Napa Diary Day 10: Mountain Wines at Viader

Viader Vineyards occupies a steep slope on Howell Mountain that runs down into Bell Canyon. At an elevation of 1,200 feet, it’s just below the Howell Mountain AVA. Delia Viader purchased and then cleared the land in 1981 to plant with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  The estate has 90 acres with 27 acres currently planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Malbec.

The Glass Fire started in the hillside opposite Viader, and 60% of the vines were lost to fire. Production will be reduced until the replantings come on line, but all the cuvées  continue to be made. A rocky vineyard at the very top which was planted with Cabernet Franc that struggled to ripen is being replaced with some experimental varieties, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, and Grenache. The property has the potential to plant an additional 17 acres, and there had been plans to plant another 10-12 acres before the fire, but that’s now been delayed by the need to replace lost vines.  The cave consists of tunnels dug into the hillside.

Vineyards go straight down the steep slope to the reservoir

Delia has now handed over winemaking to her son Alan, although she is still involved in the blending trials. The flagship Viader is a blend of only Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with proportions varying from year to year, but always with a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon. Della had intended to include Petit Verdot, but it turned out not to fit the profile she had in mind. For a while there was a varietal Petit Verdot, and now there is the V cuvée, a blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with varying proportions but always a majority of Petit Verdot. There’s always been a varietal Cabernet Franc, and it’s now called DARE. Alan introduced the Black Label cuvée, which started out with much more Syrah but now has a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon and also includes Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This is intended to be more aromatic and approachable.

As Alan explains his style, “I do like a wine that is approachable on release, it doesn’t have to be ready to go. I want it to show well after 10 years but I don’t like massive intense wines that you can’t enjoy for ten years.” Alan started off by perhaps using a little more extraction than Delia, but in 2017 was forced by fires to intervene less in winemaking. “The wines made themselves,” he says, “which told us that perhaps we didn’t need to do so much, and now we have reduced pump-over.”

The style of all the cuvées shows the tension of mountain tannins. Black Label is the most aromatic and approachable. Viader is restrained, not quite stern, but showing a fine structure. V shows the taut precisely delineated aromatic black fruits of Petit Verdot, backed by the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon.

An updated profile will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guide to Napa.

Tastings of Current Releases

Black Label 2017 (Cabernet Sauvignon 56%, Cabernet Franc 9%, Syrah 23%, Malbec 12%)

It’s hard to disentangle varieties on fruity nose but the aromatics of Syrah seem the most obvious with impressions towards blueberries, and then perhaps a very faint note of tobacco from Cabernet Franc. Palate is fruit-driven and aromatic, but in elegant style with smooth tannins that are not at all obvious. There is just a faint touch of bitterness to cut the fruits at the end, perhaps from the Cabernet Sauvignon. This gets the least oak of any of the Viader cuvees, and is more or less ready to drink now.    90 Drink -2027

Viader 2015 (Cabernet Sauvignon 69%, Cabernet Franc 31%)
Some development shows on nose as tertiary notes with touch of gunflint. This is quite a restrained style of Napa, definitely in the mountain tradition, although not aggressive. Palate at first shows furry texture melding into touch of bitterness on finish. Fruits are mature and black with a faint piquancy coming out in glass, cut by impression of tobacco at end. There’s a good sense of grip on the palate.    91 Drink -2029

V 2017 (Petit Verdot 59%, Cabernet Sauvignon 41%)
The nose shows floral, perfumed notes. The palate shows the precisely delineated black fruits and aromatics of Petit Verdot with a more structured impression from the Cabernet Sauvignon. The overall impression is more typical of Petit Verdot than Cabernet Sauvignon, but the wine may be going through a closed phase.   Viader 91 Drink -2031


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