Elias Fernandez 77 MINUTES

A new podcast series from Doug Shafer about the people behind the food and wine you love.

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Doug Shafer with Elias Fernandez for The Taste wine podcast

Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez grew up in Napa Valley, attending school with the kids of prominent winery families. Meanwhile he got a taste of agriculture working in vineyards and orchards alongside his parents and later during summers at Louis Martini Winery. He was the first in his family to attend college, where he discovered a love of winemaking – a passion he’s pursued ever since. Enjoy!

For more visit: shafervineyards.com & eightyfourwines.com


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FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Doug:
Hey, everybody. Welcome back. It's Doug Shafer with another episode of The Taste. We have a very special guest today. It's almost like our anniversary show because we started doing this podcast about a year ago. But, we have a guy in there who's actually a dear friend of mine. Um, we've been together a long, long time, um, let's see, since 1984, to be exact. And his name is Elias Fernandez, a winemaker at Shafer Vineyards.

Doug:
Elias, welcome.

Elias:
Thank you, Doug.

Doug:
We've had people, uh, writing in, saying, when are we gonna have Elias on the, on the podcast? So today is the day. So, Mr. Fernandez, let's go right... Let's go all the way back. Uh, you know we're-

Elias:
Oh my God (laughs).

Doug:
Yeah. All the way back. It's a lot of years. Where were you born, man?

Elias:
Okay. So I was born in Stockton, California, in 1961. My parents moved to the Napa Valley, uh, like a week after I was born. So I basically grew up in Napa Valley.

Doug:
So you were in Napa Valley from basically baby through-

Elias:
Through today (laughs).

Doug:
... through, through today.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So what was growing up in the Napa Valley like? That was, what, the '60s and '70s?

Elias:
Uh, a lot slower than, than it is today. You know, a little bit of fishing, a little bit of playing in the the river, swimming, all those kind of things, you know?

Doug:
So, uh, riding bikes, fishing ... hunting. You got a couple brothers?

Elias:
Yeah. I had, uh, two brothers, younger brothers.

Doug:
And did you guys live in town or out in the country?

Elias:
We lived in a few places. We started out, uh, on Zinfandel Lane, where the old chicken farm is, where, uh, you know, Sutter Home was there in the early days.

Doug:
I didn't know you were there.

Elias:
Yeah. So, we did a little stint there. Then we moved to Rutherford. Um, we moved to the, uh, Rutherford, uh, um, Conn Creek Road near Rutherford Crossroads.

Doug:
So you're out in the country. So, I mean-

Elias:
Yep. I was.

Doug:
If you went to town, where'd you go? Napa? St. Helena?

Elias:
Actually, we went to Rutherford, to the only little store there, La Luna. Uh, used to ride, ride our bikes there.

Doug:
Which is still there.

Elias:
It's still there, but it moved, uh, a couple locations there (laughs).

Doug:
(laughs) I didn't know it was... I didn't know it goes that far back.

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
So you guys would ride your bikes to La Luna and what? Just hang out?

Elias:
Yeah. Yeah, buy a... buy some, uh, BBs for our BB gun and, you know, a little gum and a little, you know, a little soda or something like that.

Doug:
How fun. How fun. What, uh... So your dad... who'd he work for?

Elias:
Yeah. So if you really want to go back, uh-

Doug:
I do.

Elias:
... we can go back to my grandparents, who migrated from Mexico to Los Angeles.

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
And the reason they moved north was my grandmother had bad, uh, allergies to the smog in LA-

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
... even back in the '40s or whatever. And so the doctor told my grandfather, "You need to move north where the air's a little bit cleaner, uh, for her because. She's gonna suffer here." So, uh, they ended up in Lodi, of all places, my grandparents.

Doug:
This is your mom's parents?

Elias:
Yeah, my mom's parents. Yes. So, um, they, they followed the agricultural crops. So they ended up working in the tomato and strawberry fields in, in, in the San Joaquin Valley. S- so then after they moved there, um, because there was seasonal work everywhere, you know, in agriculture-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... they would move to... near Napa Valley, where there was a lot of walnuts and prunes. And so they would do some work here. Also, my grandfather was a help... some bricklaying that they did on Vintage 1870, which is a place in Yountville.

Doug:
In Yo- in Yountville. Wow. He worked on that?

Elias:
Yeah, a little bit of that and a little bit on the railroad, too. So he was doing a little bit of all kind of things. So my grandparents actually moved to Napa Valley for a little time.

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
And my mother ended up going to St. Helena High School.

Doug:
Your mom went to St. Helena High?

Elias:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug:
No, I didn't know that.

Elias:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug:
Now, I've gotta jump in here. I've known this guy for 34 years, and I did not know that your mother...

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
I knew you went to St. Helena High School, but I didn't know your mom did.

Elias:
Yeah. But she didn't actually graduate because of the, uh, of the family having to follow the crops and stuff.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
It was... And it was difficult staying in school. So she ended up leaving school, I think as a sophomore or, or junior. And they moved back to the San Joaquin Valley, where my, uh, grandfather had a more stable job.

Doug:
Got it. God, that had to be a tough life, I mean, 'cause you're going... Your parents were going wherever there's fruits or walnuts to harvest-

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
... area to area. So they're moving all the time.

Elias:
Right. Well, this is prior to me being born.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
So, because my mom had had a taste of what St. Helena was like when I was born, she told my father "We're moving to St. Helena," and, uh, "if we're gonna have a family," and stuff like that. So because of my grandmother's allergies, I ended up in St. Helena indirectly. So...

Doug:
How fun. I never knew that story.

Elias:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug:
That's good. I'm glad you're in here.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
And when your dad got here, he worked for... He worked for Laurie Wood, right?

Elias:
So he worked for Laurie Wood, who was, uh... who's been on... I mean, we talked about him on this show with, uh, you know, the well -

Doug:
With -- He was a water witcher.

Elias:
Right, right but Laurie Wood was one of the first agricultural manager of stuff like walnuts, prunes, before the vineyards came into the valley.

Doug:
Oh, so... I always knew he did vineyards. But, before that, he was doing walnuts and prunes?

Elias:
Oh yeah. That's all this valley really was. I remember as a kid, I mean, just orchards and orchards of walnuts and, you know, playing in walnut trees and, you know, running around.

Doug:
So you remember that as a kid. So that's basically in the late '60s.

Elias:
Right. Late '60s.

Doug:
You were 9, 10 years old.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And it... That's getting on towards '70, and it wasn't all grapes here.

Elias:
No, no. It was walnuts. And my dad actually worked for Lori Wood. And he would drive the tractor that would shake the trees and, and allow the walnuts to fall on the ground so they could be harvested, picked off the ground. And so I did a lot of walnut picking as a young kid.

Doug:
And so you get to be school age. You're living in Rutherford. And where do you go to school?

Elias:
Right. So I went to elementary school in St. Helena, then RLS, Robert Louis Stevenson School, the middle school. And then I went to St. Helena High School.

Doug:
Um, what was St. Helena High School like?-

Elias:
Oh God. It was so-

Doug:
I was there, and then you were right after me.

Elias:
Yeah. You, you remember. It was small. Uh, everybody knew everybody else. You couldn't get away with anything, you know, without the parents seeing you do something bad or... You know (laughs). Yeah.

Doug:
And you played football, didn't you?

Elias:
Uh, only my senior year. I a- actually... I loved track, so I, I was into track more than I was in football. But my senior year I did, only because the football coach, Charley Toogood-

Doug:
Charley Toogood.

Elias:
Yeah. He said, "Hey, you need to come out for football." "Okay." But I... Little did I know he was using me as a trainer and having all the big football players f- chase me. He would say-

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
... "Okay. If you guys can catch Elias, you can beat him up."

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
So they could never catch me, though.

Doug:
So Charley Toogood, his family owned a place called Taylor's Refresher-

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
... which was a kind of a drive-in hot dog stand, if you will.

Elias:
Everybody in high school went there.

Doug:
Everybody in high school. After high school, after school-

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
... we went town to Taylor's Refresher and got a... I used to get a tall pink lemonade and a double bacon walnu-... double bacon nut cheeseburger.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Oh, they were just...

Elias:
And a strawberry shake (laughs).

Doug:
And a strawberry shake. And, the reason I'm bringing Taylor's Refresher up is because that is the exact same location where, today, it's known as Gott's.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
The, the Gott brothers bought the Taylor's Refresher and have revamped it. And now it's, um, definitely a, a must-stop to anyone that comes through the Napa Valley.

Elias:
Right, right.

Doug:
But that's where we used to hang out after high school. It's kind of a-

Elias:
Yep. They used to have a telephone booth there, too. I remember that.

Doug:
A telephone booth. It's kind-

Elias:
Used to call Mom from there. "Come pick me up."

Doug:
It's kind of, it's kind of a dump.

Elias:
Yeah (laughs).

Doug:
I remember that. But that... Charley Toogood own- owned that. That's pretty good. And then, um, and Toby Wolf was the track coach.

Elias:
Right. Right.

Doug:
He was your buddy.

Elias:
He was my...

Doug:
And, uh, but also, you were in the band.

Elias:
Yeah. So that actually starts back in third grade. So my mother, again, you know, didn't graduate from high school. And, looking back at it, she was gonna make sure that I graduated from high school and went on to do something. Um, so in third grade, she, uh, she would go to school and sign us up for classes. You know. And so, one day, she comes home. She goes, "I signed you up for classes." So I'm looking at it: English, math, and-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... history. And then I go, "Band?"

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
"Mom, why'd you sign me up for band?" She goes, "Oh, you should try something different. I think it'd be good for you." And I said, "Oh God. Okay."

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
So I go to, I go to band, and, uh, Robert Graff was the, uh, the, uh, band teacher there for probably 30 -

Doug:
Forever.

Elias:
... 30 years or something.

Doug:
I remember him.

Elias:
Yeah. And so he sized you up and looked, and he goes, "You look like a trumpet player." So he handed me a trumpet. And s-... And so he-

Doug:
(laughs) No choice.

Elias:
No choice. And he goes, "Okay. Everybody's got their instrument. We're gonna practice, and then, uh, you know, for your final for the school, you're gonna have to play this song." So you look at all these little notes and stuff. You go, "What do they mean?" It's like a foreign language. But-

Doug:
He didn't teach you how to play the trumpet?

Elias:
No, no. He, he taught us, but-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
But he scared us 'cause he goes, "You're gonna have to play this whole thing." In other words, he was saying, "You will learn how to do this by the end of the class."

Doug:
Oh. Oh man.

Elias:
So anyway, so third grade, I learned how to play the trumpet and, um, actually enjoyed it a lot. Um, it was fun. Uh, in those days, it was actually cool to be in band. You know?

Doug:
Okay. Okay.

Elias:
(laughs) I don't know how it is today, but, uh, anyway, learned a lot. It was like a, a foreign language, but it was, it was, it was fun. And I would go home and practice and, and so forth, and actually pre-... became pretty good at it.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
Yeah. So by high school, by, uh, 1979 when I graduated, I actually got a Fulbright scholarship to University of Nevada, Reno, to go, uh, play trumpet.

Doug:
You got a Fulbright scholarship to go to University of Nevada, Reno, to play trumpet.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
That's pretty cool.

Elias:
Yeah. I mean, at the time, you know, I didn't know what I wanted to do.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
I just knew I wanted to go to college. And, um, that was an opportunity, you know, that w-... that I took. And-

Doug:
And first member of your family to go to college.

Elias:
And first member of my family to go to college.

Doug:
That's pretty cool. Mom was happy.

Elias:
Mom was pretty proud.

Doug:
Your, um... I know Elias's mom pretty well, and she is a sweetheart. But, man, I can tell she's a force to be reckoned with (laughs).

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
Hey, but, uh, before going to college, high school, growing up in St. Helena. There's a small town.

Elias:
Small town.

Doug:
A lot of vineyard families. A lot of wine families. Who... Any, uh... Who'd you hang with?

Elias:
Oh God. Oh. Yeah, so...

Doug:
Wine people.

Elias:
Yeah, wine people. So I had, uh, the Davies kids, you know, from Jack and Jamie Davies of Schramsberg.

Doug:
Schramsberg. Okay.

Elias:
Yeah. So they were in my... Uh, Bill Davies was in my class. Uh, um, I went to high school with some of the Duckhorn kids, you know?

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elias:
Raymond, uh, the Raymond family. You know, some of those kids.

Doug:
Raymond? Their kids?

Elias:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, yeah. So those -

Doug:
Chrissy. Do you know Chrissy? Was she in your class, Chrissy Raymond?

Elias:
Uh, yeah. I, I... She was a little bit younger, I believe.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
She, she's a neighbor.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Our kids play soccer together.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Um, and the Chappellet gang.

Elias:
The Chappellets. Yeah. Yeah. You... I mean, almost the beginning of, really, Napa Valley with, you know, all those people that just-

Doug:
Wineries starting out. But we moved here in '73. I, I vaguely remember walnuts and prunes, but maybe not much. Maybe I was so focused on grapes 'cause Dad was doing grapes. But, but walnuts and prunes were a big part of this-

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
... industry forever.

Elias:
Yeah. I remember s-... you know, picking prunes in a hot, sticky... And I learned right away, uh, you know, why they give you prunes to, you know, to (laughs)...

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
... to unplug you sometimes as a kid 'cause you eat a lot of those prunes. You know, "Oh my God." You know.

Doug:
(laughs) I never heard that story.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Um, all right. So you get yourself a scholarship playing trumpet to University of Nevada at Reno.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
What... I mean, y- you know, you grew up in Napa Valley. And, all of a sudden, you're going to Reno. What was that like?

Elias:
So okay. So now, now that I have... I've had three kids. You know, you take your kids to colleges to go see the college-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
Well, I was going to University of Nevada not knowing where it was. I knew it was in Reno. I had never been campus.

Doug:
Never been there. Never visited.

Elias:
Never visited. So, uh, um, that was a tough, uh, scary time for me. Um, you know, I packed up my '67 Mustang with all my stuff.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
My mom was balling.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
Um, you know, and she didn't know where I was going either (laughs).

Doug:
Oh my gosh.

Elias:
You know, but I'm going to college. So, anyway, so I drove the three and a half, four hours. I forget what it is-

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
... the trip up to Reno. And, I get to the university, and I get to my dorm. And, you know, and off I went. You know?

Doug:
Oh.

Elias:
I was in a new world. Um first night of, of staying there at the dorms, the fire alarm goes off at 2:00 in the morning. It's snowing outside.

Doug:
Oh.

Elias:
And I realize, "Oh God. (laughs) Somebody did this on purpose. They're, they're, they're playing around with us."

Doug:
Yeah. Yeah.

Elias:
So it was, it was just a different world, you know?

Elias:
It was scary but exciting.

Doug:
Really scary.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
'Cause you're, like, 18 and...

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So how was Reno?

Elias:
Well, Reno was, uh, was, uh, fun. The...

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elias:
It was fun, um, just getting away. Uh, you know, you start to reflect back where you came from when you s- go away.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
So it was a good time to reflect on that, especially when I would come home on holidays. But it was good being on myself, washing my own clothes, you know, things that-

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elias:
... I really didn't do 'cause Mom did it all.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
So it was a growing-up period. But, um, I think by the, the second semester, I realized that I needed to do something different than music.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elias:
You know. Especially when I'd come home, I'd go, "God, I grew up in this beautiful, uh, place." And, what could I do to come back? You know?

Doug:
Interesting. You all... You know, you grew up here 'cause I, I've... Again, I've known you for a long time. And, uh, you bring that up on a regular basis, how beautiful this valley is.

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
And when we moved here, I was 17. And the same thing struck me from Chicago. It's like, "Oh my gosh. It's just gorgeous." And... But it was funny 'cause when I graduated, the, the kids who were in my graduating class who'd grown up here in St. Hele- St. Helena in Napa Valley, they were about to graduate and they were... Without exception, they were like, "We can hardly wait to get the heck out of here-"

Elias:
That's right.

Doug:
"... ASAP," 'cause small town, the whole thing.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
They were like, "We gotta get out of here."

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
And, you know, a lot of them left and haven't come back. Some have come back, you know, I think. You get out there and see the world.

Elias:
Right. Yeah. I had the same experience in my c-... people in my class. You know, they all wanted to leave, leave, leave.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Well, it's a, it's a sleepy town.

Doug:
I've got a son who just went to college, and he grew up here. And he was like, "I want to go to college in a city." (laughs)

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
And he's having a great time.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So, so you're thinking about how you get back here. What, what, what went through your mind?

Elias:
Okay. So, um, in '77, 1977 and '78, um-

Doug:
High school? High school?

Elias:
I actually-

Doug:
High school years?

Elias:
Yeah, high school years.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
I was actually working at Louis Martini Winery in the summers.

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
You know, so, one of my best friends from high school, his mother was good friends with Carolyn Martini. And, uh, Carolyn Martini said, "Hey, uh, would your son like a summer job? And, if he has a friend he might want to ask him, 'cause we need a little bit of help with the winery doing, you know, little stuff."

Elias:
And so my friend asked, "Hey, you want to go work at Louis Martini with me?" And I said, "Sure." And so... So that... This was the first time I'd ever stepped in a winery, you know.

Doug:
Got it.

Elias:
And so I got to see a lot going on, uh, during the summers, you know.

Doug:
Huh.

Elias:
Um, and, uh, there was a guy named Art Johnson, who...

Doug:
I, I remember Art.

Elias:
Yeah. Art, uh... Art was a tough, you know, kind of a, a, you know, Okie, you know, um, cowboy type of guy. And one of the first jobs he gave me was, uh, was to break, uh... was to, uh, fix broken pallets, those pallets where the wine -

Doug:
Wood, wood pallets? Right.

Elias:
Right. And so, uh, there was a whole stack. And he says, "You see that stack?" He goes, "You’re gonna work on those... on that stack." And I go, "Okay." So it was in the shade, you know. But no. He moved them with a forklift to the middle of the, you know, the courtyard and in the sun-

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
... and he says, "You're gonna fix them right here." Yeah.

Doug:
Oh.

Elias:
So he was like, you know, gonna show these young little, uh, you know, high school kids-

Doug:
High school kids.

Elias:
... how to work.

Doug:
He put you in the sun and the pavement where it's just roasting.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And you're busting and rebuilding pallets all summer.

Elias:
Yeah, sweating and all that stuff. Yeah.

Doug:
And splinters and the whole thing and...

Elias:
Right, right, right. So, anyway, so I got to, uh, work at a winery, and that's part of a winery, you know, is fixing things and, and...

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

Elias:
But I was watching all this other stuff go on. And then, the second summer, I actually was put on the bottling line. So I actually got to bottle wine.

Doug:
Oh. Oh, you got a promot-... You got a promotion.

Elias:
Yeah, I got a promotion (laughs).

Doug:
So you're in Reno, so you're thinking back of your summer jobs.

Elias:
Right, right.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
So the summer jobs, uh, I, you know, when I... That first year at Reno, I decided, uh, you know, "I need to figure out what I really want to do for the rest of my life."

Doug:
So, so you're working summers in the valley, starting to think about maybe the grape business, the wine business. Did you, did you talk to anybody about that?

Elias:
Well, the first thing I had to do, is talk to my parents, uh, because, uh-

Doug:
Oh, that's right.

Elias:
I was getting a Fulbright scholarship, so, uh, I, uh-

Doug:
Oh, God you were going to walk away from that.

Elias:
I was going to walk away from, uh-

Doug:
Okay, oh, yeah, okay.

Elias:
Yeah, that, so.

Elias:
So, I went home on one of the, you know, breaks-

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
And, um, I talked to my mom, and I say, "Hey mom, I'm, I'm thinking of transferring to, UC Davis and thinking about this wine program." He goes, she goes, "What-

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
You're gonna, you're gonna to throw away the scholarship?"

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And I said, "That's what I'm thinking about."

Doug:
Wow.

Elias:
And she goes, "Well let me, let me talk to Laurie Wood." You know, again, Laurie Wood was, you know, the-the agricultural guy, he had a vineyard management. You know, walnuts and prunes and stuff.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
And um, and so she talked to him and actually Laurie Wood said, "Well, you know, this, this, this wine thing is really been kind of slow and it's just starting. You know I don't know if there's a future."

Doug:
Oh, wow.

Elias:
Yeah, so no one really knew. You know, but, you know, the early 80s, you know.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
I mean, it, there was some wine, but it wasn't huge like it is today.

Doug:
Right, it wasn't.

Elias:
Yeah. No one knew how big it was gonna get. And so she relayed that to me and I said, "Well, I don't know. I just, I just need to do this. I need to, you know, maybe I'll change, you know, later but I'm gonna transfer anyway."

Doug:
You just did it.

Elias:
So I did it and I continued to work at Louis Martini in the summers, you know, making money so I could afford to make the transition. So, so, yeah, that's how I, you know.

Doug:
Well, you, you, you had the passion.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So look out.

Elias:
Then-Then I realized, um, um, the first, uh, weekend I was at UC Davis I realized, um, um, how much passion I really had about this. Um, that weekend I got all my books for class and one of the, the first classes I had to take in wine was The Wines of the World class.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
So a class that taught you about wine all over the world.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Elias:
Which was at that time. And I got that book, uh, from the book store and that weekend I started reading it and I actually finished the whole book that weekend, because it was so interesting. So I knew I had found-

Doug:
Wow.

Elias:
Something that I really would, could hang onto.

Doug:
Yeah, well you found, you found the right passion.

Elias:
(laughs) Yep.

Doug:
Great. So you transferred to Davis-

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
... started there in, uh...

Elias:
1981-ish, somewhere around there.

Doug:
Got it. Somewhere in there.

Elias:
Yeah. Yep.

Doug:
Got it. And so the move... So was that a f- fun move? Different type of campus?

Elias:
Oh yeah. That was a way different type of campus. Much harder, uh, as far as academically.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elias:
I mean, I really go, "Wow. This is, this is hardcore," you know. So it was a, it was a period there where I had a little struggle.

Doug:
Well, I think we all did. Did you take Chem 1A?

Elias:
I took Chem 1A. Yeah.

Doug:
With 500 kids.

Elias:
With 500 kids. Yeah.

Doug:
Same here.

Elias:
So that was one class that was as big as your high school (laughs).

Doug:
I'll never forget that class. I, I haven't asked you this, I don't think, ever. Was Dr. Keefer te- teaching that, or was it another guy?

Elias:
Well, there was... He was one of them.

Doug:
He was one of them. Okay.

Elias:
They had rotating, yeah, professors. So...

Doug:
'Cause I was, what, four or five years ahead of you? So...

Elias:
Right. Right. Right.

Doug:
All right. So, well, all right. So it's tough. You're, you know-

Elias:
It's, it's tough.

Doug:
You're getting, you're getting your, you know-

Elias:
Yep.

Doug:
... wake-up call.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Not making As. Making Cs.

Elias:
Right, man.

Doug:
Whatever. So what... How'd you, how'd you figure it out? What'd you do?

Elias:
Well, th- that... Go back to chemistry in that first year. I remember, um, I remember, uh, s- you know, studying for the first, uh, midterm. And I'm studying and studying. And then I, I start to reflect back on high school, where my high school teachers always said, "You know, you should take the hardest classes you can in, in high school 'cause it's gonna help you."

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
And then I'm going, like, "I'm not taking chemistry in high school," you know.

Doug:
Right. Right.

Elias:
But, uh, uh, that was a big mistake. Uh, that first semester at, at Davis, uh, I got my, my grade. And it was really, really bad.

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
And so, um, I remember going, uh, back, uh, to class. Um, and, um, the professor was drawing a, a bell curve, you know, on the -

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
He says, "If anybody's in this section, they should, you know, leave the class," and stuff. And I, I was in that section.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And, um, and I go, "I can't drop this class. I need... I want to do this wine thing. There's no way."

Doug:
Yeah. You gotta have it.

Elias:
There's no way. So I, I always remember my mom telling me, um, you know, "If you need help, ask people," you know.

Doug:
Hmm.

Elias:
And, and sh-... It was a- advice that I took right at that moment. And I, I said, "Okay. I need to go find, uh, you know, somebody to help me with this, with chemistry and so forth."

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
So anyway, I, you know, I stuck in the class. And, uh, we were allowed to drop one grade. So, uh, I stuck in the class, got a tutor and, uh, ended up getting an A- in the class. So...

Doug:
You got an A- in Chem 1A?

Elias:
Yeah. Yeah. I aced the final (laughs).

Doug:
C+.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
But that's another story. Wow.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
And you're off and running.

Elias:
And I'm off and running. Yep.

Doug:
Okay. So you're at Davis-

Elias:
Yep.

Doug:
... doing it. Um, and you, you had, uh, you had some pals once you got into the wine program. Yeah?

Elias:
Yeah. So, you know, after the first year, then you get to get in a wine program. And, and the classes get smaller. Um, I went from 500 in a chemistry class to maybe 20 in a, in a wine-making class.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And so, uh, little did I know that the people I went to school would actually make an impact in this industry-

Doug:
Hmm.

Elias:
... all over the, uh, country. I went to college with.

Elias:
People such as Mia Klein-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... from Klein [Cellars 00:26:49], um, Pam Starr from Crocker & Starr-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... Marco Cappelli, who was the winemaker Swanson for a long time and then moved up to the foothills and is now, you know, doing his own thing, consulting and... Yeah.

Doug:
Make, making great, great wines. Yeah.

Elias:
Yeah. So, so yeah. Good times.

Doug:
And you guys had a Friday night group.

Elias:
Oh yeah. The Friday night group.

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
Yeah. So Friday nights is where-

Doug:
Tell, tell me, tell me about that one.

Elias:
Yeah. Friday nights is where, uh, the starvi- starving, uh, college students would get together and and buy a cheese and a bottle of wine and a paper bag and sit around and talk about wine blindly and, uh, and then eat cheese and baguette for, uh, dinner. And, and some wine (laughs).

Doug:
Great.

Elias:
So it was, it was one of the best times of, uh, my college career because, uh, you learned a lot about tasting wine, you know, and talking about wine there. Yeah.

Doug:
Well, and friendships that've lasted your whole life.

Elias:
Yeah. Of course.

Doug:
Great. And, you know, what's fun is it's a, it's a w-... I'm gonna jump in. It's a wonderful industry as far as sharing ideas. Um, Elias has his pals. I've got a few myself. And, as we've gone through the years making wine, especially the early years learning, you know, co- coming up against problems and issues and challenges, it's great to be able to call one or two of your friends who maybe have the same ones and might have a different take on it, how to resolve it. That's...

Elias:
Of course, and to reciprocate.

Doug:
Yeah. Yeah.

Elias:
You know, when they have an issue, they call you up and, and stuff. We talk about it. And, you know, it's fun. That's the, that's the beauty of this business, I think.

Doug:
Right. Except, once in a while, I get a call from someone who I don't even know.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
And they say, "Hey." This is, this is back when I was making winehere.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
It's like, "Hey, Doug, can you tell me, tell, tell me how you make a chardonnay?" It's like, "Wow, really?" I don't know.

Elias:
(laughs) Yeah. Well, you have to choose your battles.

Doug:
Well, yeah. You pick 'em and press 'em and bottle it-

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
... and you're fine. Um, and summertime... So, summer jobs, were you back at... Were you up in Davis, or did you come back to the valley and work in a Martini? What'd you do summers?

Elias:
Yeah. So I, I worked at, uh, Louis Martini for two out of the three years I was at UC Davis. I mean, I was making $9.50 an hour as a grunt work in 1979, you know, '80, when the minimum wage was like $2.50, I believe, or something like that. So I was able to make money to pay for my, you know, my, my schooling.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
I mean, I c- basically came out of UC Davis with no real big loans because of Louis Martini Winery a- allowing me to work there.

Doug:
No debt.

Elias:
No debt. Yeah.

Doug:
So you worked there all the summers in college?

Elias:
All the summers. As soon as the day I got off, I would start and, and-

Doug:
Start with Art.

Elias:
... and then leave a couple days before, uh, you know, school started.

Doug:
Wow.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
That's kinda neat.

Elias:
Yeah, it was. It was a good experience.

Doug:
So were, were you stuck on the bottling line the whole time?

Elias:
Yeah. Basically, I was... Yeah. I was doing the grunt work.

Doug:
I've got a parallel because I worked two or three s- college summers for [Hans Kornell.

Elias:
That's right.

Doug:
... in, in the champagne cellars.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
But he paid $2.75 an hour (laughs), so...

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
Oh man. And it was... You talk about, you know, safety was... Safety just didn't exist. I mean, champagne bottles... You know, champagne bottles, those of you obviously can put two and two together. A wine bottle breaks on the floor, no big deal. It breaks. A champagne bottle falls on the floor, it's like a missile. It's like 150 pounds of pressure going everywhere.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So, so you're getting through Davis. And, uh, so you had a year at Reno. Did you do four years at Davis, or - ?

Elias:
Yeah. Four. Uh, three and a half. Yeah.

Doug:
Three and a half 'cause you had to do the whole gig and-

Elias:
Right, right, right. Right.

Doug:
... um, fermentation science.

Elias:
Yeah. So, so then in, in 1982, then I, I did an internship at Schramsberg. Greg Fowler was the, uh-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... champagne, winemaker there. And, uh, he hired me for an internship. So I, I did an internship-

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
... for harvest, uh, you know, at Schramsberg.

Doug:
Well, that must've been fun.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
What was that... What'd you do?

Elias:
Well, we racked wine. We moved a lot of, you know, the base wines and, you know, made, you know, after they were, uh, fermented and so forth. So I learned a lot about moving wine, and I filled presses. Um, in those days, they used to have a, um, a machine that would suck the grapes out of the gondola-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... and up and over and into the press. And so I would be in the press-

Doug:
The whole clusters. It was the whole clusters.

Elias:
The whole clusters. Right, right. And I'd be in the press with a big hose just filling up the press.

Doug:
So you... Wait, wait, wait, wait. You'd, you'd be in the press?

Elias:
Yes. In the press.

Doug:
Presses aren't that big.

Elias:
(laughs) Well, there's a little manhole you can fit in, though.

Doug:
So, so Fowler used to stick you in, inside the press.

Elias:
Right. Inside the press.

Doug:
With the end of this hose.

Elias:
Right. Then all the whole cluster would come shooting out, and we'd fill it from the back of the press.

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
The guy on the other end sometimes would, you know, play games with us. So he'd suck up bees, and they would go through and come in the press. And so, all of a sudden, I'd have a bee, you know, flying around. So that was... kinda made it fun, too.

Doug:
Oh man. I just think that's really hot and sticky and confined and claustrophobic and...

Elias:
But it's harvest, you know?

Doug:
It's harvest.

Elias:
It's what we do.

Doug:
So the takeaway from that was what?

Elias:
Well, uh, it was basically I, I started to see, you know, uh, not just the grapes and not just the bottling.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
I got to see some other process, and, and it excited me. All of a sudden I'm going... I'm starting to put two and two together, and I'm going, "Okay. I think, uh, this is what I really-"

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
"... want to do, you know, in life, you know, is make wine." So yeah.

Doug:
That's cool. All right.

Elias:
It, it got the juices flowing.

Doug:
All right. So then... So, all of a sudden fast forward to, uh, spring 1984. You're graduating.

Elias:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug:
And you have a story and I have a story.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
But why don't we... Why don't you go first-

Elias:
Okay.

Doug:
... and we'll see how different our stories are?

Elias:
So yeah. So it was, uh, it was early February of 1984. And, uh, I, I was... You know, I started to think, "Well, it's time now to start looking for a job." And, you know, I've, I've done all this prep work with all my academics. I've, I've done well. I had some great professors. I've tasted wine with my tasting group on Fridays, you know. But now it's time to get serious. And so, uh, at UC Davis, there was a job board.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And I remember seeing a little ad of, you know, "Family-owned winery in Napa Valley looking for cellar help." And so I applied to that, uh, that job. And, lo and behold, that was your dad's... who p- had put that up-

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
... at UC Davis. So John Shafer was, was the guy who, you know, who I interviewed with. And I remember driving... If you've been to Shafer Vineyards and you drive up that driveway, you- you'll see those palisades. And I had grown up here all my life and, and never seen those palisades, you know-

Doug:
Up close.

Elias:
... up close and personal. So I drove up, and I just thought to myself, "Wow. This would be a cool place to work," So I came and interviewed with, uh, your dad-

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elias:
... and your mom and-

Doug:
My mom, too? (laughs)

Elias:
Your mom, too. Yeah. They all interviewed me. And, um-

Doug:
I can believe that.

Elias:
Yeah. And then I remember, you were in there working. And your dad brought me over and, and then you interviewed me. And after that interview your dad said, "Well, we're interviewing other people. And we'll let you know," and stuff.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
So I went back to school, um, and this was actually two weeks before graduation, uh, when I, when I-

Doug:
In March. Right.

Elias:
... when I came to the interview in March. And I went back to school and I... As I drove out, I was just thinking, "Oh, that was good." I mean, I didn't... wasn't thinking I was gonna get the job, but I go... I needed that experience of, of doing that and the interview process. And so I get back to school, and about a week later I get a call from your dad. And he goes, "Elias, this is John Shafer. Um we'd like to interview again-"

Doug:
Hmm.

Elias:
"... and was uh, you know, was wondering if you could, uh, uh, come next week." And I said no. I, I said, "I, I can't." And he goes... And, and he kinda -

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
And I said, "Oh, I got finals and that I gotta, you know, I gotta-"

Doug:
Yeah. Right.

Elias:
"... get those finals done and stuff." And he goes, "Oh, okay. Well, then, come afterwards," and stuff. So I said, "Oh God. Okay."

Doug:
Nice of him.

Elias:
So yeah. I came for the second interview, and, um, I remember one of the questions was, "Elias, what do you, what do you think you'll be doing 10 years from now?" And that just caught me off guard, you know? But knowing J- John for so many years, he was a forward thinker. He goes, y- you know-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... "Are you, are you thinking a- ahead?" And whatever. And so I s- I said, "Well, I, I know I want to make wine. That's all I know," I said.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
And then, and then he said, "Well, how would you like to work here?"

Doug:
Wow.

Elias:
And I said, "I... When can I start?"

Doug:
Wow.

Elias:
And he goes, "Well, can you start Monday?" (laughs)

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
I said, "Okay. Well, I'm graduating on Friday." I said, "I'll be there on Monday." So I got two days off and, and then I just, you know, started working at Shafer Vineyards on March 24th, 1984.

Doug:
1984.

Elias:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug:
Wow. Okay. So my memory ... I started here January of '83. I was by myself in the cellar. Within a few months, I realized I'd need some help. So I got a guy, who would stay with me, and he turned out to be one of the most undependable people you could ever have. You know, he wouldn't show up to work and you're in the middle of racking a lot of barrels. And you're by yourself, and you have to stay all night to finish it. And, um, finally had to let him go, which was very traumatic 'cause I'd never... I had to fire him. He was my, you know, cellar guy assistant. And that was... I remember just losing sleep: "I have to fire this guy." And the guy, you know, he needed to be fired. I mean, he didn't show up to work and, you know, he'd be hungover. And, and, uh, that was traumatic. And then, um, realized I needed to get somebody. I remember talking to Dad. It's, it's funny to hear your story 'cause I don't... See, my memory is I was the only guy that interviewed you, which is... But now that I think about it, it's like, "No," 'cause I'd only been here a year and a half.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
I didn't know what was going on. I was just trying to figure out the cellar.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
And, you know, Dad and Mom were very much running the business. So hearing your story makes perfect sense that Dad would be... We probably talked and I said, "Well, let's put an ad up at Davis." So he probably took the ball and ran with it-

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
I love the fact that Mom talked to you, too. That's great. Our moms are very similar, I think.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
But I do remember... And Elias has heard it too many times. But, basically, you know, he didn't have much of résumé. All he had was his transcript. And he... We took the same classes four or five years apart at Davis. So the conversation was like, "Hey, is Dr. Cook still teaching that 101A and B?"

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And you'd, you'd say yes.

Elias:
Yes (laughs).

Doug:
And I'd say... And I said, "Is he still drinking at lunch?"

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
And you said, and you said yes. And, uh... But then I'm looking at your grades, and it's like, you know, Chem 1A you got an A-. You know, I got a C+. In physics you got an A, and I got a B. And, you know, genetics, you got an A and I took a pass/no pass. I love pass/no pass.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
It was, like, the best thing. And it's like I thought to myself, "I gotta hire this... This guy's smarter than I am. I gotta hire him. So, you know, when you left and we were talking and Dad said, "What do you think?" I said, "We need to hire this guy." (laughs)

Elias:
(laughs) Yeah.

Doug:
So, uh, yeah. You showed up, and then, um, what was your... Do you remember your first day at Shafer?

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
Oh no (laughs).

Elias:
Yeah, yeah. It was as vivid as can be. Yeah.

Doug:
Oh, come on.

Elias:
Yeah (laughs).

Doug:
Come on. What happened? What happened?

Elias:
I remember those... We had those, uh, those wood catwalks where the chardonnay room is.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And, um, everything was wood e- except the, the frame. And, uh, it was full of black mold or whatever.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And I remember you gave me a bucket and, and a, a sponge and, and said, "We gotta get this mold off and stuff." And so I am scrubbing away, scrubbing away, and it's coming down my arm, you know, as it's going everywhere. Yeah. But it reminded me of Mar- Louis Martini Winery, you know?

Doug:
Did it? .

Elias:
So I was, I was good at it (laughs).

Doug:
I, I, I, I'd like to say I came up with that one on my own, but actually, that was a job that... I worked at another winery for a couple years before coming to Shafer, and I got the same job from Randy Mason.

Elias:
You had the same job.

Doug:
But, basically, you're... have to bleach the underside of these wood planks, and they're...

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
You're on a step ladder, and it's over your head. And it's... You know, we got goggles and stuff and gloves. But-

Elias:
Yeah. But we don't use bleach anymore.

Doug:
No, we don't. So that was a challenging job. But, you know, here I am. Who, who am I to be handing out gnarly jobs? But it is what it is. But, um, everyone needs to know Elias was a, was a trooper. He handled it like a pro. No complaints. And, and, uh, we were off and running from 1984, which is, what, 35 years ago?

Elias:
This'll be the 35th harvest. So yeah.

Doug:
35th harvest together. So...

Elias:
Yeah. Quite a run.

Doug:
Quite a run. And we were making... What were we making? Like 10, 12 thousand cases? I think about that.

Elias:
Yeah, something like that. Yeah. Not-

Doug:
And Mom and Dad run the office. And I think Mary Kay was on board soon after.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
So Mom, Dad, and someone else or two in the office, then you and me in the cellar. And that was it.

Elias:
Yeah. It was Sh-... It was Sheryl deLeuze. Remember, uh, Robert deLeuze from ZD Wines?

Doug:
Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, from ZD Wines.

Elias:
His wife. Yeah. Sheryl.

Doug:
Good memory.

Elias:
So yeah. Uh, the early days. Wow. Thank God we were young.

Elias:
Uh, I'll never forget the harvest in 1984.

Doug:
(laughs) Your first harvest, my second.

Elias:
My first harvest. Yeah. And you, you picked, you know, 30 tons of chardonnay on the first day of harvest, you know.

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
And the press broke down.

Doug:
Labor Day weekend.

Elias:
On Labor Day weekend. No one's around to help us. Yeah.

Doug:
All the, all the service guys took the weekend off during harvest.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
You could never do that... You could never do that today.

Elias:
No. So, the brake didn't work on the press and the juice would go flying, you know, outside-

Doug:
Oh yeah.

Elias:
... and so forth? And then I realized that, that, um, that Doug had a temper (laughs).

Doug:
(laughs) Oh, are you really gonna tell this? Wait, wait, wait. This is my show. You can't do this.

Elias:
Yeah. Doug had a temper.

Doug:
Oh man. Oh.

Elias:
(laughs) But, uh-

Doug:
I like you're using "had."

Elias:
(laughs) Yeah. Had.

Elias:
So, so again, the, the, the, the press was fairly new.

Doug:
It was new.

Elias:
And the brake, uh failed on it. So ... so that the juice would flow into the juice bin, you know-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... naturally down below. And so someone had to manually, s- stop the press and then get the air in the bladder and all that stuff. So, um, you know, 30 tons of chardonnay. I forget how many tons that thing held.

Doug:
I think-

Elias:
I think probably two or three, four, five.

Doug:
Yeah. Yeah. So it's, it's like-

Elias:
Yeah, I don't know. It was a lot of press loads.

Doug:
So it's gonna be like eight press loads.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Each press... Uh, each cycle's like two and a half hours-

Elias:
Right, right.

Doug:
... or three hours.

Elias:
So, so we had to do that manually.

Doug:
All night.

Elias:
And this is at, you know, you know, 9:00 at night. In those days, the chardonnay actually got crushed in the tanks.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And then we... first skin contact. And then we would take it out of the tank and then right into the press. So we started pressing this stuff like at 8:00 at night.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And, and we had to go all night, you know, without any sleep. Well, your m- your mom brought some cots down and, and stuff. And we took little breaks.

Doug:
They made us little... I remember they made us two little beds-

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
... on the, on the office floor. And we'd take turns sleeping for a couple hours while one guy would kind of run the press. And we'd tag team.

Elias:
Right. Right. Right. But I would hear... I would hear you cuss every once in a while.

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
You wouldn't let me sleep (laughs).

Doug:
Well, no. What I remember... And it was... It's a little embarrassing to tell this story. Elias is being a... being, being really nice right now. But... we're, we're battling this press. We're trying to figure out how to fix it, and we can't. And we can't get anybody to help us. And, you know, you know, we had a wrench, and maybe we could try to tighten that or loosen that. That didn't work, and tried to... And we get a hammer and try to bang on something. That didn't work. And I do remember vividly, at one point, I was so frustrated. (laughs) It had this stainless side. I actually, I actually kicked it.

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
I, I, I, I kicked it like five or six times, just kicking this-

Elias:
Bra- brand-new press.

Doug:
... brand-new press. Just kicking this stainless panel and, and just 'cause I was so frustrated and upset. And then, all of a sudden, I, I turned. I looked... Elias... You know, we didn't know each other that well. We'd only been working together a year or so. And Elias was looking at me, and the look on his face was like, "Oh my gosh. You're just like an idiot." (laughs)

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
"What good is kicking this thing gonna do?" And I was, you know, embarrassed. And, uh, we got past it. But, but you were helpful, very helpful. I do remember that was a long night. But, um, those early years, you had a, and still do, a definite mechanical knack, electrical knack. I mean, you were incredibly helpful 'cause, you know, we'd be... We'd come up against something. You always said, "Hey," you know. You would catch me before I got the hammer out (laughs) and say-

Elias:
(laughs) Or the duct tape.

Doug:
Or used a lot of duct tape, too.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
But you were great 'cause you... You know, we, we'd figure it out, and you kept me from, you know, mangling equipment, which was, was good.

Elias:
I th- I think I got that from my dad. He taught me a lot about mechanical stuff.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
He, you know, he ma- made me work on the cars with him and stuff. So yeah.

Doug:
Really? Yeah. And used to... As a kid, you worked with him in the vineyards a lot, too?

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
Yeah, a lot of vineyard work. Yeah.

Doug:
What-

Elias:
And, and fixing the Caterpillars and, you know, discs and stuff like that.

Doug:
And you carried that on with your kids.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
'Cause you got a vineyard at your home.

Elias:
Yeah. I got a little vineyard at my house and...

Doug:
So you have three boys. And, uh-

Elias:
Yep. I call it my glorified landscape, you know, an acre and a half of cabernet sauvignon in Calistoga. And I actually did that on purpose for my kids to teach them a little bit where I came from and where his-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... their grandparents came from and their great-grandparents came from. So as they were growing up, um, I would put them to work in the vineyard. They hated it, you know?

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
So, any time they did... they were bad, I go, "We're going out in the vineyard." So-

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
... I don't know if that was good or bad 'cause now, they don't... None of them... Well, only one of them. But none of them really wanted to do anything with the winery (laughs).

Doug:
And Stace... You and Stace were married... When did you guys get married?

Elias:
Oh, we were, we were married on August 18th, uh, 1991.

Doug:
Got it. So you'd been here about six, seven years.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Okay.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
I remember that. I remember that. That was a good w-... That was a good... That was a good wedding.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So we're cranking along. Summer of '86, we, uh, made some port-

Elias:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug:
... and didn't tell Dad. He wasn't too happy about that 'cause we-

Elias:
I remember that. Yeah.

Doug:
We took 300 gallons of his Sunspot cabernet and... I think that, that probably was your idea to do that. Was it your idea?

Elias:
You know, I thought it was yours (laughs).

Doug:
(laughs)

Elias:
I don't know. I, uh, uh, it was a... I thought it was a good idea.

Doug:
Well, I did, too. He wasn't...

Elias:
Yeah. He wasn't too happy, but...

Doug:
Well, just... We still make a little port every year. And, uh, to, to tell a long story in a short manner, basically, Elias, you know, thought we'd whip up this little batch of port without telling Dad 'cause we thought we were pretty hot stuff.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
And we'd have been here two and three years, and took the finished product in to him. We had four barrels of it and said, you know, "Dad, we're making port." And he promptly said... calmly said, uh, "Okay. What's your, what's your research? Who'd you talk to or consult with on how to do this? 'Cause I know you guys don't know how to make port."

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
(laughs) And, um, "How are you gonna label it? What's the product plan? How... What's the brand plan? How's it gonna fit in with our other wines?" It was the best branding/marketing lesson I ever received. And, in fact, it was... I went back to the lab and, and you were like, "What'd he think? What'd he think?" And I said, "We're screwed. Hide the port. He's not happy."

Elias:
Oh.

Doug:
But, in hindsight, I never realized it. I think that was the first time, for me, that I had heard this term "brand," "branding."

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And what's your... What are you known for and product and positioning, you know?

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And... 'Cause I remember, soon after that, he gave me a couple different books on branding and, what's, what, what are you building? What do you want to be known for?

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
So that was actually the start of it.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
But, uh-

Elias:
Even though it hurt (laughs).

Doug:
Oh yeah. Yeah, it hurt. But, uh, long story short was he, he actually came around four years later and said, "This is pretty cool. Let's do it every year." So we make 100 cases of port and sell it here-

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
... and call it Firebreak Dessert Wine. So we're cranking along, and then we, uh, we got... Thanksgiving '86.

Elias:
Hmm.

Doug:
It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we were gonna do a blind tasting of a '85 Merlot, five different '85 Merlots and five or six different '84 Cabernets, including the Shafers, Shafer wines. Uh, we put them in a bag, blind tasting, 'cause we'd do that before we release the wines, see how our wine's shaping up.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And, um, basically, both flights that had, uh, one wine that was just absolutely horrible. And I mean s- horrible smell, stinky, terrible. And, you know, we're like, "Wow, yeah. Wine C. Oh man. Wine C."

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So we're... All three of us, you, Dad, and me... And so we... The merlot flight first. We unveil. You know, we're like, "I wonder who that is."

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
"Who's that?" Well, it was ours. It was Shafer." So we... Dad looked at me. I said, "Oh, must be a bad bottle or something." And then we went to the cabernet flight. Same deal. Wine A, "Oh, Wine A is nasty. That's nasty. What's th-... Who's that?" (laughs)

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
It was Shafer.

Elias:
It was Shafer. Oh.

Doug:
Um, so we had, um... And, by the way, I was the winemaker. Elias was assistant winemaker and, um... But, um, long story short, we had... We'd made a mistake with something called H2S, which is hydrogen sulfide, and there was still some in the wine. And once you bottle the, bottle the wine with a little bit of oxygen at bottling, it can transfer into something called a, a, mercaptan. Um, I'm not gonna... Since I didn't do too well in chemistry-

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
... we're not gonna go explain what that is. But, but basically, it's really, it's really a... It's, it's, it can't hurt you, but it's just very putrid aroma. And, uh, it was a really long weekend. And the, the worst part was when he called. He said to me, you know, Friday morning, he said, "Oh, I called Louis Martini. Louis' gonna come over and taste it with me." I said, "Well, I'm getting the hell outta here-"

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
"... because I don't want to see Mr. Martini. I'm so embarrassed," 'cause I went up and worked-

Elias:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug:
... with another consultant trying to figure it out. And I came back and said... I said, "What'd Louis say, Dad?" Dad said, "Oh, Louis said, 'Oh, John, no big deal. You just got a little sulfide problem,'" you know, which was like... 'cause he's, he'd been making wine for his whole life, 40, 50 years.

Elias:
The problem was it was in the bottle now (laughs).

Doug:
Yeah, that was the problem. The problem was it was in the bottle. So, um, over that span of two or three days, which was the longest long weekend in my life, um... And Elias, too. We were talking on the phone trying to figure it out. But we, uh, we... I called, uh, a good friend of ours, a guy we used to play football with. His name was Tony Soter.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And he was a consultant at the time. He was a cot- s- consultant with Spottswoode, a few other wineries. And Tony was great. He came on board that next Monday morning, and we figured out what was going on and what the problem was. And that was the start of a 18-month intense experience.

Elias:
Right, right.

Doug:
What's-

Elias:
I learned so much in those 18 months.

Doug:
What's your, what's your memory of that?

Elias:
Well, yeah. I mean, Tony, um... I, I'll never forget the one line he said. He goes, "Let the wine speak to you."

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
"Don't force the wine to do something it's not." And, uh, I, I use that to this day. Whenever I, I am smelling a wine, I go, "Okay. What is it trying to say to me?"

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And then, you know, and then you, you address it, you know?

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
It's, "The wine wants me to do this. It doesn't want me to do this," you know?

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
So yeah.

Doug:
I gotta tell you, um, these these are tough memories for Elias and me because... But, but they were... But we built on them, but it was... We, we couldn't have been at a lower point.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Um, we were... thought we were pretty hot and pretty cocky. And we had two wines that were just, just horrible, which we had to rebottle. And rebottling's exactly what it sounds like. It was, I think, 3,000 cases of merlot and 4,000 cases of cab. And how do you rebottle? Well, the first thing you do is you gotta pull the corks-

Elias:
And dump them.

Doug:
... and dump them into a press pan and pump it back into a tank. And then, you know, you do a little blending. You do a little, uh, little magic, all legal. But you, you're able to get rid of, um, get rid of this mercaptan problem. And then we refiltered the wine, rebottled the wine, released the wine. The wine was fine. We thought it was always... We always thought it was a little bit stripped w- because we knew we, we had it filtered twice and everything, and... But then, to finish the story, it was a, a year later. It was, uh, December 15th issue of Wine Spectator.

Doug:
I'll never forget that because, uh, that was my birthday. And both wines were reviewed in the Spectator, and one got 91 and one got 93. It was like, "Wow." It was ama-... Wine's pretty amazing stuff. But, um, Tony... I remember we were so low, we, we started out and, um, we, we said, "Let's open book."

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
"Let's just look at everything." And we started in the vineyard.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
We, we s-... Before we got... Yeah.

Elias:
Yeah, we started in the vineyard and, and went through everything in the cellar. I mean, we were 24/7 th- those, those 18 months.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
It was a lot. I mean, that's why I'm glad we were young 'cause, man, to have that kind of stress today (laughs)-

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
... it would be (laughs), it would be brutal. Yeah.

Doug:
It was like a... 'cause we just discovered a lot of things that we just weren't... We just weren't... We had been working hard, but just-

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
... we were pushing a few wrong buttons.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
And Tony helped us get straightened out. And, again, you gotta admire this guy. A year and a half later, he comes to me and says... And, and, and I, you know, I just... I'm winemaker. Elias is assistant winemaker. But, you know, it's a... The two of us have been side by side for everything. So, with Tony, it was like the three of us were cranking away, and Dad was super supportive-

Elias:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug:
... which was great. But, uh, a year and a half later, he comes to me and says, "Well, I'm done." I said, "What do you mean, you're done?" He says, "Well, I've taught you guys everything I can. You guys can do it." And (laughs)...

Elias:
We were scared.

Doug:
We were scared. I said, "Soter, I'll triple your s-... I'll triple your hourly fee. You can't leave." He's our security blanket, at least for me. And he was cute. He said, "No, I won't do it." And all... His parting words were, "You got my phone number. Don't abuse it."

Elias:
Yeah (laughs).

Doug:
"See you later." And he walked out.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
And, uh, he's made a great friend forever.

Elias:
For life. Yeah.

Doug:
In fact, isn't your son working with him?

Elias:
Well, my, my son did a harvest there. I mean-

Doug:
Up in Oregon?

Elias:
Up in Oregon. Yeah.

Doug:
Which is great. That's like full circle stuff.

Elias:
Yeah, I know.

Doug:
It's kinda cool. Um, yeah. He taught us to listen to the wines.

Elias:
Listen to the wines.

Doug:
Great stuff. So that was '86, '87, '88?

Elias:
That's... so then we started to really work in the vineyard. I remember that. I mean, the '80s-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
... was all about the vineyard. And, um, you know, with the organic farming that, you know, you actually implemented with, uh, s- you know...

Doug:
Some of the - .

Elias:
Some of the early stuff. Yeah. Yeah.

Doug:
Right. Cover crops.

Elias:
Right. And then all the, uh, you know, being aware of the ecosystem with all the, the hawks and, and the perches we put up to help us with our rodent problem with... that came along with the grasses.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And then the owl boxes, you know, for the night watch.

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
And s-... That was fun. That was a interesting era.

Doug:
That was fun. That was a fun time.

Elias:
Yeah. At the vineyard.

Doug:
But we, we had to train... I remember Alfonso's been here for 45 years-

Elias:
Oh my God.

Doug:
... running the vineyards. But, um, just having to change the whole mindset to that a beautiful vineyard is one that's kinda trashy and, you know, not trashy meaning cover cop decaying and forest floor as opposed to a, you know, clean, clean, dirt-only soil.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Remember in '88, Dad went to Italy and came back?

Elias:
Oh yeah (laughs), with his... with something we couldn't pronounce (laughs).

Doug:
You got a memory of that one?

Elias:
Yeah. So I-

Doug:
What happened?

Elias:
So I remember, uh, uh, you telling me that your dad had gone to Italy, and he came back with some wine and he wants us to make a Sangiovese. And, and we go, "Sangio-what?" You know, he's like, "Yeah, Sangiovese, an Italian, uh, grape variety that some of the Super Tuscans are in," and, you know, and all that. And we were going like, "Well, we have no idea of all this, you know, how to make it, how to-"

Doug:
Well, you know, people have to realize this was 1988. We're just trying to figure out how to make wines that are norm-... good.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Not necessarily great. I don't think we had gotten there yet. We were trying, but just to make sure they're okay and get them in the bottle and, you know, and not have it explode or something. But we're in the lab, and he goes, "I want to make Sangiovese." And I s-... I said, "I said, "sangio-what?" Or you did.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
And then he goes, "Well, it's the Chianti region." And I heard Chianti. This was so embarrassing. I heard Chianti and I go, "Oh, straw baskets."

Elias:
Baskets (laughs).

Doug:
And, and I remember, um, um, he looks at you. He looks at you, and he makes the comment, "You know, I sent this guy to college. I paid for his college education in wine, and he doesn't- and he doesn't know what Sangiovese is." So it's like you two had a good laugh.

Elias:
(laughs)

Doug:
But, uh...

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Yeah. We planted it and, um, made a wine called Firebreak.

Elias:
Firebreak. Yeah. And Firebreak was named after the, the fire in 1981. Yeah.

Doug:
'81, that, uh, fire... Another wildfire back in '81 that burned a hill around his house.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Which had not been planted because my mom had told him that "If you plant one more acre of grapes, I'm gonna leave." And the next day, she woke up and saw that all the brown hills had burned, but the vineyards hadn't burned. And she had almost lost her house. So she went to Dad and said, you know, this hill right by their house, she said, "Plant this hill and plant it now." So he got... He was so happy. He got 10 more acres of hillside cabernet.

Elias:
Yes.

Doug:
So we... And we called the, called the vineyard Firebreak. Yeah. Sangiovese. How was that first one? 'Cause -

Elias:
Oh, it was... Oh my God. It was so light in color (laughs). It looked like a, a strawberry, you know, juice, you know.

Doug:
Strawberry, yeah, Kool-Aid. Right?

Elias:
Didn't, didn't know anything about sangiovese. I remember us going-

Doug:
And, and -

Elias:
... very disappointed with, with, you know, what the pure sangiovese turned out, you know. And then we, uh, said, "Well, we need to blend a lot of cabernet into this thing to make it palatable and, you know, have a great color or whatever." So we, uh... I think the first one was a lot of cabernet.

Doug:
Like 40%.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Yeah, 'cause he wanted it to be 10 or 15, like Tinganello. And it was like, "No."

Elias:
Right. It ain't happening this year.

Doug:
Not this year.

Elias:
Yeah. But we learned a lot about, uh, sangiovese and actually made a pretty good one, you know, up to the end.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
We learned about how to grow the grapes, uh, correctly, how to get sun into the grapes, uh, to get better color, but not too much sun. And, uh, we actually made some very dece- decent ones.

Doug:
It was, it was a fun, fun project. But, uh, we- we, we realized that the, the Italians... It's, it's their strength, not ours. So we, we surrendered.

Elias:
And then the next (laughs)... The next one came up, right? The next-

Doug:
Which one?

Elias:
The, the, the Syrah.

Doug:
Oh, the Syrah. Well, before... When was Syrah? That was in... Well, that was around-

Doug:
94, 95.

Elias:
Yeah. Which then we ended a firebreak and went in 93-

Doug:
90

Elias:
... or 2003. I can't remember anymore.

Doug:
2000, 2003.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Well, before Syrah um, we had a transition this is around 1994.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
I can't even remember how old dad was. He was mid-seventies, but he came to me, he said, Doug, it's time for you to run it, run the winery. You know, you need to travel more and run the administration. I said, fine. I said, I said, uh, I said, well, you know, and you'll be winemaker too and continue. I said, no, that doesn't work. How am I going to do both jobs? And, you know, and, and, you know, we kicked the three of us, kicked it around and figured it out and, uh, made a shift to promote you to wine maker. I became president, dad became chairman. And I've got a really specific memory of, of you during those first year or two when you've took over as making wine and um

Elias:
Spending your money?[laughs)

Doug:
Oh, that was the- Yeah, I forgot about that part because he walks in. That was kind of right about the time we wanted to fix chardonnay. Dad Walks into Elias and he said, you know, we've been fighting chardonnay forever. You know, I'm, I'm going to go talk to Elias. I said, whatever. So we'd he, cause he had not been going back and forth so, so he said, or he and I spoke to you and said, Elias Chardonnay, it's going to be your project. You know, I think he said, I think he said to you “Chardonnay, Elias – fix it.” (Laughs)

Elias:
Fix it, yeah.

Doug:
So you show up, you walk into his office an hour later, I didn't even know about because he brought it to me and says, here's what Elias wants. He wants a vineyard in Carneros. I said, really? He wants 100% new French oak. I said, really? Cause I was like, I was trying to be fiscally responsible and not have, you know, not buy all this new, these new barrels are so expensive. So, you know, we were using seven, eight year old barrels on chardonnay. I thought it was fine. Apparently not. So I said, really? He goes, I go, wow, look at that. He goes, yeah, I'm going to, we're going to do it all. I said, really, we're going to get a vineyard in Carneros? He goes, Yup, that's what Elias wants it's what we going to do. I said, well, I was, you know, we knew each other well but was a little bit pissed off. I was trying to be fiscally responsible.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
But that was fun. And, and, and by the way, you did fix it. So congratulations.

Elias:
Oh thank you. Thank you for giving me the tools.

Doug:
Oh man. It was funny. That was a funny conversation. But, uh, so last became winemaker in ‘94 I became president and a you took over and I'm going to say it because I want to compliment you. I want to thank you again because I got to tell you what happened. It was giving up the winemaking role title was, is, was tough for me and Elias knew it. Um, because when you're, you can, there can only be one person calling all the shots, especially at harvest and when to pick and when the firm, you know, bottle and how to ferment. If you've got two or three people trying to make that decision just doesn't work. It's like there's just like one general making the call and otherwise it just gets messy.

Doug:
And, um, I knew it, I knew in my heart, but it was tough to do it cause I've been doing it so long and we were starting finally, after all these years together, we've started to make some really pretty wines. So I, I had to work really hard to stay out of Elias, his hair and I, I tried, I tried hard, I moved my office over in another building and so I wouldn't be over there bugging him. And what happened was every couple of times a week you have to make it maybe an acid addition or a sulfur addition or some type of calculation, and the Elias would show up in my office with a piece of paper. He goes, hey, I need to add 10 parts sulfur to add to this tank of cab, you know, I've calculated is going to be, you know, 300 grams for this 5,000 gallon tank. Could you just check my calculations for me? I was like, really? You know the, and you were like super sincere.

Doug:
So I was like, okay, yeah, that's, that's the right number. And he kept doing it and he kept doing it, you know, then, you know, a couple, three months go by, it's like, you know, he, he bringing in, he brought in again, it's like I find to the point where I said to Elias would you leave me alone? You can do this. I don't need to be involved in this anymore. He says, okay, just checking and you smiled. And I realized that it's like you son of a gun. So what he did is he nursed me along and he kind of eased me out without even knowing I was easing out. And uh, I want to thank you for that.

Elias:
Well, thank you.

Doug:
Really, really considerate.

Elias:
I don't know if you remember the one time, I think you were thanking me and I said, look, I just want to make your job easier cause I, I could feel that you were, you were struggling, you know-

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
I mean anybody would in your position. And so it was, it was, it just felt right and thank you for letting me come see you every once in a while.

Doug:
I remember that when you said that and I never remember exactly where it was. It was at The Diner. We were having lunch and it was right about that era. And I think we were having, we were doing your annual review over a Humdinger Burger, um, a shake and fries at the diner over lunch. That's how we did the review. I think I've asked you the question. I said, I think I pulled a John Shafer, you know, where you want to be doing in five years, but you know, we, we want do this next year. And you said that to me. He said, I just want to make your job easier. And it's like, wow, I, you know, I've passed that on to my kids who are now out in the work world. I said, you know, you're getting a job with somebody to make their job easier.

Elias:
Right? Yeah.

Doug:
Just figure out what's going to help and you'll become invaluable to them. Right. So thank you for that.

Elias:
My pleasure.

Doug:
Oh Man. We're gonna have to go have a beer after this.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Um, so you are a winemaker, I'm president, dad's still run around as chairman. Um, and you're, you know, you've, it's, this is 94, 95. You got, you're married, you got three little kids. You've got this pretty serious responsibility here. The winery starting to really take off quality. You're commuting down from Calistoga. That's a long drive every day. How'd you do it?

Elias:
Oh, thank God. I was young still. [laughs] Um, yeah, that was a, yeah, it was a lot of pressure. I mean, at home and at work. I mean, it was, I remember that era. It's like, yeah, three young kids, all I'm going in different directions and the wife needs help and I got to run this place you know, being young and just enjoying my job at, you know, every day it would make it easier to just seeing that progression and seeing that the wines were going in the right direction I think was all very helpful. And um, you know, your dad would show up once in a while and said, you know, I'm a, I just came from the road. The wines are showing beautifully. I mean, they always give, gave me some, you know, some feedback, which was awesome. Yeah.

Doug:
Well the other thing you did was you really more so than I ever did, you really jumped into the vineyard side of it. We kind of were doing it. Um, but we were, especially those early years, we were so focused on trying to get it right in the cellar. Right? So by then the tension for us, turn to the vineyard, you're growing better graves to thus make better wines and um, you, I don't mean to be complimenting you, but I'm going to, I mean, your ability to be in the vineyard and to be able to speak Spanish with our workers and our, our, our field guys to explain why we're thinning, why we're doing this thing. Why? Because sometimes I would think, especially like fruit thing, the guys were like, we're dropping fruit and three weeks from now we're going to be coming in and picking it? Why, what are you doing this for? I mean, they were like, they thought we were idiots, but you were able and have been continuing with these guys to explain why we do what we do and they get it. They're motivated to do it. Yeah.

Elias:
Well, the vineyard, you know, as you know, is the, where it all starts and, and back and then in the early 80s, we started some of that. But in the 90s there was so much more that we knew about wine and we knew we had to, you know, make the vineyards the best we could. So we'd get the best raw materials to make the best wine. And, um, uh, and I had to get the guys on board because they're the ones out there, you know, day in and day out. I can't see every vine. You can't see every vine-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And so, um, and, and going out there and explain it to him was, was actually fun for me because it brought me back to my childhood, my dad and my parents and stuff because, um, they had someone that they could relate with to explain them to them and I said, look, I did this as a small young kid, you know, and we used to do it this way, but now we do it this way because it's better for the wine and so they started to get in and watch their eyes light up was, was really, really fun. And even today, I mean, you know, that we still doing some different things in the vineyard and just to watch them just light up, like as they're learning something new and then they're learning why, you know, the why of it.

Doug:
The why.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
I mean, we're just, we're just, we're doing some new things with pruning, but just over the last six or eight weeks, which is actually really, really cool. And, uh, it's, it's fairly simple, but it's a totally new way to kind of approach a grape vine where you prune it and, uh, and these guys have totally embraced the idea cause you and these folks were working with them, walk them through why you should do new way. It's better for the vine, better for the quality. So-

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Very cool. So you mentioned syrah earlier. So how did, what's your memory on that one? How do we get into Syrah?

Elias:
Well, I as I recall we were at Mustard’s having, you know, one of our conversational lunches and we go with, you know, you know, we're thinking well at this actually came from your dad because remember he was always forward thinking. He, he was always, he was always the one that said, you know, we need to do something different every three or four years.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And uh, and so you and I were having lunch and I go, you know, if we were to make another variety, what variety would it be? And-

Doug:
What were we drinking? It was dinner time. I remember that.

Elias:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I think we were drinking Syrah.

Doug:
We were drinking Syrah. [Laughs]

Elias:
And so we said, well, you know, Syrah was one of the noble, you know, of the world. So how about Syrah? Yeah. And then, and then we, you know, we were talking more than I said, but, you know, we don't want to every, we don't want to just make Syrah. We want to, we want to do what California do best and what Napa valley does and, and so I remember that, um, in Napa Valley there was a lot of Petite Syrah and I had actually had a friend who, who made Petite Sirah and so I said, what do you know what about a blend of Petite Sirah cause that variety was grown here. I mean, I forget how many acres it used to be at the most grown variety here in Napa valley for a long time. And all the old timers used to use it.

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
I remember seeing some come in at Louis Martini winery back in the day and, uh, you know, Petite Sirah, big tannic, you know, dark colored, you know, and so, and it's also turns out it's one of the, it's parenthood is, it's Syrah, one of its parents, so, so it blends well with it. So we decided to make uh Syrah as the next variety.

Doug:
Right, where we came up with this crazy blend idea.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
And do you remember when we pitched it to dad? [Laughs 00:13:38]

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
So we walked in my dad's office and said hey dad because we had this 15 acre vineyard south of the winery by mile on top of a hill, beautiful site. And the discussion was what’re we going to plant. So you're not walked in and said, dad, we've got this great idea. We're going to plant, we're going to do a blend of Syrah and we're going to plant the vineyard in the percentages.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Sight unseen, never done. Never even tried doing that plan. We're going to plant 80% Syrah, 20% Petite Syrah and you, and are all excited. It's like, it's midnight. These things were starting to, you know, and he leaves back. We thought it'd be a no brainer. Know we've got your new product, dad. We've got the, and he, he leaned back in his chair. He goes, well fellas [laughs].

