigsaw puzzle and it was a fun experience. Ever since then, I really kind of wanted to explore every side of it. I find it all very important.
C: Absolutely. I mean because it’s going into create this final product that you know you’ve worked so hard to put together but also something that you put your name on. So, what happened in 2005 that had a big impact on Viader?
A: 2005. That was a tough year. I had a phone call from a friend of mine who was on the fire department in Rutherford and he said, “I think you should drive down to your warehouse.” It Chris Hall from Long Meadow Ranch called me and his family had some wine in that warehouse and his staying at the fire department knew all about it and gave me the heads up. I ran down there. My mom was out of town and as I’m driving down 29, I can see this huge plume of black smoke filling the whole sky, coming out where the warehouse was. I just had tears in my eyes and I called my mom and said there’s a fire, it does not look good because the whole sky was black and you could smell it. It was nasty. I told her that there’s a fire in the warehouse and the fire department doesn’t want to go in because the roof might collapse and they’re just letting it burn. There was all these negatives and my mom was just quiet, calmed me down and said, “Alright. I can figure this out. I won’t need to make some phone calls. Call me back when you get there.” So I show up, Chris Hall’s father, Ted Hall is sitting there watching it with this look of horror and just sadness in his face and we locked eyes, looking at each other and say, man this sucks. This is horrible. The flames were coming out of the roof. There are fire trucks on every side just throwing water inside because nobody is able to go inside because it’s a concrete building. It’s very fortified. They used to have like navy submarines or something being built in there so, it was a well-fortified building. But the guy, the owner of the facility was involved in some type of fraud and he essentially let everything on fire to cover his tracks and we had an entire vintage of wine in there just temporarily because our warehouse was a few miles away. The main warehouse was there but we wanted to get our wines labeled and there was a company that would go and manually label your wine but they needed space and I didn’t have the space here at that time so we said, “Let’s go to this one warehouse and get labeled.” It was only there for three weeks, of course good timing. We lost the 2003 vintage. I remember walking through the rubble, old cases that were stacked, five or six palettes high of cardboard with all the water the fire department has thrown in, collapsed and fallen over each other. So there were mountains of broken glass and cases thrown on top of this and that. It was a disaster. There was a black soot and junk from the fire and there was actually wooden boxes that were burned and you could see the corks burned and pushed out from wines. It was a disaster. So we lost 4000 cases of wine, an entire year’s production. I mean, if you think about it, it’s three or four years’ production lost in one night.
C: So how did you, from your mom saying, we could figure this out, how did you figure it out?
A: Well that was actually, it was a really good moment for Napa Valley. It tells how intimate this industry is. Every supplier said, “Forget your terms.” We had just bottled them. We had just bottled 4000 cases of wine. We had glass cost, cork cost, label cost, bottling cost, barrel cost, all these costs and nothing to recoup those. We had no potential revenue coming in and everybody said, “Pay us when you can.” “Don’t worry about it.” “We’re saddened to hear of your loss.” When something like that happens, you’re losing a family member. It’s devastating and it was so nice to see the industry come together and just support everybody that was involved. Everybody was so nice and so caring. My mom was able to ask some friends for some loans and we were able to cover some things and little by little, we had gotten knocked down hard and kicked when we were down but then, little by little, we kind of picked ourselves back up. It was a challenge. My mom made some difficult decisions. She had purchased some land in Italy and had planted some vineyards two vintages in production and was about to release a wine from Italy. But in this whole disaster happening, she sold all wine. She sold the vineyard. She sold her home that she had essentially rebuilt, this was a beautiful 200+ year old villa and completed remodeled, kind of made it what it was in its heyday. She put a lot of time. She was intending to have that as a summer retreat and she had that to let it go. As soon as she had it finished, she had to let it all go just to cover all the cost that we lost. It was difficult for her. Something like that that you work so hard for and have to let it go. She made a decision, either I lose Napa or I lose Italy. It was very easy for her to make that choice. We’re not losing Napa.
C: So since then, how have you kind of, you, your mom and your sister, have you adjusted to within your production and how you do things year to year?
A: Well, if you look at us, back then, it’s a completely different company. It’s amazing how we’ve changed. We were very distributor and wholesale focused all over the world and all over the country. We’re making a decent amount of wine and I think we’re maybe up to a thousand cases total and today, we make 4,000-4,500 cases total. We are practically a hundred percent direct to consumer. It’s a huge shift in, completely 180 degree swing where we invite guests to visit us and taste and buy directly from us. The only way you can really find our wine is in the Tasting Room or in our wine club. It’s such a small production that it sells our every year. There’s not enough left over to really do much distribution. We do kind of find, we pick and choose where we want our wine. So we really have some nice relationships with some of the restaurants in the area and throughout the country, there’s some really good relationships that we’ve held onto. But for the most part, we’re direct to consumer now, which is great. It’s nice. We make a lot less wine, better quality, really focused on the estate making the best wine possible. It’s a good shift, I think.
