Wine of the week: Shafer, Relentless 2018 Red Wine, Napa Valley
When it comes to blends, Elias Fernandez doesn’t believe in strict percentages.
“When we first started making Relentless in the late 1990s, we envisioned it as a field blend that would be 80% syrah and 20% petite syrah, the same percentages that were planted in the vineyard,” said the winemaker of Napa Valley’s Shafer Vineyards. “It’s been part of my learning curve as a winemaker to listen more to the wine than to my own preconceptions. With that in mind, in some vintages it’s been 75% syrah and in others it’s been as high as 97%.”
The Shafer, Relentless 2018 Red Wine, Napa Valley, 15.8%, $90, is our wine of the week winner. It’s a supple blend with concentrated red fruit and an undercurrent of cracked black pepper. It’s impressive from start to finish.
Fernandez said experience also played a role in making the blend a standout.
“This is our 20th vintage of Relentless, so we know the vineyard site and we know the fruit,” he said. “I’ve been making wine at Shafer since 1984, and most of our cellar crew has been with us for more than 20 years.”
Fernandez, 62, grew up in St. Helena and said he couldn’t wait to leave it when he was a teenager. But after his first year at an out-of-state college, he came home and saw Napa Valley “with new eyes.
“I realized the place I grew up was not just incredibly beautiful, but it was home,” he said. “This is where I wanted to be.”
Fernandez transferred to UC Davis and majored in fermentation science.
“I began spending time with others in my program, winemakers who became lifelong friends,” he said. “We’d get together on Friday nights and drink the wines of the world, not just exploring but talking about our plans, goals and dreams. Learning that wine can inspire those kinds of conversations and friendships is what made me fall in love with it.”
After earning a degree in 1984, Fernandez immediately joined Shafer Vineyards. He’ll be celebrating his 40th harvest this year.
Dating back to 1880, the property has been the site of grape-growing and winemaking. The modern era started in 1972 when the Shafer family purchased the estate and started making wine in 1978. Today it produces five wines: Hillside Select (cabernet sauvignon from hillside estate vineyards), Relentless, One Point (cabernet sauvignon), TD-9 (cabernet sauvignon-based blend with merlot and malbec) and Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay.
In his winemaking, Fernandez said, he’s still pushing the envelope.
“After 40 years, I’m constantly experimenting with new techniques for nearly everything that happens in the vineyard and cellar,” the winemaker said. “I don’t believe in resting on past accomplishments. I always feel like there must be a better way and more to learn.”
You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5310.
Wine, The Press Democrat
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