2012 Shafer Napa Valley Merlot (1.5L)


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.


Known for great Cabernet, The Stags Leap District is a sweet spot for Merlot, too, a varietal Shafer has been producing for 30 years. This Merlot is the product of a hillside vineyard just outside the Stags Leap District and another located on the valley floor near Yountville. Merlot requires a lot of attention in the vineyard, and Shafer’s crews are out throughout the season, thinning excess leaves and culling bad fruit, so that only the best bunches of grapes will make their way to the winery. The addition of 7% Cabernet adds some darker fruit flavors while 6%Malbec amps up the juiciness, making this thoroughly enjoyable upon release. The 2012 vintage in Napa Valley was classic with warm days and cool nights but no heat spikes or other extremes. At harvest, the fruit had reached ideal ripeness, full of color and flavor. “Sensational Merlot,” says Robert Parker.


Fermented in stainless steel tanks; aged for 20 months in French oak barrels (75% new).

Tasting notes

92-95 points – Robert Parker; 92 points – Wine Spectator. On the nose, a heady perfume of cherries, plums, cinnamon spices and leather; on the palate, more fruit – ripe cherry, blackberry, plum – along with notes of espresso bean, toasty oak and earth expand into a rich, exuberant mouthfull. Fine tannins and flavor sensations linger long in the finish.


Napa Valley


87% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec