Every year, Wine Spectator publishes its list of the top 100 new wines. In 2012, the top wine came from Shafer Vineyards — an elite Napa vineyard that practices sustainable agriculture. “Relentless” is exceptional, not just for what’s in the bottle, but for how it was produced.
Shafer Vineyards was founded in 1972 in Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap district, and eventually expanded up the side of the valley. That’s where Relentless was born — in a remote hilltop vineyard producing the Syrah and Petite Sirah grapes used in this blend. From the beginning, father-son proprietors John and Doug Shafer, produced exquisite and award-winning wines. But in the 1980s, the soil was degrading noticeably, having been farmed since the 1920s. In those days, organic and sustainable agriculture were only for hippies. Vineyards were kept weed-free and immaculate.
“The only way to achieve that super clean look was by using heavy duty chemicals,” says Doug Shafer on the Shafer Vineyards website. “We realized it was the wrong direction.” Instead, they adopted sustainable practices like cover-cropping, and set up more natural habitats for beneficial insects and birds. They started composting, reusing and recycling their water, and limiting their use of chemicals. In 2004, the vineyard converted to 100 percent solar power.
At first, the difference wasn’t noticeable in the wine. In fact, it took about ten years of cover cropping for a change to come. Now, the vineyard has been called one of the world’s finest. And its winemaker — Elias Fernandez, the son of local farm workers — has twice been named Winemaker of the Year.
Shafer Vineyards’ 2009 “Relentless” blend was named in honor of Fernandez’ “relentless pursuit of quality.” It’s been called “one incredible Syrah” by Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff. Bold, rich and fruity, reviews call it “explosive” and “very va-va-voom.” Want to buy a bottle for yourself? Good luck; it has exploded right off the shelves and you’ll have a hard time finding it. Luckily, thanks to Shafer’s sustainable attitude, you can bet that future vintages will be just as exquisite as this one.
Image: jenny downing