Shafer is unique among Napa Valley’s wineries.
Unique, sick of course, order for making Hillside Select, consistently the highest scoring wine across Robert Parker’s career. But Shafer is truly unparalleled in Napa Valley for another unsung reason – Elias Fernandez, their winemaker for over two decades.
In Napa, two years, let alone twenty years, is an unheard of tenure for a wine maker. This is a cut throat territory dictated by a simple equation. If winery X’s $80 Cabernet doesn’t get the “press” it needs to sell, the wine maker is simply fired and the next highest rated consultant is brought in. The process is a spiral, resulting in over-priced wines of complete uniformity fit only for tasting, not enjoying.
But for those of us who know and believe in Napa, who want to taste its greatness beyond the newest juice-bomb consultant, there is Elias Fernandez, relentlessly pursuing great Napa wine.
Elias started his tenure at Shafer during a troubled time in the valley. Up until 1980 UC Davis was recommending the planting of AXR-1 as a phylloxera resistant rootstock. Phylloxera is a bug that eats the roots of vines, killing them. The problem with UC Davis’ recommendation was that AXR-1 is not phylloxera resistant and by 1980 large swathes of Napa’s vines were infected.
Curiously, some vineyards in the valley remained unaffected by phylloxera. Tracking down the owners’ of these vineyards Elias discovered several things – almost all of them kept up the strong willed tradition of home-winemaking, they were almost uniformly of old-Italian stock, and they liked to golf.
It is an ironic tale of woe that involves drinking copious amounts of wine while playing golf but that is exactly what Elias did. These old Italian farmers did not belong to any swanky up-valley Bushwood Country Club. They had something better – their own back yard vineyard of Pretty Sarah to shoot balls into.
Drinking a couple bottles of home-ferment and stepping off the lanai these guys would start swinging away like it was Saint Andrews. Elias circumspectly followed suit, teeing-up with his new-found friends while pounding their wine. In the process he drunkenly noticed this backyard fairway’s soil was like chipping out of a bunker – the ground was almost completely sand. And in his heightened state of mental awareness Elias realized he had the clues to stopping phylloxera’s death toll. Old vine Sarah, Pretty Sarah, and sand, like a golf bunker.
By putting these clues together Elias created an unprecedented wine. A wine based on Petite Sirah, then blended with its brother grape Syrah, and grown in sand just south of the Stag’s Leap district in Napa Valley. Sand stops phylloxera in its tracks and Petite Sirah has the girth to withstand this harsh conditioning. Elias created Shafer’s Relentless.
With this wine, Napa’s tendency to make overly sweet, fruit driven syrup is tamed not by harvesting at puny French ripeness levels but by appropriately matching grape variety to soil. The result is a massively endowed wine at full power.
The nose displays aromas of ultra-ripe black berries, incense, and tamarind paste. For some drinkers it may be just a bit too much. But it’s not sloppy or out of control. It is – to our benefit – a blend of Petite Sirah and Syrah. The Syrah broadens out the aromas to include more mocha and savory chocolate notes. It also relaxes the palate into a more gracious and rounded, if still very intense experience. The flavors coalesce around blueberries and sweet coco nibs with light floral hints. The finish is lengthy, yet balanced in its muscularity.
At the Arthritis Foundation Connoisseur’s room tasting last year we had the benefit of tasting Napa Valley Petite Sirahs at 30 years of age and this wine, with your love, will be another stunning tricenarian.
2006 Shafer Relentless
Suggested List Price: $69.99
Special price via this email: $44.99
We will be tasting this wine on Friday and Saturday. Stop in and give it a try!
All orders must be secured with a name, credit card number, and phone number. All orders will be available at the time of purchase. Half case (5%) and full case discounts (10%) do apply to this special offer.
When the wine is ordered your credit card will be charged. The wine will be held in climate controlled conditions until you are ready to pick it up, free of charge. Offer is good while supplies last.