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What’s New at Shafer


Shafer Barrel ToastingMaking a Shafer Barrel
In this new video we invite you to discover what goes into making a Shafer wine barrel. Go with winemaker Elias Fernandez as he visits Demptos Napa Cooperage, one of several barrel-makers we working with, as he keeps an eye on the whole process – from selecting the staves, toasting the interior of the barrel, sealing, and finishing, to delivery to the winery.

Grapes ready for harvestingThe Beauty and Pace of the 2016 Harvest
Take a quick behind-the-scenes look at the fruit, the vineyards, the crush pad and cellar action – all a delicious preview of the wines that will be available in a few years!

Elias FernandezWi-Fi Winemaking -- NBC Bay Area Features Shafer Technology
Apps are joining barrels, bottles, and tanks as basic winemaking tools. In this news story our winemaker, Elias Fernandez, offers a tour of our latest technology in the vineyard and cellar.

Caneros VineyardCelebrating 20 years of Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay
This wine has reached an exciting milestone – its 20th vintage! In our new video Doug Shafer takes you to the vineyard where it all begins to show where the beauty in the bottle comes from.

Shafer vineyardsDiscover Stags Leap District – An American Wine Treasure
Doug Shafer offers a quick then-and-now video tour of Stags Leap District, home of Shafer Vineyards, celebrating the 25th anniversary of its formation as an appellation.

Shafer from aboveShafer From Above
Enjoy stunning views of Shafer Vineyards and our surrounding hillsides from the air.

Video Archive


Shafer CorksShafer Donates Land to Help Wildlife Rehabilitation
Shafer recently donated five acres of land to Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County, which dubbed the site “Shafer Sanctuary,” and has built an aviary on it to rehabilitate wild birds.
Shafer CorksBeating TCA
At Shafer the Aromas and Flavors of ‘Corked’ Wine Are History. For more than 20 years the winemaking team at Shafer has been fighting TCA on multiple fronts and they’re winning.
Shafer CorksShafer Announces the End of Corked Corks
Learn how Shafer is combining the running of an obsessively clean cellar with the latest innovations from its cork partners to cut the chances of a wine leaving Shafer with cork taint effectively to zero.
1983 Shafer Merlot LabelThe Search Is On for 1983 Shafer Merlot
To celebrate 30 years of being in the Merlot business, Shafer is offering to buy two well-cellared bottles of rare 1983 Shafer Merlot, which we no longer have in our library. Click here for details.
Hillside Select bottles in a rowRobert M. Parker reviews a complete vertical of Hillside Select
After tasting through a complete vertical of Hillside Select (1983 to 2013), Robert M. Parker, Jr. has published his tasting notes. Click here for a complete version (PDF).
Stags Leap AVA mapStags Leap District Moves Forward
Journalist and blogger Michelle Locke writes that while celebrating the 25th year of its formation, Stags Leap District is investing in the future
John Shafer, Elias Fernandez and Doug ShaferFriendship in a Bottle
This year is a Shafer milestone as the trio of John Shafer, Doug Shafer and Elias Fernandez celebrate 30 years as a team
Robert Parker Revisits Shafer’s 2004 WinesRobert Parker Revisits Shafer’s 2004 Wines
In April 30, 2014 issue of The Wine Advocate, Robert M. Parker, Jr. reviews select wines from Napa Valley’s 2004 vintage, including some exciting reviews of Shafer’s 2004 Hillside Select, One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The Wall Street JournalJames Laube of Wine Spectator tastes a complete Hillside Select vertical
Don’t miss James Laube’s report on a tasting of every vintage of Hillside Select (1983 – 2009) as well as the hillside estate Cabernets we produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Wall Street JournalFrom the Gilded Age to the Digital Age
Shafer celebrates several anniversaries this year including 130 years of grape growing on our Stags Leap District property
The Wall Street JournalParker Retrospectives Give 2001, 2002 and 2003 Hillside Select Vintages Perfect Scores
Wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., revisits 10-year old vintages of Hillside Select and says that time in a bottle is yielding perfectly delicious results.
The Wall Street JournalThe Wall St. Journal talks with Doug Shafer about classic Napa Cabernet
London-based wine writer Will Lyons profiles the current state of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and speaks with Doug Shafer about producing classics.
ChardonnaySpecial feature: Once headed for extinction, today Chardonnay shines
Food and Wine writer Michelle Locke explores Chardonnay’s surprisingly shaky start in the U.S. and its rise to dominance and deliciousness.
Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay

by the numbers

Number of raw variety mentions of chardonnay on social media in 2012, making it the most-talked about varietal

Acres of chardonnay grapes planted in California as of 2010

Percent of core wine drinkers in a 2012 survey who said they currently consume chardonnay (pinot gris was second with 44 percent)

Sources: Wine Institute, Wine Market Council, Vintank

Wine writer and TV host, Leslie Sbrocco
Wine writer and TV host, Leslie Sbrocco




Master Sommelier John Ragan

Master Sommelier John Ragan


Chardonnay Close-up

Once teetering on extinction, the most popular grape in the U.S. today comes in a surprising array of styles

By Michelle Locke

Chardonnay is the diva of diversity.

