Established in 1986 by Argentine-born Delia Viader, the estate that bears her name has climbed its way to Napa’s top echelons. Then again, given its perch 1,200 feet up on the steep slopes of Howell Mountain, it never really had far to go. The views from the tasting room and winery deck alone are enough to drop your jaw, sweeping down the mountain to Bell Canyon Reservoir and the valley floor below — it is a special place indeed.
Delia’s path to Napa was a winding one that began in Argentina but swerved to France where her father was serving in the diplomatic corps. She eventually graduated from the Sorbonne with a doctorate in philosophy and then moved back across the Atlantic, this time to the United States. She pursued advanced business studies at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and MIT, eventually earning her Ph.D. With four children to raise, Delia settled down in California, though she was never idle. She purchased the 92-acre property on Howell Mountain with a loan from her father and set out to make a world-class winery.
The project was demanding from the get-go as the property’s rock-hard soils required blasting, jack-hammers, and iron bars to prepare it for planting. Even with all the heavy machinery, many parcels still proved too rocky for vines. Under the guidance of David Abreu and Tony Soter, about 27 acres were planted, some on slopes reaching an incline of 32 degrees! Spacing between vines is intentionally tight, and drought resistant rootstocks were used throughout. The most interesting feature of the vineyard, however, is its Bordeaux-style orientation. Vines were planted in rows up and down the mountain, following the path of the afternoon sun and allowing for maximum exposure. Being the first to bring this approach to Napa, Delia was initially criticized for it, but it has since become a model for many growers.
There is a unique microclimate here, characterized by significant diurnal temperature swings — foggy mornings, hot days, and cool nights. The reservoir below creates thermals and cooling breezes that slow down the ripening process, allowing the grapes to develop flavor while retaining acidity. Elevations climb from about 600-1,300 feet from the bottom to the top of the property, making for an interesting harvest. Fruit at the top ripens slowly and sometimes comes in a full month later than the fruit at the bottom. Wherever they are located, all grapes, are picked in the early hours before dawn to maintain the highest levels of freshness and acidity.
In 2002, Delia’s son, Alan, joined the business, beginning in the vineyards, where he instituted biodynamic farming practices. Today the vineyard is not farmed biodynamically, but Alan has retained many of the core tenets of the practice, which he says forced him to learn how to be in sync with the vines and become a better farmer. Since 2006 Alan has taken over the role of winemaker and director of operations, though he still works closely with his mother.
The wines here have a certain structure and intensity that brings to mind their rocky, steep origins, yet they are balanced and refined as well. Fermentation takes place in concrete and stainless steel tanks, after which wines are aged in French oak barrels made with 50-85% new oak depending on vintage, lot and cuvée. Alan loves working with his mom, and notes that they actually have very similar palates. “When we disagree on a particular barrel or lot for blending, it’s usually pretty minor,” he says, “but we are pretty close most of the time.” Delia leans ever so slightly towards an elegant and nuanced style, while Alan sways more towards power. Together, they manage to pull off the difficult task of blending richness and muscle, with harmony, proportion, and finesse.
In 2007, Delia’s daughter, Janet, joined the team on the marketing and sales sides of the business. Delia’s daughter-in-law (Alan’s wife), Mariela, has also come on as executive chef. This is truly a family run business, and it shows in the great care and dedication afforded to every aspect of production — especially the wines! Recent vintages, 2012, 2013, and 2014 were all outstanding, and there are surely more on the way.