Born in Argentina, Alan’s mother Delia came to the United States for post-graduate studies (she holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from the famed Sorbonne University in Paris and an MBA in Finance from MIT). As a single mother of four, the last thing one might have expected was for her to plant a vineyard, but Delia could see the potential for grape growing in Napa and she wanted to raise her family in California. In 1986, with the help of a loan from her father, Delia founded Viader. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, she planted Cabernet Franc, unusual in the area at the time. “No one understood why she wanted to plant Cabernet Franc,” Alan says. “She just had intuition.”
Alan was also sitting in on blending sessions with Delia. “For a couple of years, I did blends with her as a fly on the wall,” he says, “learning, observing and adapting my vineyard practices to make better wines. In 2005 I decided I wanted to become the winemaker at Viader, but I knew I couldn’t just snap my fingers and make it happen.” Alan took classes at UC Davis to learn winemaking while he managed the vineyard. He also worked a harvest at Achaval-Ferrer in Mendoza to further his knowledge of winemaking. “It was my dive into full-production winemaking,” he remembers. “I was hooked from then. I had so much fun. I love hard, physical, active work. It’s in my blood to work during those rush moments of harvest and bottling. I excel in high-stress situations.” In 2006, Alan took over the winemaking at Viader.
Artists are often perpetually dissatisfied with their work, aware that there’s always something greater to be achieved. Since taking over both the vineyard management and winemaking at Viader, Alan has been searching for ways to make the highest-quality wines possible; his efforts are reminiscent of this artistic tendency. “I spend all my days working on ways to improve the vineyard,” he enthuses. “It’s not so much the winemaking I’m focused on. The wine will be good based on the site. I focus on making sure the wine tells the story of this place in a specific vintage. That’s cliché to say now. But all my wines are different, and I can tell you why. There’s a story there. Every harvest is unique.”
Alan’s search for the highest quality expands beyond the vineyard. He emphasizes how important relationships are to success in the wine business. For him, those relationships start with family. “My mom still teaches me something every day,” he says. “She’s got this drive—I bet she’s got 20 projects up her sleeve.” From so many years in the business, Delia has forged her own relationships, and Alan has been fortunate to call many of the great figures of the Napa Valley his friends and mentors, like the Mondavis, Tony Soter and David Abreu. “My mom has been in the industry a long time and she’s made so many connections,” he says. “There are always doors open for me.” He’s been able to pick up pieces of advice here and there from these figures, inching his way toward becoming the best winemaker he can be. “Tim Mondavi used to comment about the use of concrete for Cabernet Franc,” he says. “Little things like that I’ve picked up and held onto.”
For Alan, making the greatest wine possible isn’t just about him. “In this industry, you have to see things in the long term, generationally,” he explains. “This is my mom’s baby and we’re working together, so it’s my job to make it as great if not better, so I can eventually transfer it to the next generation. I’ve been making wines in the blink of an eye—this property will outlive me.” Alan hopes to give his children the same opportunities he was awarded to run the family vineyard and winery. “My mom always said, here is the opportunity. She didn’t push me, but she made everything available. Making the jump from the vineyard to winemaking was a big step. It’s not only twice the workload but three times the stress. But I like it. I can’t imagine having a middle person. To make great wine, you have to be the farmer.”
Images courtesy of Viader Vineyards and Winery.
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