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The Red Shoulder Ranch® Story 

Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay is a wine that bears the elegant imprint of its vineyard home – 68 acres that roll across the pastoral hill country of Los Carneros, a place where Napa Valley meets the north- ernmost rim of San Francisco Bay.

Cooled by the marine breezes off the Bay, the region has a long, steady growing sea- son well-suited to growing superior quality Chardonnay.

 

The vineyard is named to honor the Red- shouldered Hawks who, along with other birds of prey, play a vital role in our sustain- able farming practices. We’ve made their hunting a bit easier by erecting tall perches throughout the property. The local hawks and kestrels reward us for this by keeping the population of vine-damaging gophers naturally under control so no rodent poisons are ever needed, keeping our vines and soils healthy.

The vineyard is planted to five clones of Chardonnay, chosen for their small clus- ters, low yields, and for the rich, alluring flavors and textures each brings to the fin- ished wine. At harvest, the grapes are 100%

whole cluster pressed, and the juice is fer- mented entirely on wild yeast in individual 60-gallon barrels. Seventy-five percent of the barrels are new French oak, 25% are stainless steel.

 

The maturing Chardonnay is kept on the lees a full 15 months, the lees stirred weekly to add a creamy richness to the wine. The crisp, enticing acidity of this Chardonnay speaks to the fact that the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation.

In the early days of Shafer Vineyards, the winery’s Chardonnay was grown on the Shafer property in Stags Leap District. While the response to those first wines was positive, the Shafer team believed they could do better.

 

In 1988 John and Doug Shafer discovered a new home for Chardonnay in the Carneros region of Napa Valley and purchased the property, naming it Red Shoulder Ranch. After a lengthy, painstaking period of development and planting, they harvested their first fruit in 1994. Tasting the ‘94 Chardonnay barrel lots in the spring of 1995 Doug Shafer, winery president, and Elias Fernandez, winemaker, were very pleased at the depth of fruit in the wine — so much fruit that the Chardonnay called for fur- ther barrel aging beyond the typical eight months.

The 1994 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay debuted with considerable acclaim even being named one of the Top 10 Wines of the Year by Wine Spectator. After numerous vintages since, this elegant, rich white wine continues to win over critics and consumers alike with its blend of exotic and elegant aromas and flavors.

 

 

 

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History

Shafer Vineyards traces its beginnings to 1972 when John Shafer left a 23-year career in the publishing industry and, with his family, moved to the Napa Valley to pursue a second career in wine. After purchasing a 210-acre estate in Napa Valley's Stags Leap District, the Shafer family faced the arduous task of replanting the existing vineyards, which dated to the 1920s, and terracing the steep and rocky hillsides, eventually expanding vineyard acreage to its current 50 acres.

Evolving from grape growers to vintners, the Shafers crushed their first Cabernet grapes in 1978 and began construction on their winery a year later.

The first Shafer Cabernet became a benchmark, winning the acclaimed San Francisco Vintners Club taste-off upon release and, over a decade later taking first place in an international blind tasting held in Germany, where it outranked such wines as Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour and Chateau Palmer.

Doug Shafer became winemaker in 1983 after graduating from the University of California at Davis with a degree in enology and viticulture. A year later Elias Fernandez joined the winery as assistant winemaker. Together Doug and Elias have worked closely to forge the Shafer style of quality, consistency and elegance.

New vineyards have been added over the years, with acreage acquired in the Oak Knoll, Stags Leap and Carneros districts, bringing the total Shafer vineyard acreage to over 200 acres. Winery facilities have been expanded and extensive caves carved into the hillside for aging wine.

In 1994, Elias was appointed winemaker, and Doug took over the reins as president when John became chairman of the board.

From a modest beginning of 1,000 cases in 1978, the winery has grown steadily until reaching its present size of 32,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Syrah. Today Shafer wines are available in major markets nationwide and in many foreign markets.

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Vineyards

Hillside Estate Vineyards

Our signature wine, Hillside Select, is sourced from the slopes of an amphitheater-like structure of rock, where thanks to a series of knolls and outcroppings some vineyard blocks receive southeastern sunlight, while others receive southern, or western exposure. Each afternoon cool breezes from San Francisco Bay channel into our box canyon. "The consistent heat helps to achieve ripeness, while the evening chill retains acidity," says Doug Shafer.