Corseted, but not too tightly, in French oak, the wine is full-bodied, rich, and lavish. Stripped down to its essence in stainless steel tank fermentation, it’s sprightly and fresh with a zingy bite of green apple.

So it’s hardly surprising that chardonnay reigns as the queen of white wine, the most popular single varietal, red or white, in the United States and one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world.

But did you know chardonnay was almost wiped out in California during Prohibition because the thin-skinned grape couldn’t survive the journey back east for the still-legal home winemaking that kept the industry alive? Or that prior to 1968 chardonnay production in the Golden State was so low that the variety was put into the “miscellaneous” category by state agricultural officials?

Turns out chardonnay’s back story is as multi-faceted as the wine it produces.

“If people say, ‘I don’t like chardonnay,’ then they’re not drinking the right chardonnay,” says wine expert and author Leslie Sbrocco, who calls versatile chardonnay the “basic black,” of wine. “There are lots to choose from. You can go from completely bone-dry, unoaked, mineral-y styles all the way to lush, big and full.”

French ancestry
Chardonnay is named for the French village of that name in Burgundy. Genetically, it’s a descendant of a red grape, pinot noir, and gouais blanc, a rather undistinguished white grape. Chardonnay is the primary grape of white Burgundies as well as blanc de blanc Champagnes. Chardonnay has been planted in California since the late 1800s, but production was limited. After Prohibition, the grape was largely uprooted to make room for thick-skinned varieties.

In 1962, the French government went to the trouble and expense of diverting the new Paris-Lyon auto route away from the chardonnay grapes blooming in the 18.5-acre Le Montrachet vineyard, a hallowed source of white Burgundy.

But in the ‘70s, as the renaissance of California winemaking dawned, chardonnay began to make a comeback. In 1976, the grape took another leap forward at the famous Judgment of Paris tasting when California chardonnays took four of the six top places.

White House wine
Shafer Vineyards scored an early success in 1980 when its chardonnay was poured for a state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the first Shafer wine served in the White House. But the 1985 vintage earned a disappointing 67-point rating from Wine Spectator, prompting one of Doug Shafer’s three attempts to resign, he recalls in the recently published winery history, A Vineyard in Napa. Luckily, Shafer stayed put, taking the advice of his father, winery founder John Shafer: Figure out the mistakes, stop making them and “get back to work.”

One of the improvements was to source the grapes from Carneros, which is at the southern end of the Napa Valley and gets the cool weather that chardonnay needs to stay fresh and lively. Doug Shafer, working with winemaker Elias Fernandez, also began minimizing the juice-to-skin contact to keep flavors pristine, putting whole clusters in a Champagne-style press which gently pushes out the juice.

In recent years there’s been hot debate over chardonnay styles, with a backlash against very ripe and oaky styles that spawned the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement. Even that didn’t do much to dent chardonnay’s dominance, although it has prompted producers to offer leaner, racier styles.

Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay steers a middle course. The wine does not go through malolactic fermentation, a process that amps up the buttery factor, sometimes producing wines that are criticized as “fat” or “flabby” — hardly diva attributes. But Shafer chardonnay does spend some time in French oak, producing an elegant wine that balances the lushness of tropical fruit with a bright acidity.

Bright and Beautiful
Wondering what style of chardonnay suits your palate? Master Sommelier John Ragan, wine director for Union Square Hospitality Group, suggests one way to sample the many personalities of chardonnay is to take your taste buds on a tour of Burgundy.

Alexander Dumas, author of “The Three Musketeers,” thought so highly of the chardonnay produced by Le Montrachet that he said it should be drunk “on one’s knees, with hat in hand.”

Start up north in Chablis and you find wines that are high in acid with green orchard fruit flavors. Move on to bottles from Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault where there is more limestone in the soil and the wines “have a little bit more generosity to them, a little bit more body.” For a third take, head south to Poully-Fuissé and Montagny for wines that “reflect the sunshine. They’re a little bit riper, a little bit rounder.”