C: From a business standpoint, are you making, are your revenues the same as when you were doing 10,000 cases? Or are they higher? How does that look?
A: It’s higher. We’re able to, because of the demand, where you literally push pricing. We actually can’t keep up. We sell way too fast right now, the way it is. It’s a problem. It’s a good problem. It’s a very good problem.
C: So what’s the goal and dream for Viader. I feel that you kind of touched on it but is there a formal vision that you have laid out.
A: We want to make the best wine from this property. We want to make a cabernet, cabernet franc that can stand the test of time but the real goal is to have a company live on forever and through generations and to do that, being a good steward is important to us. We just became Napa Green Certified and we’re working on a few other solidifications on improving our green status. We’re doing a lot more cycling and buying recycled products and gentle, kind of organic materials in everything down to our toilet bowl cleaner. Everything has got to be biodegradable and natural. I think that’s kind of the future for us. We’re going to continue to grow in that side and it’s good for everybody.
C: How do you, personally, as a winemaker continue to grow?
A: I never stop learning. I guess I get it from my mom. She’s a lifetime student as well. She has a lot more degrees than I do but we definitely share this passion for learning and mine really focuses on the vineyard so, I just took a course at the University of Bordeaux on viticulture and the local terroir. I mean, it was an intense course. It’s not something most winemakers do but I’m constantly traveling and going to wine regions and tasting some of the small chateaus in Bordeaux and Burgundy. I’m going to Italy, Argentina. Around here, I’m constantly going and doing wine tastings with other wine makers. I think that’s the best thing for me is just to experience more and more styles andapproaches to winemaking and seeing if maybe there’s a little nugget of information that I can take back to make our wine better.
C: So, we’re almost out of time, just a few more questions. What are you feeling grateful for lately?
A: Grateful? Coming from a farmer in California, I’m grateful for the rain we’ve had. I’ve had probablymy fill of rain at the moment where we’re well over 200 percent over average but we’re coming out of a five-year drought and it’s something that the vineyard needed very, very badly. So, having this much rain I think is going to be amazing for this vintage and the future because the root system is just going to thrive and the microbes and the fungi and the soils, everything’s just going to thrive this year. It’s going to make everything wake up and the nutrients are going to be more excess, everything’s just going to be turned up, very grateful for that. Our prayers have been answered. We’ve been needing some rain.
C: Well, you’ve had a ton of it.
A: When you ask, you will receive, I guess.
C: So another question is, where can people connect with you online and most importantly buy your wines, which you already mentioned.
A: Well, we do have a website. It’s simpleviader.com. I’m on Facebook. I don’t do Twitter. I’m also on Instagram. We have our own Instagram account. My sisters are in-charge of all the media, social media stuff. The best way is just come visit. We’re open by appointment but we’re definitely happy to see everybody that’s interested. Everybody that wants to come and visit, we have tastings available. You have to see this property to really understand it. It’s pretty dramatic. The view here is, I mean, I’ve grown up here and seen this view every single day and it’s never been boring. I’ll never get tired of it.
C: Yeah, I’ve seen it just like in the website. I’ve seen the pictures. It looks amazing so I can only imagine in person, how incredible it is.
A: Yeah, I want to maybe someday do a livecam or something. I mean, this view is changing by second all the time so it would be kind of fun to do something like that.
C: That would be cool. Do it. So last question is, which a lot of people findpretty difficult sometimes, what is one wine you’re excited about lately other than any of the wines that you make?
A: This one took a lot of thought because I definitely drink a fair amount of wine from my neighbors here and people from around the world but I guess one wine that I find very exciting to use your term is Opus One. I know they make a lot of wine but I really feel that they hit it right. Every year, I’m a big fan. I respect Michael Salacci, he’s the winemaker there and Natalie is also in the winemaking team. I respect their approach to the vineyard. They are on a much larger scale than I am but they definitely focus on the details and it’s something that I aspire to do as well. Opus One is always been a wine that I think delivers that sense of place, that sense of time. You can taste any vintage of Opus One and you can see the vintage variation and you can always get that, That’s Opus One. That’s only from that vineyard site.” I think they do it right. It’s something I’m always hoping to achieve here in Viader when I’m doing wines.