Meanwhile, the rock-choked volcanic soil often goes no deeper than 18 inches before hitting weathered bedrock. With the quick runoff this offers and a lack of plant nutrients, the struggling vines produce clusters with small, intensely flavored berries.

 

Borderline

A main source for our Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Borderline is a broad, sunny site at the southernmost end of Stags Leap District. When purchased a few years ago, it was the last plantable parcel of any size available within Stags Leap District.

We carefully developed the site to ensure that it enjoyed the same quick drainage as a hillside vineyard. Each winter we plant heavy cover crops to compete with the vines for water and nutrients.

“The result is we are harvesting fruit with intense, lush flavors, great color, and the soft, supple tannins, you’d expect of Stags Leap District,” says Doug Shafer.

 

La Mesa

The source for Relentless is a remote, ridge top vineyard that touches the southern border of Stags Leap District. This location places it along the same breezeway as our Hillside Estate and brings the vines a daily cooling effect from San Francisco Bay.

"In spite of its name -- mesa means table in Spanish -- this vineyard is far from flat: eastern, southern and western exposures offer an ideal blend of heat and sunlight," says Doug Shafer, adding that the consistent sun exposure helps the fruit achieve ideal ripeness. The Syrah and Petite Sirah fruit for this proprietary blend grows side by side and are picked, crushed and fermented as one.

 

Ridgeback & Schoolbus

These two adjacent vineyards are sources for our Merlot and One Point Five®. Located in dry, rocky knolls at the base of the Vaca Mountains, these parcels offer the fruit a beneficial variety of sun exposures as well as late-day chill from San Francisco Bay.

Here our sustainable farming practises are in full swing, utilizing cover crops to control erosion, fertilize the soil and create a habitat in which populations of vine pests are held in check by their natural predators. “Our earth-friendly agriculture means that these sites are still home to jack rabbits, wild turkeys, lizards and even bob cats,” says Doug Shafer.

 

Red Shoulder Ranch

The source of our Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay is a vineyard draped across rolling hills within sight of San Francisco Bay. Here we've planted a blend of five Chardonnay clones that give us small clusters, low yields and abundant flavors.

"The long, cool growing season in Carneros allows the fruit to mature slowly and evenly, letting us wait for the right moment when sugar and acid achieve balance," says Doug Shafer.

The vineyard name honors the red-shouldered hawks and other birds of prey that keep the root-eating gopher population under control.

 

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Inside information

Thirty years ago each of our vineyards looked as clean as a pool table: not a blade of grass, not a weed, no sign of bird or insect life, just knobby vines were sticking up out of the soil.

“The only way to achieve that super clean look was by using heavy duty chemicals,” says Doug Shafer. “We realized it was the wrong direction.”

It meant tainting the soil with rodent poison to kill gophers, spraying potent herbicides to kill unwanted foliage, applying powerful insecticides to vanquish pests such as the blue-green sharpshooter, and by relying on chemical fertilizers to feed stripped-down soil.

Today we are 100 percent solar powered, we reuse and recycle our water, make our own compost for fertilizer. We partner with owls, songbirds, hawks, bats and other wildlife to cultivate successful vineyards and rely on cover crops to help control insects that would otherwise blight our vines.
  

Shafer Solar Panels

Uncorking Clean Kilowatts

Shafer Vineyards is proud to be a wine industry leader in the area of solar power. In 2004 we became the first winery in the U.S. to make the switch to 100 percent solar power. In 2008 we built a second array to power the vineyard system that we use to irrigate the 50 acres of vines that surround the winery.

On sunny days these two arrays produce, at peak, more than 200 kW of electrical power, or in other words, enough to meet the baseload needs of 160 average homes.

Going solar is our way of treating the air as well as we treat the land. The generation of electricity is the number one source of toxic air pollution in the US. Most generator plants burn coal and pump millions of tons of greenhouse gasses and toxins into the air.

Over the lifetime of Shafer’s system alone (30 years) the greenhouse gasses that won’t be produced on our behalf has the air-purifying effect of planting more than 30,000 trees.