What’s next for chardonnay? Ragan thinks winemakers are resisting the itch to add elaborate touches to the wine. “Obviously, there are a lot of non-negotiables. You need great clones planted in great terroirs, the right climate,” he says, “but if you have all of that you don’t necessarily need to put a lot of makeup on it.”

Michelle Locke is a San Francisco Bay area writer who covers wine, food and travel for the Associated Press and other publications. She blogs at


KVON Napa Wine radioDoug Shafer on 40 Years in Napa
Napa radio host Jeff Schechtman of KVON conducted a lively, revealing interview with Doug in mid-November 2012 on writing A Vineyard in Napa and how the Valley has changed over time.


Wine Spectator Top 100 2012Wine Spectator names 2008 Relentless “Wine of the Year”
Everyone at the winery was thrilled and honored when Wine Spectator editors named Shafer’s 2008 Relentless “Wine of the Year.” Click here to hear James Laube talk about the wine and why it was selected for this prestigious recognition.
The Wall Street JournalAre Happy Days Here Again for Merlot?
"They decided—rightfully—that none of the wines had very much 'oomph,' save the rich, full-bodied 2009 Shafer Napa Valley Merlot". - Wall Street Journal
Doug ShaferAn Accidental Author
Doug Shafer on how he came to write A Vineyard in Napa, a memoir that spans 40 years in Napa Valley
Doug Shafer's book; A Vineyard in Napa

Doug Shafer's A Vineyard in Napa


John and Dougn Shafer

John and Doug Shafer during harvest, 1980s.


John and Dougn Shafer

l to r: Enrique Del Campo (former cellar staff), Doug Shafer, Elias Fernandez (Shafer winemaker), crush 1980s.

The Story Behind A Vineyard in Napa

― By Doug Shafer

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by great storytelling. My dad has always relished recounting funny, surprising, and moving slice-of-life stories and telling jokes with obvious enjoyment. At family dinners or around holiday tables, it was always a noisy mix of funny, odd and unusual memories and anecdotes from uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins. Good stories have a timing and a cadence to them. The best ones are those that you can’t forget. They become part of you.

Here at the winery, without really thinking about it, storytelling became the basis for how we’ve run our business. We’ve never been geared toward hard sell. When Dad and I uncork a bottle with a distributor, sales rep, or a restaurant wine buyer, instead of doing a traditional sales pitch, we’d much rather tell you about the time Elias and I had to pull an all-nighter because our press broke down or when our sprinkler irrigation system blew up the first time we turned it on.

From the Ground Up
Almost 10 years ago Dad started work on a book that came to be called From The Ground Up. The winery was going to celebrate its 25th anniversary and Dad and I both thought it’d be fun to put some of our stories from the early days down on paper. Dad would write out long passages by hand and worked with a writer, Andy Demsky, who produces a lot of our printed material and website, to shape and help edit the material. Our long-term designer, Michael Kavish, did a beautiful job designing the book and overseeing its production and printing.

The year we kicked off our 25th anniversary, in 2004, we released 2,500 copies of this 75-page hardbound book, which we hoped was a fun, quick read that gave some background on life here at the winery.
The book got a nice response. We heard from a number of people who’d picked up a copy that they’d enjoyed it quite a bit. Of course, most of these were friends or fans of the winery and what are friends for if not to tell you that you’ve done a good job?

In 2007 my daughter Katie was an intern at a literary agency where she showed an agent, Kelly Sonnack, a copy of Dad’s book. To my surprise, Kelly contacted us and said “I think you guys have a real book in you.”

November Release
It’s hard to believe that was five years ago. In a few months the result of that conversation hits bookshelves – A Vineyard in Napa was purchased by University of California Press and will be released this November.

As it turns out the release of the book coincides with the 40th anniversary of my dad’s purchase of our vineyard estate here in Stags Leap District (before it was called Stags Leap District.) The memoir charts the enormous changes that have taken place both on our property and of course throughout the Napa Valley. When our family moved here in January 1973, we were arriving at a party that was just getting started. The Valley had been a pretty quiet, rural place after the devastating effects of Prohibition – lots of cows, hay fields and walnut orchards. Things in the wine world started to perk in 1966 when Robert Mondavi founded his now-iconic winery on Highway 29. Within a few years the Valley began to see a whole host of new faces and new wineries with names that have become very well known – Schramsberg, Chateau Montelena, Stags Leap Wine Cellars, and Diamond Mountain, among others.

Behind the Scenes
Of course it’s a personal story too. Our family experienced a lot of ups and downs when it came to, initially, becoming grape growers, and later building and launching a winery. The start of the winery in 1979 and then my arrival as winemaker in 1983 took us into unknown territory and was an era of tremendous difficulty.

