Shafer Vineyards Review
Address: 6154 Silverado Trail Napa,California 94558.
Phone Number: 707-944-2877
Tasting Hours: By appt. Mon-Fri 10:00, 2:00 (call 4-6 weeks in advance)
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Stags Leap District AVA, California
Reviewer: Tom Riley
Review Date: 4/3/2013
Reviewer: Tom Riley
When you make a reservation to visit Shafer Vineyards, youre immediately sent a confirmation email filled with all sorts of information about the winery and your appointment. If you read that document carefully, you learn just about everything you need to know about the Shafer mindset: precise, professional, and personal. Once youve visited this family-owned winery in the heart of Napas Stags Leap District, and enjoyed their industry-leading wines, you understand the attention to detail that goes into something as simple as an email.
The morning of my tasting was cool and the vineyards around the winery were blanketed in fog. The mood inside the main building, where I encountered the other members of my party, was similarly muted. The first few times I visited Shafer to pick up wine I was taken aback by the quiet efficiency of the place, which seemed more like a corporate inner sanctum than a winery. I arrived worrying that I might leave feeling the same way.
My fears were assuaged and the silence broken by Andrea, our engaging host who was ready to guide us through the tasting. As we got underway, she led us out to the front lawn to share the Shafer history, point out notable parcels of the estate and its vineyards, and explain the Shafers valley-leading role in sustainable viticulture, including such green practices as water reclamation and the use of solar energy to power winery systems.
Our first wine was the 2011 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, from the cool-climate vineyards of Carneros. A brilliant medium gold in the glass, this wine was crisp with mouth-watering acidity, a direct result of the decision by winemaker Elias Fernandez to forego malolactic fermentation, which is what gives many chardonnays creamy, buttery profiles. The apple and citrus flavors, with hints of tropicality and a light kiss of oak, lasted on through a pleasingly long finish.
We moved next to the 2010 Merlot, nicknamed the Schoolbus for the rusting hulk that still sits in the vineyard where these grapes are sourced. Doug Shafer, who became president of the winery in 1994 when his father retired (John Shafer, at the age of 88, still works full days at the winery as chairman of the board), described 2010 as a hard harvest. Shafer and Fernandez dont say vintages are good or bad, but describe their challenges as winemakers in terms of what difficulties each season brings.
This merlot, a blend that includes ten percent cabernet sauvignon, and six percent malbec, was nearly opaque, filling the glass with a soft ruby shade. In the mouth the wine holds a perfect balance between fruit, acid, and tannin. The fact that the wine spent 20 months in new French oak is barely noticeable, with the oak adding texture and body without detracting or distracting.
Next up was the 2010 One Point Five, always a blend of 98 or 99 percent cabernet sauvignon and one or two percent petit verdot, and sourced from two estate vineyards in Stags Leap. An interesting bit of American wine history is that it was John Shafer who led the local effort in the mid-1980s to petition the federal government to award a separate AVA designation (American Viticultural Area) to Stags Leap.
This big red had a rich, velvety texture, and was the most aromatic wine so far. With an alcohol level of 15.3%, its a bit warm on the finish. But, its a young wine and the alcohol will integrate if you can find the patience to cellar it for a few years. Its got all the tools. Just wait.
The 2009 Relentless was up next, and if theres a wine that lives up to its name, its this one. Named in honor of winemaker Fernandez and his endless drive for quality, this wine is aptly named also for whats in the bottle. A field blend of syrah (80 percent) and petite sirah (20 percent), this wine is a tight, tannic, fruit-filled time capsule that has a long way to go before it peaks. If its excellent now, I can only imagine what it will be like in eight or ten years.
Our final wine was the 2008 Hillside Select. This 100 percent cabernet sauvignon from 13 distinct estate blocks is Shafers signature label, and its easy to see why. From powerful, chocolate-tinged aromas to velvety lushness and on to an impressive finish, this wine deserves all the recognition and affection it gets. Still in its infancy, it has barely started to integrate the various components. Im pleased that we got our own sneak peak at this future star, but even more pleased to know I have a bottle waiting for me in my cellar.
We took a short break on the front lawn, where the fog had given way to sun, and enjoyed a short visit with Doug Shafer and his golden retriever Cody, before finishing up with some port-style cabernet, truffles from a local chocolatier, and a warm and hearty farewell from Andrea.
That email with all the attention to detail? Its just the way they do things at Shafer.