In addition, of course, we have eliminated our electricity bill and we actually contribute power to the electrical grid.
  

Hawk

Preventing Poison

In the late 1980s we started erecting nesting boxes for Barn Owls and perch poles, which attract birds of prey such as Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels.

The reason we want to attract owls and hawks is simple – we wanted to stop putting rodent poisons in the soil to control the gopher and mole population. These creatures like to tunnel through the ground and eat young vine roots.

Between the hawks and owls, we have day and night rodent patrol (hawks feed during daylight, while owls are nocturnal hunters).

“The work of these raptors is so effective we named our Chardonnay vineyard ‘Red Shoulder Ranch’ to honor them,” says Doug Shafer.
  

Blue bird

Controlling Insects

Vineyards attract lots of insect pests, among the most troublesome are blue-green sharpshooters and leafhoppers. 

“You can spray powerful chemicals to rid your vines of these particular insects, but we prefer to rely on the natural eating habits of songbirds and bats,” says Doug Shafer.

To attract some of nature’s hungriest eating machines, we have erected songbird houses throughout our vineyards. These provide homes for cavity-dwelling species such as swallows and bluebirds, who tend to eat the flying bugs that blight our vines.

These birds raise their young on our property and feed their families on the bugs that would otherwise damage our vines.

After sunset, we benefit from the eating habits of bats, who consuming anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of their body weight per night. Given our location at the base of towering cliffs, called palisades, we enjoy some insect patrolling by bats. 

To attract more, we’ve erected a 500-lbs bat roost, which is currently awaiting its first residents. The bat box is designed to house a maternity colony, meaning this will be a place where the bats can breed and raise their young.
  

Lady Bug

Partnering with Bugs and Weeds

Another key part of farming sustainably is the use of cover crops. Today our vine rows grow wild with clover, vetch, oats, bell beans and other vegetation that creates a lively habitat for insects.

“The cover crops create a healthy environment where “good bugs” prey on “bad bugs,” says Doug Shafer. “More specifically, insects such as spiders and ladybugs naturally kill off or consume vine-damaging insects such as leafhoppers and blue-green sharpshooters.”

Cover crops do double and triple duty. They control erosion while also choking back weeds we don’t want. They control the vigor of the vine and at the end of their lifecycle they’re plowed under and enrich the soil with nitrogen and other macronutrients. This combined with our own compost allowed us to say good by to chemical fertilizers.

 

Shafer landscape with pond

 

Recycling Rainwater

For 30 years we have reused and recycled all of our water – and continue to look for new ways of being better stewards of our water resources. 

Our first step, in the late 1980s, was to abandon the old, wasteful system of overhead sprinklers (common in that era) and switch to a drip irrigation system, which cut overall water usage dramatically.

Next we engineered a waste-water system. This allows us to capture all winery water (used to clean tanks, floors, and equipment) and pipe it to a small reservoir, where it is aerated and naturally processed to eliminate impurities. The newly treated water is then reused for irrigation.

In the mid 1990s we made our biggest investment yet in sustainable water use by clearing four acres of prime Cabernet Sauvignon vines to dig a large pond that collects and stores winter rain runoff from the surrounding hillsides. The lake has a capacity of 30-acre-feet and supplies most of the winery’s irrigation needs throughout the summer.

In 2013 we embraced new technology from Fruition Sciences that allows us to dial down water use even further. We’ve placed Fruition sensors on several vines on the property that monitor water use and sap flow within the vines themselves. This gives us data on the actual needs of the plant and tells us when we truly need to irrigate. The first year we used this new system we saved more than 100,000 gallons of water.

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7 different wines with 67 vintages

Highlights

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Wine Moments

Here you can see wine moments from tastingbook users.    or    to see wine moments from your world.

 Antonio Galloni, Wine Writer (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  29 wines 

Bryant Family 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, tasted from a working base blend, is just magnificent. Seldom - maybe never - I have seen a young Bryant Cabernet that is this well put-together at this stage. The integrity of the fruit, acid and structure is outstanding. Sweet red and purplish fruit, sweet floral notes and spice are all beautifully lifted. The 2018 is flat-out stunning. That's all there is to it.

3m 10d ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  22 wines 

American Beauty -tasting with Dominus, Dana Estate, Ovid, Caymus, Colgin etc.

4m 19d ago

 Juha Lihtonen / The Best Scandinavian Sommelier 2003, Pro (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  12 wines 

What a lovely BBQ tasting under the Finland Midnight Sun! Eight guests voted Cyril Henschke 2013 as the best from the bunch. My favorites were Muga Prado Enea GR 2006 (94p), Petrolo Galatrona 2004 (94p) and Shafer One Point Five 2016 (94p). Troplong-Mondot 2000 was passed its peak while La Landonne 2012 is nowhere near for its enjoyability yet (give it another 8 years still to open up!)

9m 21d ago

 James Suckling., Wine Writer (United States)  tasted  2 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  25 wines 

Masseto 2012 / Fantastic aromas of lavender, rosemary, violets and currants. Full body, a wonderful concentration of fruit yet tense and taunt energy. The new wood is exposed now but will become integrated and polished. Give it three or four years together. The pure merlot magic is there. The 2011 was a perfect wine, and this is very close indeed. Drink in 2019. 99 points

1y 3m ago

 Stephen Tanzer, Wine Writer (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  24 wines 

Maya 1991 / Saturated dark red. Wonderfully polished, complex aromas of black raspberry, plum, truffle, smoky oak and caramel, plus a hint of black olive (this wine actually reminded me of some of the earlier vintages of Harlan Estate). At once plush and vibrant, offering terrific retention of sweet berry fruit complicated by tobacco and smoky oak. Firm acidity (natural?) turned slightly tart with aeration but this wonderfully long, saline wine finishes with serious but well-integrated tannins and outstanding verve. While it does not have quite the give of the 2008 I tasted alongside it for my '08 horizontal, it has guts of steel and should go on for years. (13.5% alcohol)

1y 3m ago

 Stephen Tanzer, Wine Writer (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  25 wines 

Screaming Eagle 2010 / (75% cabernet sauvignon, 16% merlot and 9% cabernet franc; the harvest here ended on October 13, about two weeks later than usual): Brilliant ruby-red. Urgent aromas of crushed boysenberry, wild herbs, licorice and spearmint are complemented by sexy oak tones. Densely packed and electric, with great energy to the highly concentrated, pliant flavors of black fruits, cocoa powder and flowers. Still quite youthfully backward, but the inexorable slowly mounting finish and big but noble tannins suggest a long and glorious evolution in bottle. Owing to the small clusters, thick skins and concentration of tannins, this wine got a longer elevage than usual, with the bottling done at the end of November 2012.

1y 4m ago

 Elias Fernandez, Wine Maker (United States)  tasted  8 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  8 wines 

Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay is a wine that bears the elegant imprint of its vineyard home – 68 acres that roll across the pastoral hill country of Los Carneros, a place where Napa Valley meets the northernmost rim of San Francisco Bay. The vineyard is named to honor the Red-shouldered Hawks and other birds of prey that play a vital role in our sustainable farming practices (in this case keeping gopher and other rodent populations naturally under control).

2y 6m ago

 Markus Del Monego MW , Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  6 wines 

Merlot is an amazing grape variety which has the potential of producing great wines but also quite simple stuff. Therefore a tasting was carried out to check upon the ability of ageing and evolution of Merlot from different regions and countries. 

2y 9m ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  18 wines 

Cellar Devils 2018 tasting - Wines like Lafon Montrachet, La Chapelle 1978 & 1990, Caymus Special Selection 1990 & 1991 etc.

2y 10m ago

 Elisabeth Hill, Wine Importer (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  8 wines 

Bond Estate Pluribus 2014 / Bright red fruit, it is wild, cool, and elegant. It has a serious tannic structure that melts into the wine and gives it more of a focused, linear approach. If there’s a rendition here for the old-school Napa crowd, it is Pluribus without a doubt. Give this one a few years to settle out and follow over the following twenty. 97 points

2y 11m ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  2 wines  from  Shafer Vineyards . In a tasting of  28 wines 

The Parker 100-point California tasting with 29 wines.


 

3y 12d ago

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