Janet Viader oversees sales and marketing for her boutique family winery, Viader Napa Valley in St. Helena. She was raised amongst the vines and learned the wine business at her mother’s side. Janet is on the Board for NG: The Next Generation in Wine, and is the youngest member of Napa Valley Vintners, helping to promote education, awareness and trade in Napa Valley. She is a part of the next generation in wine and we are proud to have her as a member of the Drink Careers 101 Advisory Board.
What was it like growing up in the wine industry? Do you have any favorite wine childhood memories?
It’s definitely a different kind of rural upbringing given the emphasis on hospitality, wining and dining. Having grown up with all brothers, I was no stranger to getting dirty and running all around the vineyard and surrounding property (we always had poison oak head to toe). My mother was managing the business on her own for the first 15 years out of the house, and she was a single mom so we helped out whenever we could. I remember that on several occasions, if she had to run to the bank last minute or was caught up with something and we were at home; she would ask us to keep visitors entertained until she returned. Not a lot of people expect to discuss viticulture and winemaking with an eleven year old! It was our backyard, so we absorbed a lot of information even if we weren’t directly involved.
What were the steps you took to prepare yourself for a life in the wine industry?
I just went for it! My first sales trip was to NYC and I had absolutely no idea how to talk to wine buyers, especially those known to only give you 2 minutes of their time, but I spoke from the heart about my experiences and the family philosophy of winemaking. You figure out your style. I’ve since taken various seminars offered by places like the NVV, Sonoma State University, Brotemarkle & Davis, WISE, The Seminar Group, etc. covering anything from branding, finance, to building the tasting room experience, legal grape contracts, trademark registration in China. My mother always encourages me to learn as much as I can from other experienced professionals. There is a wealth of information out there.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Prioritizing my duties. Aside from managing our U.S. distributors, importers, and California trade accounts, today my most important duty is the direct-to-consumer marketing. It requires the most time and creativity, because one needs to stay consistently relevant and keep people excited about winery events, promotional offers and new releases. Surprisingly, it’s not challenging working with family. We all get along royally (for the most part). My brother Alan handles our wine production and my responsibility is sales, and I think it’s important that we don’t overlap too much. As the “big boss,” our mother makes sure we’re on track, but she is also receptive to our ideas and we have few conflicts that don’t get resolved during family meetings.
As the youngest member elected on the board of the Napa Valley Vintner Associations, what kind of perspective does this allow you to bring to the board?
I feel you should ask them! Having grown up here, I think I have a valuable connection to the community. I bring the experience of the small family winery when discussing complicated issues, and I learn so much from my fellow board members who have various production levels and much more business experience. I am personally committed to protecting the future of the Napa Valley – it’s community, land, and economy. It’s a challenge to maintain the delicate balance of protecting the environment and sustainability of Napa Valley, while also providing room for new business and opportunities for growth. I hope that my connection with like-minded young vintners, like those in the group NG: The Next Generation in Wine, helps me in ensuring the success of the wine industry while keeping our Agricultural Preserve and local charitable giving through Auction Napa Valley a top priority.
Please explain a bit more about the NG: The Next Generation in Wine? What are the goals of this association and how to you to reach out to younger and upcoming wine drinkers?
The original purpose of NG: The Next Generation in Wine was to provide a social atmosphere for younger family vintners to network, and it has grown to be an avenue for Napa’s family wineries to cross-market and get in front of both trade and consumers. The philosophy is to take out the stuffiness of wine, and make it more accessible to younger and new wine drinkers by having the young family vintners there personally pouring the wines. Our events have music, sometimes food trucks, and always a fun, hip vibe. However there is an underlying message about sustainability – in both agriculture and our family businesses. That said, we also offer educational seminars to our members on topics that may affect the newer generation like Estate Planning and our most recent one was on branding. And the best part is that we always have great wines at our meetings!
What is your favorite aspect of what you do?
I love that my family’s wines can make peoples’ life experiences and special occasions even more enjoyable. We like to think that everyday is a special occasion worth opening a bottle of wine! My favorite client emails have pictures of 3 liters opened at 50th birthdays, or someone recounting how they finally popped open a bottle signed by my mother years ago and loved it. It’s great to share stories and even partake in those special moments, and I am amazed by the warm connection we have with clients just because they enjoy our product. I think it is a reflection on our family’s reputation and all my mother’s hard work. We’re all about consistently making a quality wine that demonstrates the beauty of a Bordeaux-style blend from our Howell Mountain estate. While our signature VIADER blend can stand the test of time in the cellar, we also produce wines under “DARE” by Viader that work well for those who “trunk-age” their wine and want to enjoy it immediately after the drive home!
What advice would you give college students considering a career working in the wine industry?
First of all, drink lots of wine! Secondly, be open to working hard and starting at the bottom. I was lucky and had my family connections, but even then my first job at Viader was filing and answering phones, and my brother’s was clearing rocks between the vine rows. Any and all wine education is valuable because it helps get your foot in the door, but after that there is a lot of on-the-job training that may carry you further. You do not have know everything, but be willing to listen, learn and put in long hours, in both sales and production. Read trade publications (I should follow this piece of advice more!). And like any industry, networking is extremely important, so try to attend as many wine-related events as possible and if you are trying to get your start, make an effort to get to know the winery owners or representatives personally. Always maintain your relationships, because you never know when they may come in handy.