Napa winery owner John Shafer dies

Napa Valley pioneer and winery owner John Shafer has died at the age of 94.

Shafer was part of the early influx who saw the winemaking potential of Napa Valley in the 1970s.

‘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, son and president of Shafer Vineyards, in a statement.

‘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.’

It was after a career in publishing in Chicago that Shafer decided to move his family to Napa in 1973, buying a vineyard in Stag’s Leap.

‘My motivation was to be in business for myself, and to be in on the ground floor of what I perceived would be a growing phenomenon. Plus I wanted to work outdoors,’ said Shafer of his drastic move, in a Decanter interview in 2004. 

The vineyard had last been planted in the 1920s and Shafer spent the 1970s replanting Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

His first wine was the 1978 Shafer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, released in 1981.

In 1985, Shafer organised neighbouring winemakers, including Nathan Fay, Warren Winiarski, Dick Steltzner, and Joseph Phelps, to petition for Stag’s Leap District to be recognised as an American Viticultural Area. It became Napa Valley’s third AVA.

Shafer 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.