John Shafer of Napa’s Shafer Vineyards dies aged 94

John Shafer, the owner of Shafer Vineyards in Stags Leap and a veteran of Napa’s wine industry, has died at the age of 94.

John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards in Napa

John Shafer died on 2 March, Shafer Vineyards confirmed with a statement, in which it paid tribute to a father, longtime vintner, philanthropist and winery founder.

“The world of wine always inspired Dad and he loved nothing more than to work with the Shafer team to improve quality, enhance everything we do, and to discuss future projects,” said Doug Shafer, president, Shafer Vineyards, who worked with his father since 1983.

“He also loved Napa Valley, worked to make it a better place for everyone, and we’re receiving amazing messages from a huge number of people whose lives he touched with his generous spirit.”

Shafer was born in 1924 and spent most of his childhood in Glencoe, Illinois, a small suburb of Chicago. At age 17 he volunteered for service in World War II, joined the Army Air Corps, and piloted a B-24 bomber over Germany. After the war he earned an engineering degree from Cornell University and later moved into publishing, starting as a salesman and eventually rising to the position of vice president of long range planning at educational publishing house Scott, Foresman & Co. in Chicago.

In 1973, at the age of 48, he moved to Napa Valley, purchasing a vineyard at the base of Stags Leap palisades, and became part of a groundbreaking generation of Napa vintners.

Shafer replanted the original 30 acres of vineyards and then began establishing new Cabernet Sauvignon vines on the hillsides. In 1978 he produced the first Shafer Vineyards wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the first newly planted block of hillside vines. That wine was released in 1981, setting a benchmark for future Shafer hillside Cabernets, and was the forerunner of the winery’s signature wine, Hillside Select.

In 1985 Shafer organised a cohort of his his  his neighbouring vintners and grape growers, including Nathan Fay, Warren Winiarski, Dick Steltner, and Joseph Phelps, to petition the government to designate their region as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA). Four years later approval was granted, making Stags Leap District Napa Valley’s third AVA. Today it is considered one of the world’s top regions for cultivating Cabernet Sauvignon.

John Shafer is predeceased by son Bill Shafer, who died in 2000, his first wife Betty Shafer Wells in 2007, and his second wife Barbara Shafer, who died in 2016.

He is survived by daughter Libby Shafer of St. Helena, sons Doug Shafer of St. Helena, and Brad Shafer of San Francisco, 13 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

One Response to “John Shafer of Napa’s Shafer Vineyards dies aged 94”

  1. Allen Murphey says:

    I met John Shafer in 1984 while working at a local wine shop in Washington, DC. We were able to buy directly from Shafer at the time as their wines did not have much of a national distribution network. He was soft-spoken and always thankful for our relationship. On my first trip to Napa in 1986 I stayed in their guest house and he asked if there was anything he could do for me. I thought for a moment, and asked for a reservation at Auberge du Soleil and where I could get a bottle of Stony Hill Chardonnay. Both were tough tickets at the time. I returned later that day to the house to find a note that my reservation was at 7:30, the note held down by a bottle of Stony Hill Chardonnay. To me, that is what, and who, John Shafer was. He will be missed.

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