Elias:
We went through this with the port.

Doug:
We didn't say that, thank goodness, but he said, uh, back, back when I was in the publishing business and someone would have a new idea for a new textbook or something. We would, he, I remember him saying this, we're going to, we need to test the market. So in other words, you need to make a couple of hundred cases and see if people like this before we plant 15 acres and commit like that. I think you and I both kind of got the hang dog, looks on our face like, oh, bummer. And then he kind of paused and he looks at us and he goes, but you know, you guys have been doing pretty well lately. Go ahead and go for it. So it was like, yeah, right on. So off we went. And um, so we planted the Syrah, Petite Sirah and made a blend and it was the 1999 vintage and we released it on your birthday, January 22nd, 2002. And we named the wine relentless to honor you and you're relentless pursuit of quality. So-

Elias:
Yeah, that was a, that was an honor.

Doug:
Well deserved.

Elias:
Thank you. But that wine is done wonders for us. And you know, I'm excited to make it every year. It's, it's a, it's a very unique, uh, aromatics and flavor on that wine. It's so fun.

Doug:
And we just tasted that. It's the 17 coming out. 16 yeah. 16 is coming up. We just tasted that yesterday. Um, just, we didn't do a blind tasting, but we just tasted it and it's, by the way, it smells really good.

Elias:
Yeah. [laughs]

Doug:
Um, toughest vintages. You've been here a long time. 35 years. What's your, what's your toughest vintage?

Elias:
Well, 1984 cause we didn't know what we were doing and you know, another press we talked about that, that was the tough was a tough one. That was a first harvest here. 2003 was a tough one-

Doug:
Right?

Elias:
I don't know if you recall that vintage and me calling you up and you were in Michigan.

Doug:
Oh yeah. Yeah.

Elias:
I remember the heat wave we had and you know, and, and we lost a lot of fruit and-

Doug:
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Good. I remember saying, cause y'all was on vacation and you called me up and it's like, he never calls me. So it's like, okay, and you said this is bad. And then I kind of listened to you. I said, oh, come on, I can't be that bad. And then all I remember you saying, it's like, it's that bad.

Elias:
It's that bad, yeah.

Elias:
We had a hundred and twelve degrees here on-

Doug:
Yeah.

Elias:
...On the property. And we, you know, some of the grapes burnt and there wasn't a lot of crop anyway to start with. And so-

Doug:
That was a tough one.

Elias:
That was tough and, and, and the respect that we hadn't, I hadn't seen that before. Right. You know, but it all turned out fine, but there was just not a lot of fruit, you know, scary. But then, uh, I would have to say 2011 is probably the most toughest one-

Doug:
Yeah, that was a tough one

Elias:
...because, um, the way that vintage started out, was, uh, wet and it just continued to be wet through the summer, early summer and, you know, we had botrytis on red grapes, which I had never seen before.

Doug:
Yeah, I remember that one.

Elias:
You know, you hear this in Europe, it happens all the time but not here. And so it was tough to watch and, and not see the grapes, you know, develop in a timely fashion and just watch them, you know, but it also is the most gratifying, uh, vintage because when I taste that 2011 hillside, I mean, it's just, you know, brings happiness because it's turned out pretty well.

Doug:
You did a good job on that one. Nice.

Elias:
I know yeah. That's the year we had the optical sorter I had to spend-

Doug:
So anyway, whenever life's needs new equipment and he brings it in and say, hey, we need to spend this much money to get this. It's like, you know, he's, he's ready for me cause my, my first question is, you know, why am I going to spend a hundred grand for that? But he's got a piece of paper, it says, here's what's going to happen. We'll do this, we'll do this too, wine will be better. It's okay. It works. Best. Best vintages.

Elias:
Oh, best vintages, there's a lot of them. I mean, you know,

Doug:
I know.

Elias:
Um, it's that one. That one's hard. In the 80s, it's probably the 87 vintage and the 90's you got a lot of them. 91, 92, ninety- I can't. I mean I-

Doug:
I know, I know. You know something, I apologize for asking that cause when people ask me that, I hate that you know

Elias:
They're like my kids, you know, it's like, which kid is the best one?

Doug:
I got the answer to that one.

Elias:
I can't say it. [Laughs]

Doug:
I know. Well, actually it changes all the time. One week it's this kid, one week it’s that kid. Um, and you and I started making a little wine on the side.

Elias:
Oh yeah.

Doug:
Yeah. Yeah. The, which I'm in trouble for right now because Elias is making some, we started a brand a few years ago because we love doing what we do, but again, I think we're out to dinner or lunch thing, you know, drinking, probably drinking and Albariño or a Malbec or something, the same conversation we had with Syrah earlier. It's like, you're kind of like, I want to make this. I said, yeah, I want to make that, you know, different flavors, different varietals. So, uh, Elias and I teamed up, we've got our own little brand called Eighty Four, which is the year we started working together. And the idea is to make small quantities of wines that um Shafer doesn't make. So we start out with a Malbec and a petite syrah. Uh, we've added Albariño. Um, we've, we've, uh, we stopped making Malbec and Petite Syrah, we've got the Albariño going and we'd just started with a release, just released a Gamay Noir, small production. And, uh, we're just having fun and there's no, people said, well, why just stop making Petite? It's like, well, we kind of lost interest and don't have a good grape source and we've got this Gamay Noir thing going. So, you know, things might come, things might go, which is kind of Nice. We've got total freedom to-

Elias:
What this project is done, I think for both of us, this is a, you know, get those juices flowing again. Like it, we were back in the early eighties, you know, remember those, uh, those days when we were doing something and trying something new and stuff. And I think this has been fun for us.

Doug:
It's been fun because all of a sudden, like with, when we started doing the Gamay Noir, thinking about that a couple of years ago, it was like all of a sudden Elias walks in my office at 7:30 morning with a, a bottle of wine that's, you know, got a third of the wine left in it. It's a Gamay they'd had the night before. I'm doing the same thing. It's like, Hey, we had this, I wanted to bring, some of you've got to try it. And that's what we were doing back in the 80s, when we were like, how are we going to, how are we going to do this?

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
So it's fun.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
It keeps it going.

Elias:
Definitely.

Doug:
So, um, we'll keep, we'll keep, we've got to go source some grapes. We going to see Marco up in the foothills.

Elias:
Yeah.

Doug:
Get some Zinfandel.

Elias:
Zinfandel?

Doug:
All right, we'll talk about that later. Um, so that was fun. That's been gone, going. And then a couple of years ago, we, um, we took our Merlot grapes and started doing something different. What happened with that?

Elias:
Well, that was, that was fun. [Laughs] It was fun for me. Um, yeah. So, yeah. So we decided to stop making a varietal Merlot and started make this wine called the TD-9, which I'm also, we have a little chat about, we needed to make a wine that it was attributed to your dad-

Doug:
Right.

Elias:
And at the same time it was, it was, um, you know, Merlot and had had gotten a bad rap after Sideways and everything. And so this was a way to, uh, make a wine that is Merlot base, but yet it's more complex because now my hands are tied. I can put any varietal in any percentages and make the best wine from the vintage. And at the same time a tribute to your dad, the TD-9, yeah TD-9 is a name-

Doug:
Yeah, the name but you're using Merlot, mostly Merlot, Malbec, and Cab.

Elias:
Right.

Doug:
Kind of, kind of Bordeaux focused blend. But, but like Elias is saying he's, he's coming to me a few times and said, this is so great, not being tied to the 75% Merlot requirement to have a varietal Merlot, I could do anything I want. And each year different vineyards, some shine better than others. So now I've got the freedom to make the best tasting wine every year. And I'm not constrained by these percentages I have to hit. And um, that goes right down the old Shafer brand branding pipe, which is, you know, we're all about making the best quality we can make. So it fits. And the name Elias who referencing TD-9 basically tells a story of my dad and his adventuresome spirit. To the end, the guy was coming up with ideas and what incase, what do you think about this and frustrated that within a year or two there'll be self-driving cars and he's going to miss that boat. And he's really upset about that. I mean to the very end.

Doug:
And, uh, but back in ‘73, he went from riding commuter trains in Chicago and to take an old crazy wild flyer of an idea and moved us all out here to Napa and start driving a TD-9 tractor that we found here on the ranch back in ‘73 and taught himself how to be a farmer and grow grapes and um, take it to the next level and start making wine. I mean, he, uh, you know, his ‘78 cab he made, he was probably about, gosh, he was early fifties when he made that probably 55, 56 years old when he starts selling it in the, in ‘81 ‘82. You know, you and I weren't even close to being here and you know, those first 10 or 10, 12 years when we were kind of figuring it out, he, you know, here in the cellar, he was on the road selling those wines. And a, it was a challenge because, you know, our early years for, we'd make some good wines. We make some not so good wines. Do you know, my best, my, the thing that was most disturbing about that period was we would make a good one and we'd make a wine that wasn't so good. And I, I remember not being able to really know why that happened. Why was this one good and why was this one not so good?

Doug:
We didn't have the experience to know, gee, we pick too soon and we did this wrong. You know, after years together, we've, we've learned that we didn't, then we can predict and, and hopefully, you know, hit it, hit it, hit it good every year. But those, that was a, that was kind of a strange place to be. It's like, why? Why is this one good?

Elias:
Yeah, the unknown.

Doug:
Yeah. Well, my friend, it's been a great run.

Elias:
Oh,

Doug:
35 years. Go for 35 more.

Elias:
Let's go, let's do it.

Doug:
Alright, well look, it's a springtime and the grapes are growing and we've got good cluster counts. So, uh, we're pretty excited about this year, so let's go grow some grapes.

Elias:
Let's do it.

Doug:
Thanks.