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.

Wines from this Winery

2016 Shafer

2016 Shafer "TD-9" Napa Valley

Shafer’s new proprietary blend of 56% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec commemorates…. the tractor John Shafer drove to haul the rocks and cultivate the hillside that would become Shafer Vineyards. He was a man in his late forties, who left a comfortable job and home in Chicago to plant a vineyard in California when he knew next to nothing about farming. And learning to drive the ancient TD-9 International Harvester tractor was, perhaps, emblematic of the risks he took in starting that new life. In some ways the wine, TD-9, represents a similar bold move, for this is a Bordeaux blend in which Merlot (rather than Cabernet) is dominant and Malbec plays a significant role. Bottled on their own, Merlot and Malbec can each be delicious. In the TD-9 blend, however, Malbec deepens the color and adds dark plum and violet notes and acidity to the red-fruit tones and soft texture of Merlot; Cabernet provides the tannic structure and minerality we associate with the Stags Leap district. Despite the relatively high (15.3%) alcohol and 20 months aging in new French oak, TD-9 is a vibrant wine that explodes with complex fruit and teases with spicy, floral, and earthy notes. 

¥ 9,900
2015 Shafer

2015 Shafer "Relentless" Napa Valley

Napa Valley Syrah reaches new heights with Shafer Vineyards’s take on the grape of the Northern Rhone. Indeed, the 2008 vintage was chosen as Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2015. The winery describes the current vintage as “a juicy avalanche of grilled fruit and game (with) abundant aromas and flavors of classic meaty, gamy, smoky Syrah with blackberry, blueberry, black plum, savory spices, and blacktea.” The name, “Relentless,” is meant to honor Shafer’s winemaker, Elias Fernandez, for his unrelenting pursuit of quality, but it could equally describe the unstoppable mélange of aromas and flavors that course through the palate with each sip of this awesome wine. The blend of 90% Syrah and 10% 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, Relentless has excellent balance and soft, fleshy tannins. Its structure and fresh acidity suggest that it would pair well with braised ribs, lamb shanks, duck or beef - especially with syrah-based sauces.

¥ 16,800
2014 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon

2014 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon

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.”

¥ 48,000