Winemaker, Shafer Vineyards
Elias Fernandez has been making wine at Shafer Vineyards for 40 years, forging a style of boldness, elegance, and balance that has been embraced by wine lovers throughout the world. Elias earned his success in part because he knows Napa Valley vineyards from the roots up. He knows first-hand what it’s like to work in 100-degree heat among dusty vine rows as well as the difficulties of pruning vines in the freezing winter pre-dawn light.
Elias’ father came to the U.S. from Michoacan, Mexico and worked in the San Joaquin Valley as a farm laborer. His mother was born in Napa Valley where her father was a laborer who helped build the rail line that runs through Yountville. Both parents picked prunes and walnuts in the days before wine grapes became the predominant crop in the Valley. Some of Elias’ earliest memories are in these orchards.
In junior high, Elias started working in vineyards with his father where he learned to drive tractors, train and prune grapevines and from both parents he learned the value of hard work and self reliance. "When I graduated from UC Davis, I knew I wanted to work for a smaller winery that would give me the chance to be a "hands-on" winemaker, getting involved in all aspects of running a cellar. I had a lot of excitement getting into this career and that excitement has stayed with me."
Country born: United States
Education: B.S. in Fermentation Science from U.C. Davis
Years in the wine industry: 30+ years
Honors / Awards:
"Winemaker of the Year" - Food & Wine magazine and Wine & Spirits magazine; inducted into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund's Hispanic Hall of Fame at The White House
Coming into this 40 years ago, I thought that winemaking happened underneath the roof of the cellar. Today who I am as a winemaker has umbrellaed in a big way. Winemaking starts in January with pruning and continues throughout the year. I'm not just selecting the best fruit, I'm selecting the best corks, the right barrel staves, ensuring that the bottling line is working at top efficiency. What I've also learned is to let the land dictate the best grape variety and the style of the wine that ends up in the bottle.