2014 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon

Winery

In the Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon is king. The well-drained volcanic soils and climate cooled by regular San Pablo Bay fogs produce cabs that are silky, supple and voluptuous: “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” While the Stags Leap District is now world class, when John Shafer moved his family there from Chicago in 1973, it was a place of rocky hillsides and rundown vineyards and orchards. At that time, “up-valley” was the focus of premium winemaking whereas this rocky corner of the valley did not even have an agreed-upon name. But as the land was affordable and had supported vineyards in the past, John Shafer decided it was the place to pursue his dream in wine. Shafer Vineyards is a moderately-sized, family-owned operation whose pursuit of quality in both viticulture and winemaking helped define not only their own winery but the Stags Leap District as well. At the start it was just John and his son Doug doing everything, from terracing the hillsides, to planting vines, to making and selling the wine. Doug was only 17 when he began helping his father transform the old farm into a modern vineyard. He went on to study enology at UC Davis and became Shafer’s winemaker in 1983. Success came quickly to Shafer Vineyards, with its very first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon winning the prestigious San Francisco Vintner’s Club taste-off. Shafer’s Hillside Select, the winery’s showcase made from 100% Cabernet grown on the steep slopes surrounding the winery, became a benchmark that epitomized the complexity, richness and elegance of the Stags Leap District. While Shafer built its reputation on its Cabernets, the winery also produces Merlot and Syrah from estate vineyards just outside the Stags Leap District as well as Chardonnay from Carneros. Shafer’s 2008 Relentless, a blend of Syrah and Petite Syrah was selected as Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year for 2012.  Despite success and high demand for its wines, Shafer Vineyards chose to remain small enough to be manageable, capping growth at about 32,000 cases. In addition to John and Doug Shafer, that team includes Elias Fernandez, who joined in 1984 and has been winemaker since 1994. The charm of drinking a glass of Shafer wine comes from knowing that the folks who made it are so intimately acquainted with the land, the vineyards and even the individual vines. In this age of global conglomerates, it is a quality that deserves to be cherished.

Wine

100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Hillside Select is made from the rocky vineyard the Shafers planted in the early 1970s. Throughout the growing season, the vineyards are meticulously managed – to the point where even individual berries are snipped off their bunches if not up to par. Because the vineyard’s topsoil layer is so thin, vine roots don’t travel far before hitting bedrock. Whether its the struggle to survive or the picking up of mineral elements, the flavors of the Hillside fruit are so intense, the wine can spend 32 months in new French oak without picking up a woody taste from the barrels. The result is a wine with classic richness, youthful elegance and texture. Antonio Galloni said, “The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select is one of the more restrained, understated versions of this wine I can remember tasting. Medium in body (in relative terms) and beautifully persistent, the 2014 makes its case more with a total sense of harmony rather than with bombastic power, as is sometimes the case.”

Winemaking

Meticulous vineyard management (suckering, leafing, culling) helps ensure consistent ripening. Grapes are picked by hand, manually sorted, destemmed and then sorted again by optical berry scanner. Different hillside vineyard blocks are fermented separately and only the best performers are "selected" for the final blend. The wine aged 32 month in 100% new French oak and a further year in bottle before release.

Tasting notes

98 points – Robert Parker's Wine Advocate; 97 points – James Suckling; 97 points – Vinous; 93 points – Wine Specator.  Black plum, black cherry and cassis aromas swirl from the glass with notes of anise, nutmeg, dark soil and rose petals. The palate is powerful and expansive yet fresh and balanced, offering layers of dark fruit, earthy and savory flavors wrapped in a structure of minerality and grainy tannins. Patience will be amply rewarded, so lay this bottle down for a few (or several) years.

Appellation

Stags Leap District (Napa)

Varietal

Cabernet Sauvignon

Size

750ml

Closure

Cork

Alcohol

15.5%

UPC

013528400023