I think even people who know us well will be surprised by how much of the curtain we lift with the book. We didn’t just struggle a little bit; there were times we struggled a lot.

As the book began to take shape we were fortunate to uncover an archive of documents related to the formation of the Stags Leap District — my dad’s handwritten notes, letters between vintners, drafts of petitions and other material that’s never before seen the light of day.

More than anything I hope what the book shows is that success for Shafer Vineyards has not been magical. We’ve worked steadily for decades to grow the best grapes we can, make the best wine we know how and to run a winery with the goal of being world-class. We’ve had many disappointments along the way, many setbacks, many nights when it’s been hard to sleep – but we’ve kept on. The whole team here has worked together, encouraged each other and challenged each other to be their best.

If you’d asked me ten years ago if I had a book in me, I’d have laughed off such an idea. It’s come about in an almost accidental fashion, and initially it seemed tremendously daunting, but it’s been a wonderful journey and I hope it’s a great read for those who add it to their bookshelves.


Syrah HistoryA Grape Hiding in Plain Sight
Wine writer Patrick Comiskey reveals the curious history behind California’s Syrah and Petite Sirah
Hiram Crabbe

Hiram Crabbe


Crabbe’s To-Kalon Vineyard, late 1880s

Crabbe’s To-Kalon Vineyard, late 1880s.


“Petite Sirah became an anonymous, workhorse variety, contributing depth and longevity to Zinfandel, breadth to Carignane, fruit and flesh to Mataro, stuffing and color into just about everything it touched...”


Syrah Vineyard

Today’s Shafer Syrah and Petite Sirah vineyards.


Syrah and Petite Sirah: their Curious History together

― By Patrick Comiskey

Blends of Syrah and Petite Sirah like Relentless, Shafer’s inky red produced since 1999, are somewhat rare in California, even though they seem like an inevitable pairing. Syrah, after all, is one of Petite Sirah’s parents, a cross between that noble variety and the relatively obscure Peloursin.

Petite Sirah was discovered and isolated as a seedling among Peloursin vines by a French nurseryman named Francois Durif. The vine yielded a deep-colored wine of stalwart black fruit and sturdy, gripping tannins, and proved to be especially resistant to downy mildew, a quality that evidently pleased Durif enough to name the cross after himself in 1880.

Coming to America
Four years later, in 1884, Charles McIver of San Jose imported Durif cuttings and planted them at Linda Vista, his 400-acre vineyard near San Jose, alongside a number of other progressive French varieties, including what we now know as the true Syrah, which had been in California as early as 1874, and was known by a bewildering number of names, including Sirrah, Syrah, Serine, Sirac, Petite Sirrah, Petite Sirah, and other variants. We don’t know why, but almost as soon as he had imported the variety, McIver started referring to his Durif by the name Petite Sirah.

We know about McIver’s name-swapping because of the confusion it caused his friend and fellow vintner, Hiram Crabb, a winemaker and proprietor of one of Napa’s largest and most prestigious properties, To-Kalon Vineyard, in Oakville.

In 1892 Crabb made a number of published observations about McIver’s new import, in which it’s plain that Crabb knows he is dealing with two different varieties, and tries at length to distinguish them. In April, Crabb reports in the St. Helena Star that McIver has imported a vine to Linda Vista Vineyard that was supposed to have been the true Syrah, but wasn’t. That same month, Crabb speaks of the variety again, this time addressing directly McIver’s confusion surrounding this variety in this curious passage:

“Called by C.C. McIver, Esq., of Linda Vista Vineyard, Mission San Jose, the ‘Unknown’, ” he writes, “it was imported eight years ago for the Petite Sirrah, but it proved to be a different variety. It is a very heavy bearer, excelling his other varieties (of which he has a large number) and a short pruner; makes a very fine wine, intensely dark and beautiful and retains its color for years.”

A Grape With No Name
Crabb’s persistent uncertainty on the matter is strangely compelling: eight years after importing it, it’s still known only as “Unknown.” Crabb may be poking gentle fun at his fellow grower, as if the two spent more than a few afternoons on the veranda vigorously debating the true nature of the wines, with McIver insisting that the wine was the Syrah of the Hermitage, and Crabb insisting otherwise. Unfortunately McIver’s opinions on the topic were never recorded.

Despite Crabb’s best efforts, the Petite Sirah moniker stuck. Most producers ended up adopting the name, and when Crabb himself planted Durif on his property, presumably from cuttings given to him by McIver, he too called it Petite Sirah.

In the period following the California phylloxera epidemic and the economic decline of the 1890s, California winegrowers rallied around two grape varieties, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Thousands of acres were planted in the decades leading up to Prohibition. Its range expanded into Lodi and the Livermore Valley, where it was planted in 1911 by the Concannon family; 54 years later, that winery would be the first to bottle a varietal Petite Sirah. NowherewasitmorecommonthanintheNapaValley, where it dominated vineyard acreage well into the 1960s, and was second only to Zinfandel in Sonoma County.

Varietal labeling was rare in California, and at the time varietal marketing mattered so little that vineyards, including the property John Shafer purchased in 1972, were rarely planted to not just one variety, but several – the so-called ‘mixed blacks.’

Petite Sirah became an anonymous, workhorse variety, contributing depth and longevity to Zinfandel, breadth to Carignane, fruit and flesh to Mataro, stuffing and color into just about everything it touched, possessing a Zelig-like capacity to fill out the whole but remain relatively impassive when other varieties had more to express.

Vineyard Pets
It became such a valued component to the field blends of the era that the moniker Petite Sirah or “Pets” became virtually synonymous for all of the vines in mixed black vineyards, the adopted name for Beclan, Serine, Lenoir, Mataro, Trousseau, Poulsard, Carignane, Mourastel, and Mondeuse, Peloursin and of course itself – which is to say Durif. Only Zinfandel, with which Petite Sirah fused so seamlessly, retained its identity outside of this catchall term.

And oddly enough it’s here, in the haven of mixed black vineyards, that Syrah was preserved in California soil, well before its revival in the late seventies. For not all Syrah vines would have been ripped out in the late 1890s; not all succumbed to phylloxera, or to Prohibition’s ravages. Indeed, Syrah survived in old mixed black vineyards like Stags Leap Winery’s Ne Cede Malis block in the Napa Valley, like Rossi Vineyard, employed by Sean Thackrey in his Orion bottlings, like the Sonoma Valley vineyard plots used by Morgan Twain-Peterson, and countless other unmapped “Pets” vineyards, many of which contain at least some fraction of true Syrah in their vine rows.

And it accounts for UC Davis Professor Carole Meredith’s curious initial findings in the mid-nineties, when she tested for DNA in old Petite Sirah vineyards and typically found as many as a half dozen distinct varieties, including Syrah. Thus Syrah managed to survive not only the ravages of phylloxera and Prohibition, it survived within the ranks of the vine that usurped its identity, alongside which it hid in plain sight for decades.

Patrick Comiskey writes for Wine & Spirits Magazine, the Los Angeles Times,, the LA Weekly, and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles. This story draws from a chapter of his forthcoming book on the American Rhône wine movement.


Elias FernadezSummer Wines, Cycling and the Upside of High School Band Practice
LA Weekly publishes a lively and revealing interview with Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez
James Beard AwardBecoming a Winning Bidder
An Insider’s Guide to Buying Wine at Auction
Wine Spectator graphic

This chart is culled from The Wine Spectator Cult Wine Index, a composite of average prices for cult wines sold at commercial auctions. Each wine’s performance is tracked according to the top five vintages which represent the most sought-after and most heavily traded wines. The cult index was created in the third quarter of 1997, with a baseline value of 100.


An Insider’s Guide to Buying Wine at Auction

An Insider’s Guide to Buying Wine at Auction ― By Peter D. Meltzer

Anyone serious about wine collecting should take wine auctions seriously because they are one of the most effective means of procuring fine and rare wine. Auctions offer top-quality vintages that are not readily available through traditional channels at a rate which normally falls well below retail.

Classified red Bordeaux constitute the lion’s share of wine sold at auctions, followed by Burgundy and, increasingly, premium and California cult wines. The cast of cult wines includes Araujo Eisele Vineyard, Bryant Family Vineyard, Colgin, Dalla Valle Maya, Grace Family Vineyards, Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Scarecrow, Schrader, Shafer Hillside Select, Sine Qua Non, Sloan, and Switchback Ridge. These wines are extremely scarce and expensive, and unless you are on their mailing lists, auctions are often the best means of securing them.

Mastering the auction ropes is fairly straightforward. Before attending a sale, cross-reference retail prices against auction estimates, for there is no point in paying more than a wine merchant is charging. The Wine Spectator auction price database is a tremendously valuable tool for analyzing current auctions. Available by subscription at, it tracks prices and performance for more than 10,000 collectible wines. A condensed version appears in the magazine bi-annually. is a great source for obtaining prices culled from more than 30,000 wine stores.

Probably the biggest surprise for first-time auction-goers is how fast the process goes – often as many as 200 lots per hour. Under the circumstances, it’s best to make your decisions and devise a buying strategy before arriving in the salesroom.

Almost all wines offered at auction have a reserve – the sum below which the wine cannot be sold. It’s usually set between 75 and 100 percent of the low estimate, but never above it. So don’t expect to snare a wine for half its estimated value. Remember that estimates are a guideline, not a guarantee. Once you’ve done the math, set a ceiling for your maximum bid. Don’t fall prey to auction fever. Few collectible wines qualify as unique items that justify frenzied bidding.

The most sought-after lots are those that have been consigned directly by a winery or château, followed by single-owner collections acquired upon release. Because these wines haven’t budged since cellaring, their condition should be impeccable. Pristine provenance may significantly raise the stakes, yet serious collectors feel the benefits are worth it, especially now that fakes have emerged in the marketplace.

Wines kept in a professional storage facility or in a temperature- and humidity-controlled home cellar are preferable to ones housed in natural underground cellars. If you are considering the purchase of an extremely valuable lot of wine, try to ascertain everything about its history.

Unlike a restaurant, where you can send back a wine that you don’t like, at auction, you are basically buying “as is.” All major auction houses carefully inspect the wines they sell, and unless there was something patently wrong with their descriptions, you have little recourse. Where possible, try to attend a pre-sale tasting and make your own conclusions. Study the wine levels (also known as “ullage”) which are usually listed in the catalog. They’re the barometer of a wine’s health. Simply put, you run a high risk with lower-than-average levels.

Seasoned auction-goers develop personalized bidding techniques. Some raise their paddle at the outset of a lot, only to lower it when they have either secured the item or exceeded their budget. Another effective tactic is to enter the fray at the very last minute when the high bidder thinks the lot is his.

Remember to factor in supplementary charges that will be added to your bill. A successful $350 bid can transmogrify into as much as $475 once the wine is delivered, because auction houses levy a buyer’s premium ranging from 15 to 22.5 percent of the purchase price. Sales tax, shipping, and insurance can add another 15 percent. It is surprising how many buyers fail to factor these costs into their bidding strategies.

Worldwide commercial auctions brought in a record $478 million in 2011, up 17 percent from 2010, according to Wine Spectator. The major factor behind the increase was Hong Kong where sales rose 39 percent to US$230 million. Domestic totals fell a modest 5 percent to $146 million. First-growth Bordeaux and their equivalents softened as the year progressed because collectors switched their focus from Bordeaux to Burgundy. Last December in Hong Kong, Acker Merrall & Condit, the world’s leading wine auctioneers, sold a 55-bottle “superlot” of DRC Romanée-Conti spanning 1952 to 2007 for a whopping $813,333 against a high estimate of $300,000.

California cults and blue chips rose 11 percent in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Wine Spectator auction index. The 1994 and 1999 vintages saw significant growth, with Phelps Insignia 1999 gaining 54 percent to average $156 a bottle and Opus One 1994 up 27 percent to average $282 per bottle. Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 rose 21 percent to average $193 per bottle.

“What has been really interesting,” says Jeff Zacharia, president of Zachys’ auction division, “is that over the past few months I’m very aware that people have started to take another look at California collectibles.” John Kapon, CEO of Acker Merrall & Condit auctioneers concurs. “In 2011, 76 percent of the cult wines we sold were up at least 20 percent or higher. So I’d say that California cults are doing well!”

Peter D. Meltzer is Wine Spectator’s Auction Correspondent and author of Keys to the Cellar; Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting (Wiley, 2006)


Huffington PostBusting Napa’s Greatest Myths
Doug Shafer was a guest blogger on May 14, 2012, in the role of mythbuster, puncturing some of the most common misconceptions about Napa Valley.
Le FigaroLeading French newspaper Le Figaro on the beauty of Hillside Select
At a late-March 2012 tasting at the George V Hotel in Paris, Doug Shafer poured a 17-year vertical of Hillside Select for the city’s top sommeliers and writers

Californian wines also age well

A vertical tasting of Shafer’s Hillside Select lays to rest the idea that American wines cannot withstand the years

Who said that Californian wines don’t age well? In order to disprove this widely accepted idea of those in the French wine industry, the distributor Valade & Transandine, which imports some of the best foreign wines, organised an exceptional vertical tasting in Paris of 15 consecutive vintages of one of California’s greatest wines, Hillside Select, a cabernet sauvignon from Shafer.

Shafer Vineyards is situated in Napa Valley, 100km north of San Francisco. This 30km by 4km valley is divided into sections, one of which is Stag’s Leap. This is where Hillside Select is produced; the vines are situated on hillsides that eventually lead to San Pablo Bay at the end of the valley, a location that provides excellent airflow and freshness.

This part of the vineyard is planted exclusively with cabernet sauvignon, the greatest variety in Bordeaux and especially in the Médoc region. The vertical tasting of this wine, which has achieved a cult-like following in America, included fifteen consecutive vintages from 1993 to 2007, and was co-led by Doug Shafer, the President of Shafer Vineyards.

A first observation, each and every vintage was top-quality, a feat which very few of the world’s wines can boast, especially as the influence of each vintage’s unique characteristics was clear. Of the younger vintages, the 2001 is particularly impressive in
its vigour and vitality. Second observation, a good decade is needed before the wine reaches its peak.

The sumptuous 1998, for example, showed a stunning development and a near-peak maturity, a pattern confirmed by earlier vintages. In the great châteaux of the Médoc region it is common to blend cabernet sauvignon with a greater or smaller proportion of merlot, but cabernet sauvignon is the only variety used in this perfectly aging Hillside Select, something which suits it very well.


The Wall Street JournalWall St. Journal names Hillside Select a top Napa Valley wine
In this March 16, 2012, story and companion video veteran wine writer Lettie Teague offers her picks for the best, most reliable Cabernet Sauvignons of this region
Doug ShaferShafer Book Details 40 Years in Napa Valley
University of California Press to Publish Doug Shafer’s “A Vineyard In Napa” in Fall of 2012




MARCH 15, 2012, NAPA VALLEY – Shafer Vineyards is pleased to announce the University of California Press will publish Doug Shafer’s winery memoir “A Vineyard in Napa” with a foreword by Danny Meyer in fall of 2012.

“In the forty year span since our family moved here and established our winery, we’ve seen Napa Valley transform from a rural backwater to one of the top wine-producing regions in the world. The book gives a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s been like for our winery and our neighbors to ride the ups and downs of the past four decades,” says Doug Shafer, president, Shafer Vineyards. “We’re referring to this as a winery memoir because the focus is more on the establishment of the vineyards, winery, wines, and the appellation.”

Doug Shafer’s father, John Shafer, purchased the family’s 209-acre vineyard in 1972 and the family moved from Chicago to Napa Valley early in 1973. Moving from a sprawling Midwestern city where he’d a been a top executive at the Scotts Foresman publishing company, John Shafer had to trade his three-piece suits for jeans and a pair of work boots to get a start in the grapegrowing business.

By the mid-1970s he began planting Cabernet Sauvignon on his hillside property and in 1978 harvested his first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon. John Shafer released that initial wine in 1981 and Doug Shafer joined him at the shaky family-run enterprise as winemaker in 1983. Doug hired Elias Fernandez as his assistant winemaker in 1984 and this trio worked together to create what they hoped would become a world-class winery.

“I think even people who know us well will be surprised, and maybe even stunned, by some of what we talk about in the book,” says Doug Shafer. “We had some extremely tough years and spent a long time on the thin line between success and failure. On top of that we owe a lot to some people who helped us along the way.”

Names who play a key role in “A Vineyard in Napa” are Louis P. Martini, Nathan Fay, Tony Soter, Warren Winiarski, Larry Hyde, Amigo Bob, Danny Meyer, and Tom Colicchio.

The book sheds new light on Napa Valley life in the early 1970s, the difficulty of winning the American public over to red wine, the up and down jolts resulting from economic booms and busts, the creation of appellations including Stags Leap District, wild fire, the creation of Auction Napa Valley, the emergence of cult wines, the changes forced by phylloxera, and scrambling to keep up with the Internet.

The book’s foreword is written by legendary New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, a long-time Shafer friend who, in the late 1990s, played a key role is helping Shafer formulate its own core values, a process which Doug Shafer believes played a vital role in the winery’s success.

“A Vineyard in Napa” was written with collaborator Andy Demsky, who has freelanced for Better Homes & Gardens magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle and is a former editor and columnist for the Napa Valley Register. In 2004 he produced Shafer’s “Line on Wine” book and today, among other projects, writes all the winery’s materials.

The book is represented by Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency and was acquired for University of California Press by senior sponsoring editor Blake Edgar.

Shafer Vineyards is a 32,000 case winery in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District managed by the father and son team of John and Doug Shafer. The Shafer family owns and farms 200 acres of vineyards, sources for Shafer’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah.


