The news arrived at the perfect time for Shafer Vineyards of Napa. On Nov. 16, Wine Spectator magazine named the 2008 Shafer Napa Valley Relentless as its wine of the year for 2012, besting such top producers in the wine world as Chateau Leoville Barton of Bordeaux and Sonoma's famed Marcassin Vineyard.
The win comes just a week after the release of an insightful book about Shafer, "A Vineyard in Napa" (University of California Press, $29.95, 284 pages), which was penned by winery President Doug Shafer with Andy Demsky, Shafer's communications director.
Shafer's story starts like so many in wine country. John Shafer, the winery's founder and patriarch, left a successful career (publishing, in his case) to uproot the family in the early 1970s and chased a dream of growing grapes in a then-burgeoning Napa Valley.
Those idyllic notions of winemaking among Napa's rolling hills soon give way to grunt work in the cellar, phylloxera, botched wines and other crises. The book details the winery's trial-and-error milestones, along with the many "aha!" moments that led Shafer to stand among the world's great wineries, and the rise of Napa itself.
To offer a taste of this history, Shafer organized a luncheon for wine writers in October, pouring wines that were like drinkable chapters from the book. Among the vintages: 1978, the winery's debut vintage and still a gorgeous treat; 1983, the first release of its acclaimed Hillside Select cabernet sauvignon; 1991, arguably the best vintage of the 1990s; and 1998, an elegant and powerful wine from one of Napa's most trying growing seasons.
"A Vineyard in Napa" gives much credit to Elias Fernandez, who rose from a migrant farmworking family to become Shafer's head winemaker. The Relentless that scored wine of the year, a juicy and rich blend of syrah and petite sirah, was named to honor Fernandez.
Good luck finding a bottle of 2008 Relentless now that it's the toast of the wine world. This vintage is basically sold out, and this $60 bottle is now going for upward of $200 on winebid.com. The 2009 Relentless was released in August, and bottles have been spotted recently at local Nugget markets.
Whether you have a bottle of Shafer or the book, each will easily be savored.