Over the years Shafer Vineyards has come to epitomize the hedonistic, mouth coating richness of modern Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Their flagship bottling, Hillside Select, consistently delivers amazing fruit concentration framed by impressively sauve tannins, all at a price point that arguably delivers more than many other high-end Napa bottlings.
Despite their modern reputation, it took Shafer decades to fully realize the potential of their steep hillside vineyards.Originally from the Midwestern United States, John Shafer knew little about what it took to create a great wine. The early wines were hampered by premature picking and formulaic wine making that produced thin, uninteresting table wine. Yet the hillsides in Stags Leap District where Shafer planted his vineyards had all the makings of a legendary site. The South-Southwest exposure of their steep hillside vineyards receive ample sun, while afternoon breezes from the San Pablo Bay keep temperatures from reaching extremes. It was only with the help of legendary wine consultant Tony Soter in the 1990’s did Shafer begin to harvest based on taste and back off on chemical additions, leading to longer hang times and more concentrated wines, finally leaning into the potential ripeness of the site.
The newfound approach in the vineyard and cellar quickly established Shafer as a beacon of rich, sumptuous Cabernet Sauvignon. The sheer density of the fruit and ripe tannin create a wine that is unusually accessible early in its life without sacrificing long-term ageability. In many ways we are lucky Shafer discovered the potential of their amazing terroir during the incredible vintages of the early 1990’s. Many of the wines from this era are arguably at their peak, with classic New World fruit framed by healthy acid, tannin, and relatively low alcohol. The Shafers from that era are a sure bet in terms of drinking pleasure while also representing sweet spot during a transition to a hotter climate for Napa Valley, meaning these wines can’t be made the same way again.