Wine and social mediaMaking Sense of Wine and Social Media
Food and wine writer Heather John Says If You Know Where to Look There Are Great Conversations About Wine Online
Social Media





Social Media


Discovering Great Conversations About Wine Online

The new world of wine on social media
By Heather John

Each morning I check my Twitter feed, and it feels a lot like standing around the water cooler with some of the world’s greatest wine writers and bloggers. Want to know what New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov drank with dinner last night after his Tomiki aikido session, or listen in on the chatter between Jancis Robinson and Travel & Leisure’s Bruce Schoenfeld about Sine Que Non’s pricing, or perhaps what Vinography blogger Alder Yarrow — who pulls no punches — thinks of Beppi Crosariol’s latest column in The Globe? Thanks to blogging and social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, there are more voices joining the wine conversation than ever. But for those of us drinking the stuff, who do we trust?

Pre-Internet Info
When I was a student at UC Davis in the archaic early 1990s — you know, before the Internet — we relied on books, magazines and those relics we call newspapers for our wine information, which was written by a handful of big guns such as Jancis Robinson, Gerald Asher, and Robert M. Parker, Jr. As a result, wine — and those who wrote about it — became a deified and rarified commodity. But perhaps most frustratingly, wine was a one-way conversation.

Today, thanks in part to social media, information about wine is far more accessible. “It’s about building relationships with readers — that magic of having conversations with readers on Twitter or on your blog,” says Alder Yarrow, who founded eight years ago and is considered wine blogging’s greatest success story. He sees about 90,000 unique monthly visitors and recently signed on as a contributor at “I think traditional media is failing to connect as well with the younger generation of wine drinkers, who are much more likely to look online than in a magazine. Most of all, traditional media is failing the relationship game, the ultimate power of social media.” Compared to the 950,000 circulation of Food & Wine or 1.4 million of Bon Appétit, Vinography probably won’t run traditional print media out of business anytime soon, but the numbers do speak to a growing phenomenon: Social media and wine pair very well

Craving Context
Some of my favorite voices out there aren’t bloggers or journalists at all, but simply super-smart wine geeks with a Twitter feed, like Lou Amdur. A former software consultant and current owner of Lou on Vine restaurant in Los

Angeles, Amdur is passionate about natural wines and indigenous antique varieties and counts wine writers like Asimov, Ray Isle of Food & Wine and Alice Feiring of among his Twitter followers. He tweets about everything from the Jersey Shore’s Snooki to carbonic macerated Airén from Vinos Ambiz, and has enlightened opinions on both. Amdur agrees that crowd-sourcing and new media, particularly when it comes to wine, don’t always mix well. “The more noise there is out there, the more I crave authority,” says Amdur. “I don’t want to know about the delicious Madeira lyou drank llast night if you just tweet, ‘I drank this delicious Madeira (and you didn’t).’ That’s just an emotivist grunt of approval. On the other hand, if you tweet, ‘The old Sercial we had last nite was great w/oysters’ you’ve contextualized it, expressed something more than a grunt, and gave me a new idea of what to drink with oysters.”

Reporting vs. Opinionating
“There are a heck of a lot more voices out there,” agrees Tom Wark, a wine publicist and blogger at “But while they might not have the same reach as Wine Spectator and Bon Appetit, bloggers are having a much larger impact, particularly on influencing the trade.” With 25,000 unique monthly visitors, Wark’s blog reaches more readers than some trade publications, he says, “and I’m doing this in my pajamas with my computer and no budget. Today there is no barrier to compete with the mainstream media. As a result we have so many voices, many of them really good. One day, a former blogger will be editing the Wine Spectator.

“I think at best wine blogs are kind of like a trade publication. I don’t think of myself as being in the wine trade,” says Bruce Schoenfeld, wine editor for Travel & Leisure. “When a blogger decides to take on the issue of synthetic corks, I don’t care. I care about wine because I care about the places and people and a means to tap into geography. The great stories have very little to do with trends and rarely to do with blogging.”

And Wark concedes that wine blogging is still finding its way. He recently tweeted: “I’m convinced that more original reporting (versus opinionating) by Wine Bloggers would raise the general profile of wine blogging.” It’s a comment that got a lot of play on Twitter and clearly struck a nerve in the community.

In fact, it is my old-fashioned belief that reporting versus opinionating is the very reason seasoned journalists like Asimov, Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast and Jancis Robinson remain some of today’s most reliable and relevant voices — both online and in print. But they’ve also been joined by credible bloggers like Yarrow and Wark, as well as Tyler Colman of, David White at, Mike Steinberger at Wine Diarist, and Neil Dorosin from Brooklyn Guy’s Wine and Food Blog, to name a few.

Ultimately, like any fine wine, only time will tell who ages well online.

Heather John is a Los Angeles-based journalist, creator of blog and the former wine and spirits editor at Bon Appétit magazine.


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