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Wine,Winemaker,Winemaking,Winery

A Vineyard in Napa by Doug Shafer Fills in an Important Historical Napa Timeline

Working for the Robert Mondavi Winery, as Doug Shafer also has, gave me time to simultaneously study Napa history. The prior five years, I had been living and working in Sonoma County, and that history (and its characters) had become second nature. But, then being in the land of Napa, I needed to know more; so, I read Lin Weber’s “Old Napa Valley, The History to 1900.” That became a great base, and the rest was history, as the saying goes. After I had read that book and several others, I got a job in the Sierras as the Director of Public Relations for Ironstone Vineyards… And off I went into that history; then onto Diaz Communications, having more control over my own direction and destiny.

A few years ago, my client Ron Rubin (The Rubin Family of Wines) handed me Doug Shafer’s book, “A Vineyard in Napa.” I had shamefully prejudged it as Doug filling pages with his own winery’s history, which would be a long marketing piece. So, it wasn’t a priority. This was all while I was still really busy learning all I could about Ron Rubin’s own life history. Simultaneously, publishers were onto my writing about wine books that were being newly released. Involved story, I know…

So, the dust began to settle on Doug’s book. Never out of sight, so never out of mind, it was a reminder that one day I’d find the time. The books arriving always slow down after the Christmas holiday season; and, as luck would have it (for me), I had just closed three really great books, was hungry to keep going, and I decided to dust off A Vineyard in Napa.

As I began Doug Shafer’s story, I realized I should never-ever again judge a book by its title. This story is so much more than A Vineyard in Napa, with a marketing spin. It’s a historical account, from one who was there, shaping the future of this renowned American wine county location… A who’s who of what each who in Whosville had accomplished, with some still in the continuing mode… and how each has contributed to an intriguing and expanding tapestry of terroir.

Doug’s father John Shafer got the itch to leave his comfortable position, as a successful publishing executive. While living in a Chicago suburb, he upended his family in 1973, and moved them to Napa Valley. He wanted to get his hands dirty. He loved the freedom of being outdoors, having access to tools and machinery… Some kids’ dream of being an adult, who’s always outdoors instead of being indoors… The honesty of working with one’s hands; the passion of being at peace with oneself in all decisions being made…

I never realized how underdeveloped (by today’s standards) Napa was in the 1970s. The book first establishes the immediate Shafer family moving there. Next you’ll segue into the Stag’s Leap District, itself, grasping its tidbits of valley history and gossip… Living in the middle of it, Doug’s memories are all about today’s Napa Valley: past and present leaders of who came, who left, and who’s still standing.

A VINEYARD IN NAPA

  • p. 10  ~ John Shafer, working in publishing, adopted the company’s motto, because it hit a chord:  “a good book, seldom mentioned is soon forgotten.”
    • “It’s appropriate to write about this book now, I thought,” since its copyright is 2012
  • p. 215 ~ I noted this one, and its for winery owners around the globe
    • “One thing we’ve learned over 20 years is that the surest thing you can do in regard to quality is to ensure your grape source, and there’s no better way to do this than owning your own vineyards. Consumers understand this, and its the reason the words “Estate grown” on your label is such an important distinction.”

With John Shafer being a pioneer, a fair man, a great father figure/role model, I tagged so many pages in Doug Shafer’s book, wanting to share thoughts that really hit a chord, and possibly pique your curiosity when you ask yourself, “I wonder what I should read next?” Then, I realized, this isn’t a research report. For those who want to know “how to” begin a winery, what the challenges are, and want to dive in knowing a lot of the pitfalls ahead of time, this one is for you. For those of you just curious, this is also for you.

This one is a library keeper for sure, in my Napa Valley history area. From the 70s until 2012, I really enjoyed reading about how it all began; why and how it’s still moving along really well. But, as Doug will tell you, it’s never been a completely comfortable bed of fluffy roses.

From the Shafer family, Doug segues into the Stag’s Leap District, and then into the Shafer’s extended family. Actually, chapters are quick and to the point, until you arrive at Chapter 23, and Doug introduces the time when John and he needed some help with winemaking. A much more fact-filled chapter introduces Elias Fernandez, in 1984, their long-standing and honored winemaker.

  1. SEGUE: Jose and I met Elias at a Stag’s Leap District tasting last year. Both of us were incredibly impressed. We were in a lounge area at the winery with Elias, as the event was slowing down to the doors being closed. Jose and Elias got into a smooth conversation, when we began to share wine business talk. It was easy to do, as Shafer was just releasing a Petite Sirah. If you didn’t know, in 2002 I began PS I Love You, the advocacy group for Petite Sirah. Then, Elias and Jose got deeper into Elias’s job. To have read about him in much greater depth, all I can write now is deep, deep props…

So, there it is. I finally got to read A Vineyard in Napa, by Dough Shafer, with Andy Demsky. Great job, guys!

 

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