2015 Shafer "Relentless" Napa Valley


In the Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon is king. The well-drained volcanic soils and climate cooled by regular San Pablo Bay fogs produce cabs that are silky, supple and voluptuous: “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” While the Stags Leap District is now world class, when John Shafer moved his family there from Chicago in 1973, it was a place of rocky hillsides and rundown vineyards and orchards. At that time, “up-valley” was the focus of premium winemaking whereas this rocky corner of the valley did not even have an agreed-upon name. But as the land was affordable and had supported vineyards in the past, John Shafer decided it was the place to pursue his dream in wine. Shafer Vineyards is a moderately-sized, family-owned operation whose pursuit of quality in both viticulture and winemaking helped define not only their own winery but the Stags Leap District as well. At the start it was just John and his son Doug doing everything, from terracing the hillsides, to planting vines, to making and selling the wine. Doug was only 17 when he began helping his father transform the old farm into a modern vineyard. He went on to study enology at UC Davis and became Shafer’s winemaker in 1983. Success came quickly to Shafer Vineyards, with its very first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon winning the prestigious San Francisco Vintner’s Club taste-off. Shafer’s Hillside Select, the winery’s showcase made from 100% Cabernet grown on the steep slopes surrounding the winery, became a benchmark that epitomized the complexity, richness and elegance of the Stags Leap District. While Shafer built its reputation on its Cabernets, the winery also produces Merlot and Syrah from estate vineyards just outside the Stags Leap District as well as Chardonnay from Carneros. Shafer’s 2008 Relentless, a blend of Syrah and Petite Syrah was selected as Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year for 2012.  Despite success and high demand for its wines, Shafer Vineyards chose to remain small enough to be manageable, capping growth at about 32,000 cases. In addition to John and Doug Shafer, that team includes Elias Fernandez, who joined in 1984 and has been winemaker since 1994. The charm of drinking a glass of Shafer wine comes from knowing that the folks who made it are so intimately acquainted with the land, the vineyards and even the individual vines. In this age of global conglomerates, it is a quality that deserves to be cherished.


Napa Valley Syrah reaches new heights with Shafer Vineyards’s take on the grape of the Northern Rhone. Indeed, the 2008 vintage was chosen as Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2015. The winery describes the current vintage as “a juicy avalanche of grilled fruit and game (with) abundant aromas and flavors of classic meaty, gamy, smoky Syrah with blackberry, blueberry, black plum, savory spices, and blacktea.” The name, “Relentless,” is meant to honor Shafer’s winemaker, Elias Fernandez, for his unrelenting pursuit of quality, but it could equally describe the unstoppable mélange of aromas and flavors that course through the palate with each sip of this awesome wine. The blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Petite Sirah is sourced from two hillside sites just south of Stags Leap AVA. Although the dark-skinned Petite Sirah (a.k.a. Durif), no longer exists in France, its ability to deepen color and add tannic structure makes it an excellent “blend partner” with Syrah. Despite the power, Relentless has excellent balance and soft, fleshy tannins. Its structure and fresh acidity suggest that it would pair well with braised ribs, lamb shanks, duck or beef - especially with syrah-based sauces.


90% Syrah and 10% Petite Sirah were co-fermented in stainless steel and aged 30 months in 100% new 60-gallon French oak barrels.

Tasting notes

92 points – Vinous / Antonio Galloni; 92 points – Decanter. Inky black/purple. On the nose, intense black currant, lavender, pepper and barbecued meat aromas precede a full-bodied palate with layers of dark berries, plum, savory herbs, tobacco and meaty notes. The opulence is balanced by acidity and structured tannins that encourage a long finish with hints of mineral.


Napa Valley


90% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah