Shafer

A California First-Growth

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.

Country

USA

Region

California


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Wines from this Winery


2018 Shafer

Two vineyards in the Stags Leap District, the Hillside Estate and the Borderline Vineyard, provide the fruit for this fine wine. But One Point Five is named to commemorate the 40+ years that John Shafer and his son, Doug, worked together to build one of Napa Valley’s premier estates. The 2018 is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Malbec. Describing the vintage, Shafer winemaker, Elias Fernandez, noted that “a lengthy, cool, steady summer created ideal conditions for the fruit to hang on the vine a long time, developing bold color, enticing aromas, and vivid, complex flavors.” About the wine, Antonio Galloni said, “Bright, floral and punchy with terrific energy…. Super-ripe red and purplish berry fruit, lavender, mint and sweet spice all abound in this pliant, beautifully layered Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2018 is a gorgeous wine in the making – that’s all there is to it.” This is young Cabernet at its most intense and powerful. Cellaring for a few years would be wise, but if you can’t resist opening a bottle, be sure to decant and give it some time to open up.  

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¥8,690 (incl. tax)
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2018 Shafer

The 25th vintage of Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay delivers exotic citrus blossoms, apricots and honeydew with drive, focus, and energy. It starts in the Carneros vineyard, where cool temperatures and clay soils endow the wines with characteristics of fresh citrus, minerality and texture. But the Shafer’s method of fermenting in new French oak without any secondary malolactic provides the balance, adding texture and spice without any butteriness. Robert Parker has called Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, “one of the best non-malolactic, barrel-fermented Chardonnays in California.” The vineyard is farmed sustainably, with pests controlled by natural predators – such as the Red-Shouldered Hawks that prey upon gophers. The vineyard is planted to several low-yielding Chardonnay clones that produce small, flavorful bunches. Seared halibut, grilled salmon or a salad with a light honey vinaigrette would pair well with this Chardonnay. 

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¥10,120 (incl. tax)
2018 Shafer TD-9 Napa Valley

What’s the story behind the name of Shafer’s proprietary red blend, you may ask? TD-9 commemorates…. the tractor John Shafer operated in order to cultivate the hillside that would become Shafer Vineyards. Because Shafer knew little about farming when he bought the land, learning to drive the ancient TD-9 International Harvester tractor symbolized the risks he took in starting that new life. TD-9 is similarly bold, for this is a Bordeaux blend in which Merlot is dominant (56%) and Cabernet (23%) and Malbec (21%) play a lesser, though significant, role. The winemaker describes this wine as “an aromatic feast of summer berries, rose petal, rhubarb, raspberry, and black cherry jam. In the mouth this racy red blend is all juicy, briary red and black berry fruit that’s spicy and energetic with a structure of ripe tannins and a long, plush finish.” Critics love this wine: 93 points from both James Suckling and Jeb Dunnuck; 91 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

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¥10,890 (incl. tax)
2018 Shafer

Two vineyards in the Stags Leap District, the Hillside Estate and the Borderline Vineyard, provide the fruit for this fine wine. But One Point Five is named to commemorate the 40+ years that John Shafer and his son, Doug, worked together to build one of Napa Valley’s premier estates. The 2018 is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Malbec. Describing the vintage, Shafer winemaker, Elias Fernandez, noted that “a lengthy, cool, steady summer created ideal conditions for the fruit to hang on the vine a long time, developing bold color, enticing aromas, and vivid, complex flavors.” About the wine, Antonio Galloni said, “Bright, floral and punchy with terrific energy…. Super-ripe red and purplish berry fruit, lavender, mint and sweet spice all abound in this pliant, beautifully layered Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2018 is a gorgeous wine in the making – that’s all there is to it.” This is young Cabernet at its most intense and powerful. Cellaring for a few years would be wise, but if you can’t resist opening a bottle, be sure to decant and give it some time to open up.  

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¥17,930 (incl. tax)
2017 Shafer

Named for the spirit and drive of Shafer’s winemaker, Elias Fernandez, the adjective, Relentless, brilliantly captures the energy in this wine, with flavors that seem to explode on the palate and go and go and go long after you’ve put down your glass. The blend of 85% Syrah and 14% Petite Sirah is sourced from two hillside sites just south of Stags Leap AVA. Although the dark-skinned Petite Sirah (a.k.a. Durif), no longer exists in France, its ability to deepen color and add tannic structure makes it an excellent “blend partner” with Syrah. Despite the power (e.g. 15.8% abv), Relentless has excellent balance and soft, fleshy tannins. Critics love this wine. Jeb Dunnuck awarded the 2017 Relentless 94 points, describing it as “a beautiful Syrah that offers lots of smoky dark berry fruits, barbecue notes, spice, and meaty nuances in a rich, pure, nicely textured, medium to full-bodied package.” Relentless will improve for a decade or more, but right now you would not regret opening a bottle to enjoy with braised ribs, lamb shanks, duck or beef - especially with syrah-based sauces.

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¥18,480 (incl. tax)
2017 Shafer

A tribute to the late John Shafer, “One Point Five” commemorates the 40+ years that John and his son, Doug, worked together in transforming a rocky hillside into one of Napa Valley’s premier estates. With fruit from both the Hillside Estate and the nearby Boderline Vineyard, One Point Five provides a true expression of the Stags Leap District. The 2017 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, produced in a year that saw excellent weather throughout the growing season. About the 2017, winemaker Elias Fernandez said “In your glass the wine introduces itself with enticing aromas of red and black fruit, baking spice, dark violets, lavender, wet stone, and cinnamon. The promise of all that delicious complexity is fulfilled with a racy Cabernet Sauvignon full of energy – juicy flavors of red plum, cherry, cassis, black tea, and cola – all beautifully packaged together with ripe, bright tannins made for right-now enjoyment as well as long term aging in your cellar.” This is young Cabernet at its most intense and powerful. Cellaring for a few years would be wise, but if you can’t resist opening a bottle, be sure to decant and give it some time to open up.  

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¥34,760 (incl. tax)
2016 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon
2015 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon (1.5L)

Shafer Hillside Select regularly makes the list of Napa Valley “cult” wines - the rare and exclusive wines that consistently earn high scores, fetch high auction prices and require years of waiting before getting an allocation. Yet this is no ego-driven project of a tycoon-turned-winery owner or big-name consulting winemaker but a true wine of place with a track record of quality and age-ability stretching back to the 70s. 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 it’s 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. In a review, Jeb Dunnuck said, “consistently one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignons, the 2015 Hillside Select boasts a deep, saturated purple hue as well as a heavenly bouquet of sweet blueberry and cassis fruits interwoven with plenty of graphite, tobacco, and lead pencil notes, with ample minerality emerging with time in the glass. This was a hot, low-yielding vintage for Napa, and while this beauty is massively concentrated, it’s also silky and seamless, with great tannins, no sense of over-ripeness or heaviness, and a finish that goes on for nearly a minute. This is a brilliant, incredibly sexy wine to enjoy over the coming 30-40 years.”

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¥107,800 (incl. tax)