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What’s New at Shafer


Merlot was still a ‘blending varietal’ when Shafer first planted it

November, 2006 – “I can still remember the scent of chainsaw smoke,” says Doug Shafer of the day more than 20 years ago that he and his father, John Shafer, made a big commitment to Merlot.

When the Shafer family moved to Napa Valley in 1973 their property included 30 acres of vines last planted in the 1920s that were long past their prime. For several years the Shafers produced Zinfandel from these 50-year-old vines. Increasingly they were convinced that American wine lovers would embrace the softness and abundant fruit in Merlot, which at the time was still largely used as a blending varietal with Cabernet Sauvignon.

The father and son team decided to take out the Zinfandel and graft Merlot on the old rootstock.

“Next thing I remember the vineyard guys were revving chainsaws, all set to cut down the Zinfandel,” Doug recalls. “I turned to Dad and said, ‘Are we really doing this?’ It was a big risk. Merlot was not a hot-ticket wine then. Dad just laughed and said, ‘Do you have any idea how long a decision like this would’ve taken back in my old corporate job?”

Original label from the 1983 vintage

The chainsaws did their work and in 1985 Shafer released its first Merlot, a 1983 vintage. Twenty years later the same winemaking team is still in place at Shafer – Doug Shafer, Elias Fernandez and John Shafer. They’ve learned a lot about cultivating the Merlot grape and making a rich, lush, mouth-coating Merlot wine.

“Having one great vintage is easy,” says Doug Shafer. “Consistency over a period of decades is the most difficult thing a winery can achieve. It’s the Holy Grail of winemaking.”

The 2003 Merlot, released on September 1, 2005, is winning over critics and consumers alike.

In The Wine Advocate, Robert M. Parker, Jr., calls the ‘03, “ … inky/purple, with a big, sweet nose of smoke, black currants, plums and cherries. It is full-throttled … muscular and powerful …”

One of the first reviews for our latest release was from Wine Spectator, characterizing the ‘03 release as offering, “… ripe, rich, concentrated currant, cedary oak, anise and earthy leather notes give this a solid foundation …”

USA Today featured 2003 Merlot with a large photo in the November 18 issue. Jerry Shriver recommended the wine as one of his favorite “robust reds.”

Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine, wrote in the most recent issue, "Shafer checks in with all of the ripeness, richness and ready oak that we have come to expect in its wines …”

And finally, Wine Enthusiast will be listing the 2003 Merlot in their upcoming Best of the Year buying guide, along with a very favorable description and rating.