Winemaker Elias Fernandez with Owner Doug Shafer
The Silverado Trail has long been a place of inspiration. The 29 miles of Napa Valley wine country has drawn gold miners, farmers, artists and of course, the ubiquitous tourist.
It is said scribe Robert Lewis Stevenson honeymooned along the Silverado Trail, inspiring novel Silverado Squatters in the late 1800’s.
We are surprised it wasn’t here he was inspired to write Treasure Island. Though no island, treasure abounds.
On a recent stop to Shafer Vineyards, along the trail, we found a pirate’s booty of treasure, plucked straight from the Stags Leap District. Since the late 1970’s, the father and son team of John and Doug Shafer and winemaker Elias Fernandez, made the best of what they were given — a hillside and a few vineyards below; a total of 205 acres. Prior to winemaking, the land had been used to grow prunes and walnuts.
Today, Shafer has turned to sustainable agriculture, which as Doug Shafer boasts, leads to less dependency on chemicals and pesticides and more enjoyable wines. The winery uses the most cutting edge technology to select only the best grapes to harvest.
During our tour of Shafer’s winery, we met wine maker Elias Fernandez. Fernandez was busy preparing the factory equipment for harvest in October. It is the calm before the storm, he says, as they wait for the tiny flowers now on the vines to start turning into grapes in the July and August heat. Fernandez, a QRW choice as best winemaker in 2002, knows the land better than most. Fernandez grew up, harvesting prunes on the same land he now harvests grapes. A Fulbright music scholar for trumpet, Fernandez went to the University of Nevada, Reno but soon felt his calling was in agriculture. After studying enology at University of California, Fernandez began winemaking at Shafer.
The Shafers say it is because of Fernandez, they named their syrah, “Relentless.” The Shafers asked the people who work alongside Fernandez how they would describe him and it was the word “relentless” that kept coming up to describe his commitment to wine excellence.
The Shafer Merlots are the biggest sellers with about 8,000 cases released each year. It is their Hillside Select cabernet is their most celebrated and most famous wine. Other offerings from Shafer include the Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay from a vineyard on the northern rim of San Francisco Bay; Napa Valley Merlot sourced from a vineyard a quarter mile south of Stags Leap District; One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon from the hillside vineyards surrounding the winery; Relentless Syrah and their immense Hillside Select also from the vineyards surrounding the winery.
As we looked out of the Shafer tasting room to the hillside we swirled our One Point Five and could taste the rich flavor of the grapes, stressed in the Napa heat and chilled in the night. We pondered the thin and rocky soil; the knolls and outcroppings along the vineyard and the steep slopes. In the vineyards of Shafer, we found our treasure.
Wine, Love and Rock and Roll
With catchy tunes like “Soul Sister” and “Drops of Jupiter,” we were hard pressed to find another reason to love Train but here at QRW, we found yet another.
The rock group with San Francisco roots is also in the wine business. The band released Save Me San Francisco wine, which they are making with ACME Wine Movers, a newly formed division of The Wine Group.
The band started with their first bottling of a red named “Drops of Jupiter.”
Their chardonnay is named “Calling All Angels.” Their latest release is called “California 37” after their new hit album.
But it is where they shot their latest music video for the song “Drive By” that is gaining the most buzz.
The band went to Shafer Vineyards for inspiration and to film their video. In the video, lead singer Pat Monahan falls in love with a Shafer Vineyard tour guide. The two stomp grapes and join in a one-legged race, (which we didn’t see happening during a recent visit to Shafer!) and toast in the Shafer caves. The two have a one-night stand between two bottles of Shafer wines, seen in the video on each bedside table. Monahan skips out before the gorgeous woman wakes only to realize he made a big mistake. Monahan spends the rest of the song trying to convince her, he wants something more.
All ends well though, the two are seen driving away in a convertible through the Shafer gates by the end of the song. We imagine, off to drink their Shafer wine and live happily ever after.
Made in the Livermore Valley, the Train wines are available at restaurants around the country — most notably, the Hard Rock Café. A portion of the $9.99 price tag goes to Family House, a San Francisco based charity for families of ill children.