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Parker 100 points: One of the perfect wines from Shafer is the 2007 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. Think it over – in the first decade of the 21st century, Shafer scored three perfect scores and two 99s – that’s about as high a praise as I can give any producer in the world. Opaque purple in color, the 2007 has a stunning nose of sweet crème de cassis, black cherries, licorice, and toasty oak, a multilayered, full-throttle personality, and a texture that builds and builds. Great purity, fabulous fruit intensity and a richness without heaviness characterize this massive, prodigious effort from Shafer. It’s still very young, despite this vintage, which seems to be maturing precociously. I don’t believe this wine will hit its stride for at least another 5-10 years and drink well for at least 2-3 decades.
Shafer’s Hillside Estate Vineyard consists of 54 acres all on steep, amphitheater-like, rocky outcroppings and knolls. It receives the full benefit of southeasterly sunlight, and enjoys the afternoon breezes that blow up from the San Francisco Bay channel. An unusual geographic feature, this vineyard is basically a box canyon. The top soil is virtually non-existent as the bed roots that go into the white tofu volcanic soil base rarely extend more than 18 inches before hitting bedrock. This no doubt is a significant reason for the intense flavors achieved by the Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, and why it is able to spend 32 months in 100% new French oak without a woody taste.
The Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon has that warm, classic Californian flair to it – loads of ripe and jammed black fruits, smooth tannins and mellow acidity. The wines are always big and as Doug Shafer points out “Napa wines are big wines, no point hiding it.” Still baring the Stag’s Leap District’s smooth style, with tannins that are always very gentle and fine-grained, the Hillside Select is voluminous, but in a discreet manner, making it a very enjoyable and flirtatious wine when young.
The legendary Hillside Estate Vineyard is comprised of 14 vineyard blocks, varying from one to nine acres in size, on the slopes of an amphitheatre-like hillside. The thin, volcanic rocky topsoil stands on top of bedrock that forms a very low amount of nutrients for vines, thus yielding small grapes with intense flavours. Due to a series of knolls and outcroppings, the vineyard blocks enjoy various microclimates, which generate grape material with complex flavours. Every afternoon the breeze from San Francisco Bay cools the vineyards, allowing the fruit to retain acidity. The vines suffer and have not
Philosophy in winemaking
The Shafers are the pioneers of sustainable vine farming, with over 20 years experience. The production is operated using 100% solar power, recycled water and no chemicals.
“In the early 1980s we followed the advice of our textbooks from the U.C. Davis winemaking programme and picked early, added acid, etc. Over time we learnt that wine needs to taste good. And we threw out our textbooks and learned to taste the fruit and let the fruit tell us when to pick and also what style of wine it wanted to become. Obviously I hope the future will be about wines that are produced with authenticity, wines that remain true to their site of origin. However, the fact is the future remains, as always, in the hands of consumers.” Doug Shafer comments.
The winery was established by John Shafer, a former book publisher from Chigago, in 1972. In 1978 the Shafers became vintners after crushing their first wine, Shafer Cabernet, themselves. It was released in 1981. This wine was ranked, ten years later during an international blind tasting in Germany, better than legendary Bordeaux wines like Latour, Margaux and Palmer.
The 2007 vintage in Napa Valley has long been celebrated as one of the best of the decade so far. The growing season started with a dry, warm spring leading to an early budbreak and ideal conditions for set, the point when vine fl owers turn to berries.
In spite of the early start to the season the fruit matured at a leisurely pace thanks to a long cool summer with no weather-related surprises.
With no worries for high heat or incoming rain, we left fruit on the vine until the best possible moment. The lack of rain early in the year gave us smaller clusters, which by harvest time resulted in smaller berries with outstanding concentration.
Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez says that it’s been a pleasure to watch this wine come together. At bottling time, after three years in the barrel, the flavor profile showed promise as one of the best of its lineage. After a further year in the bottle that potential seemed even more certain. Fernandez says of this release, “Our 25th vintage of Hillside Select offers aromatic elegance and classic Stags Leap District fl avors of black fruit, mocha, black plums, cassis, juicy black and red cherry, black tea, with spice and warm toast. Ripe, silken tannins result in a pleasing, lengthy fi nish,
smooth texture, and a refi ned structure which offers the potential for very long term aging.”