Summary: No large signs or marquee lights announce the entrance to Shafer Vineyards from Napa’s Silverado Trail. The winery’s humility actually provides an adventure of discovery. Our previous experience has been with their Hillside Select. Tastings include their entire portfolio.
While traveling the Silverado Trail, you look for a four digit address number among a list of four digit numbers. After turning you have a feeling of privacy. Drive a short distance and turn left past the gate for Shafer Vineyards. There are no large signs to mark the way. We had a sense of humility that was paralleled by their winemaker. Take time to drive slowly past vineyards and a pond on the way to the parking area. Notice the grapevines growing on the valley floor and the grapevines growing along the hillside. Both are used to produce unique but different wines.
At Shafer, you need an appointment for a tasting of the six wines in the winery’s portfolio. There are two tastings daily and the winery is closed on the weekend. We parked the car and walked slowly taking in the terrain and the vineyards. Although the winery is a modern looking building, the vineyards draw your attention.
There are currently 54 acres of vineyards on the site of the winery facility called the Hillside Estate Vineyards. Shafer owns and manages additional vineyards in Oak Knoll, Stags Leap and Carneros districts. The onsite vineyards are planted on the valley floor and on the surrounding hillsides. A pond adds a touch of blue to the vineyard green.
There of 66 acres of Chardonnay in the Los Carneros District and 25 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Stags Leap District. An additional 25 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon are planted at Borderline in the Stags Leap District.The Syrah and Petite Sirah are planted in Le Mesa on an 18 acre vineyard. At Ridgeback and School Bus there are 42 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. All together they manage over 200 acres of vineyards. On the site of the winery, Cabernet Sauvignon is planted on the valley floor and on the hillside.
Upon arriving we met Andy Demsky, public relations, who took us on a quick tour of the winery. On the tour we met winemaker, Elias Fernandez. A short time before our visit, Elias passed a milestone. He has made wines at Shafer for 28 years. In the era where many winemakers travel to different wineries during their career, spending 28 years at one winery is unusual and a statement of consistent quality. Although Shafer uses a bottling line to bottle their 32,000 cases of wine, on the day of our visit there were larger bottles turned upside down to drain. These bottles will be bottled by hand and used for the charity work that Shafer is involved in.
Andy pointed out the solar panel array beside the vineyards and on the roofs. The winery sends power to the grid. The solar panels are providing all their power requirements for a year.
Our wine tasting was conducted by Andrea Deering. Andrea began with the group on the grassy area adjacent to the tasting room. She talked about Shafer’s history and the vineyards. We learned that in 1972 John Shafer purchased a 210 acre estate in the Stags Leap District. The family replanted the grapevines that dated from the 1920’s. Only Cabernet Sauvignon was planted on the site. John’s son Doug was seventeen years old at the time of the move to California. John helped his father with the vineyard and winemaking along Shafer’s three decades of making fine wines.
Six couples sat at a long table in the tasting room. Andrea sat at the head of the table and mentioned the wines. She never told the group the "tasting notes” for the wines. Rather she let us decide for ourselves. She did try to get the group involved in a dialog about the wine. One question Andrea asked was, “What was your favorite wine?” I quickly responded that we have not tasted it yet, referring to the last glass containing the Shafer Hillside Select. Others concurred. All of the wines were poured prior to the tasting and one could taste and then go back and retaste in order to compare.
The tastings were in Spiegelau stemware. The 2010 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay was a light yellow color that offered pear, apple and vanilla on the aroma and taste. There was a crisp fruity finish with vanilla on the aftertaste. The 2009 Merlot was a dark ruby color. The wine spent 22 months in French oak. There were cherries on the aroma and taste. The finish had mild tannins and was fruity. A bit of spice kicked in on the aftertaste.
The 2009 One Point Five came with a story. John Shafer and son, Doug, worked side by side in the vineyards and winery right from the very beginning. Rather than two family generations working the vineyards and making wine, it was more like one point five generations. The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah was a dark ruby color that offered blackberries and black cherries for an aroma and taste. The wine had tannins on the fruity finish. 2008 Relentless is a wine honoring the winemaker. Elias is relentless when it comes to his pursuit for quality. This Syrah and Petite Sirah blend was a dark purple to black color with dark fruit on the aroma and taste. There were bold chewy tannins on the fruity finish. The 2007 Hillside Select was aged in French oak for 36 months. There were blackberries and plums on the aroma and taste. This 100 percent Cabernet was grown on the hillside surrounding the winery. It had bold chewy tannins on the finish.
During our wine tasting, Doug Shafer came to greet us with his dog. It was hard to tell which of the two was the friendliest. We learned that for two years, Doug was a middle school teacher.
On our way out of the tasting room we tasted a 2008 Firebreak. The port-style wine was made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the property that did not make it into the Hillside Select. There was a blackberry aroma and taste with a mild finish.
When in Napa, visit Shafer Vineyards. Experience a portfolio of excellent wines.
6154 Silverado Trail
Napa, California 94558
Visit these California organizations and wineries that partner with Wine Trail Traveler.