Business Spotlight: Conrad Viano Vineyards, a blend of old and new

MARTINEZ, Calif. – This is not a new business, it is a new generation of Viano’s fresh from college with degrees in viticulture, enology, and business are preparing themselves to blend the best of the traditional ways with the energy and ideas of the future. “We’ve been talking about a wine club,” John Viano commented.

John and David Viano succeeded their father in the family winemaking business that began with the 1920 purchase an already wine-producing Vine Hill property. It has proved to be a great place to build a business and a family.

John oversees the 60-acre vineyard and David does the winemaking and bottling. Of course, the whole family pitches in when needed, according to John. The pair have no plans to sell to a developer.

In 1980, it was a charming experience to go to the Viano’s sunny basement “wine tasting room,” sample the wine in orange juice glasses, and enjoy the owner’s sense of humor while kids and a cat roaming the space behind the house.

It is even better, and more comfortable, to visit today’s tasting room with a larger selection of wines and the same hospitable family ambiance. This generation has combined modern techniques with traditional winemaking and dry-farmed grapes and added a picnic area with a view of the vineyards behind the tasting room.

There is something to be said for the continuity of vines planted in 1888 that are remarkably still producing grapes at the Morello Avenue property.

“Well, the production goes down after about 60 to 70 years,” John remarked. “But with the proper care….by managing the plant… you can keep it going.” He said more cluster thinning and shoot thinning helps extend the productive life of a vine , but “There is a balance, you can’t take too much out.”

One distinction between a production vineyard and their traditional approach is the lack of wires to maximize production. The Vianos allow the vines to grow “bush style,” add a manure culture and till the soil to keep the moisture from mother nature, according to John.

The Vine Hill area gets some morning fog and that is ok, as long as there is a morning breeze to dry the grapes during the day, he says. When asked about the impact of weather John said, “It’s been cyclical, but pretty much the same.”

There have been a few changes and additions to the varieties of wine grapes produced by the business of changing trends in the popularity of certain premium wines. It takes three years for a vine to begin to produce grapes and seven to 10 years before it is is at its best.

Conrad Viano Vineyards produces Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, French Columbard, Muscat Canelli, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel.

“We haven’t followed the trends except for when white zinfandels were popular, and now we’re making some rose again.

The winery offers red and white house blends made every year. They change with the percentage and variety of grapes that are leftover from making the other wines.

Find out more about Conrad Viano Vineyards at www.vianovineyards.com.

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